Things haven’t been going too well for the Tony Hawk franchise in the past, what, decade? Robomodo – the team behind the disastrous skateboard peripheral entries in the series – have taken their third crack at revitalization with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, a remixed high-def amalgam of the first two Tony Hawk titles. The reworked graphics, new goals, and adherence to the original titles made it a decent proposition for THPS’ many fans on consoles earlier this year, regardless of some noticeably rough edges. Unfortunately, the PC version does not mend any of the wounds that would make this HD celebration of one of the 1990s greatest series a more fitting tribute. In fact, the PC version strips away all of the internet connectivity that made the console versions worth sticking with. With far less to do and a dearth of options, this is certainly the worst version of THPS HD, though that doesn’t mean you won’t get anything out of it.
A controller is, of course, essential to even think about playing this game. Every controller I tried worked fine, though even when you plug in a 360 controller that the game references in the menu, all the bindings still reference your keyboard. It goes beyond that, though; an Options menu does not even exist. Want to change something as elementary as a resolution to match your monitor? You’ll need to dig through a configuration file and make the change manually. That’s pretty wild on its own, but in a completely insane move, this PC version doesn’t contain any online functionality from multiplayer matches to even basic leaderboards. That’s right. No online. On a computer. The mind boggles. There is one positive thing I can say about this port: the frame rate is buttery smooth throughout, to the point where landing tricks and wrestling the sometimes skittish controls felt a bit easier while playing on my PC.
Aside from all that, this is the exact game that appeared on consoles this summer, for better or worse. The game offers old-school, two-minute runs across a variety of levels that have you racing to complete goals before the timer runs dry and you need to start a fresh run. Many goals have stayed the same – you’ll still need to jump over Ollie the magic bum in the Venice Beach level and kickflip TC’s roof gap on the School II campus – but point values for score challenges and what fodder you’ll need to collect have been tweaked a bit, along with a few all-new goals for levels. The nuts and bolts of the game are mostly fine, if tangibly dated. Your skater still moves at super speeds, the wall run feels even more awkward than it did originally, and sometimes I seemed to bail for no reason at all. But these hang-ups were rare enough that I could still enjoy the act of smoothly transitioning from one trick to the next and racking up huge scores like I did for so many hundreds of hours in 1999 when I was ten years old, even if these moments of pure enjoyment were never long-lasting. Since the game’s content pre-dates Tony Hawk 3, where the revert allowed you to chain together ridiculous sums of tricks, it feels a little weird and a little satisfying to have to pull off some crazier leaps and tricks to make the biggest combos work.
The HD bump Pro Skater receives in this version of the game is pretty favourable overall, with new textures and high resolutions that make the levels look pretty fresh again, though the massive geometry and wide-open spaces betray its age. Skaters get the worst of the makeover, with muddy looking faces and clothes cemented to their bodies. Considering the framework behind the game is over a decade old, though, the visuals satisfy quite nicely. Again, the PC version does run smoother and sharper than its console cousins, so if you have no issue playing completely in a vacuum, at least it’ll look good.
The soundtrack lays down a few tracks that have been permanently scorched into my brain from the original games – Goldfinger’s “Superman” and Millencollen’s “No Cigar” immediately spring to mind – along with a few new tracks that fit along the originals nicely. I’m still humming the tracks days after finishing the Career mode. In fact, the audio is totally the best thing about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD.
Ultimately, aside from the control hang-ups and underwhelming port, what really hurts Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is the uninspired selection of levels it packs in. Sure, a few of them are indisputably classics that are still pretty good fun to tear through a few dozen times. But the package is full of questionable picks and some flat-out bombs in its level selection as well. The Mall and Downhill Jam levels, where the game’s janky momentum is constantly hurdling you toward jumps and obstacles, feel horrible to play now and were torturous to grind through to move on. Other choices Robomodo made are more confusing than offensive. Warehouse and Hangar – despite their similar layouts and overall look – are both included here. By the time I reached the end of the game, I was genuinely pretty bummed out by the overall direction of the content. Ending the game with THPS2′s Marseille level certainly concludes the career mode on the best possible footing, though.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD might be worth a look if you were really into the series in its prime and want to experience a cleaned-up version of a distinct, defining moment in video games. For casual fans or new recruits, though, there’s nothing in this high-def remix that will speak to them. And even the biggest of fans may feel mighty hollow by the shaky treatment of the once king of extreme sports games.