It's been years in the making, but after nine years, Tony Hawk has finally got some really stiff competition. After playing SKATE and loving its intuitive control scheme, I knew that Activision's Tony Hawk had something to be scared of. Really scared of. I think I realized that Activision may be a little worried of SKATE during E3 2007, when Activision only let a very select few go hands-on with Proving Ground (I was one of them). We've been spending time shifting back and forth between Tony Hawk's newest game and EA's SKATE. One continues to be the over-the-top skater it started out as; meanwhile the other brings an element of realism to the mix. So which to choose? Well, there is no clear answer. But my personal opinion reads below.
First off, if you haven't guessed by now, Proving Ground doesn't do much to change up the Tony Hawk formula. And within my first three minutes of playtime, I was already able to land a 250,000 point combo, and that's me still being rusty. So veteran Tony Hawk players should be able to nail 7-digits with relative ease, I'd imagine.
You'll notice an all new balance visual that appears opaque across the entire screen. In between the opaque lines is a gap, and that gap is the center. You'll want to keep that gap centered on the screen in order to maintain balance. When you're tilting too much towards one side, one of the opaque lines will begin turning red, where as white/opaque indicates you're doing fine. Personally, I don't like the new balance meter and I'd much rather prefer an option for the classic one.
Proving Ground is all about, well, proving yourself to the big shots of the skating world. So, much like Project 8, you'll again be set with a custom skater and thrown into an open-ended world (that spans various U.S. cities), which you'll have to unlock as you progress. Throughout your journey you'll come across a variety of skaters who will offer you challenges to complete. Upon completion of each challenge, you'll be rewarded with skill points for your skater in one of three categories (Career, Hardcore, Rigger).
Challenges in the game will vary across four types, Career, Street, Hardcore, and Rigger. The Career Skater is the professional focused skater who enjoys skating as a means of making money, and will stop at almost nothing to land covers and record videos. The Street Skater prefers the outdoors, grinding on benches, guard rails, curbs, jumping over cars, with the occasional half-pipe, and kicker ramp. The Hardcore Skater is the daredevil, the climb-to-the-top of a steep ledge and grind 50 feet above ground, with a gap in between lines that requires you to perform a leap. Succeed, and you pass. Don't, and you destroy your entire body. Well, okay, you get to get back up in a few seconds. But still, you get the idea.
The Rigger introduces a new gameplay element for Tony Hawk, as it allows you to edit your surroundings on the fly, in order to complete a challenge. And it isn't cheating, because these challenges call for the rigging aspect to be used. A challenge may require you to perform a certain trick or reach a certain location, and so you'll be instructed to plant a number of items in various spots in order to succeed. All of this is done in real-time, so think of it as the create-a-park feature being regularly used throughout the game.
Now, don't think that you have to embark on all of these challenges. In actuality, you simply choose which skater type suits you best, and you stick with it, for the most part. In addition to three skill point categories, you'll have progress meters that measure your skills in all four skater categories, so a well-rounded player will concentrate specifically on one style, but not completely ignore the others. Furthermore, recording your performance during various challenges and events will be quite common. And when you're up for it, you can go online instantly by pausing the game and selecting the Online option.
Unfortunately, no matter what new features are found in Proving Ground, it still feels like the same old, same old. Quite frankly, I'm getting tired of the same Tony Hawk formula, and would much rather prefer a return to norm in how the game handled progression. SKATE is innovating in the genre; where as Tony Hawk is become more and more stale. I'd also like the ability to play with the professional skaters immediately, so a free skate mode would've been really nice – but alas, there's no such thing to be found. Your only option is to located various ‘arcades' scattered around the cities and play them. The arcades will trigger a sort-of old-school, timed skate session.
Visually, I can't say I see much difference between Proving Ground and Project 8, other than the fact that the awful framerate in Project 8 is finally gone. Proving Ground runs smoothly, and that's a big relief. But the engine it's using is the same one found in last year's game, so don't expect anything that'll wow you, you simply won't find it. Additionally, the game no longer supports 1080i resolution, not even upscaled. Compared to SKATE, Proving Ground is looking quite dated. It's got its fair share of aliasing along some edges, and the textures can stand to be improved. Character detail is looking cartoony at this point and the animation needs to be redone. Tony Hawk in particular looks like a zombie, as do a bunch of other skaters; a lot of them look like they've got collagen injections.
If you were okay with the graphics of last year's game and think you can live with them for another iteration, then you should be fine with Proving Ground. But if you've played SKATE, and want your Tony game to look like that, then you've been spoiled. It's not happening. If you've enjoyed the open-ended Tony Hawk games in the past, you'll likely enjoy this one and should be able to justify the $60 purchase.
If you're pulling your hair out for a more traditional Tony Hawk game, and don't want a sandbox skater anymore, you're only other choice is to see if SKATE fits the bill. And even though SKATE is also a game with gigantic locales, it does have a number of closed-off stadium events for you to compete in. And before I finish with the visuals, I have to ask why the film clips in this game look utterly atrocious? How is it that with a 40GB storage medium I'm looking at film clips that are so grainy and inadequately compressed that it makes me feel like I'm watching them 10 years ago on the PlayStation? Seriously, this is just inexcusable.
The audio consists of the expected expansive Tony Hawk soundtrack that ranges across all sorts of genres. The rock stuff kicks-ass, as the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Fu Manchu make up for the best rock tracks. Punk appearances include The Clash and The Sex Pistols. And the Beastie Boys, Jurassic 5, and Slick Rick are my three favorite hip-hop contributors. The soundtrack continues to be good stuff all around, but is it really too much to ask for a custom soundtrack option? Additionally, voice acting is also pretty darn solid, especially that of your skater. So overall, Neversoft continues to put together impressive audio for their ninth Tony Hawk game.
And on that note, I really do hope that Activision and Neversoft are planning something special for the 10th anniversary of the Tony Hawk franchise. I've been hinted to and told that we may very well see the 10th Tony Hawk game cover a lot of the old-school courses that made the series so successful. Also, I also really want to see some serious innovation out of the series, because this just isn't cutting it for me anymore. And while Neversoft are at it, I don't think it'd hurt to step-up with the visuals.
After four iterations of objective-based Tony Hawk games have followed five open-world Tony Hawk games. And with that said, I think it's time to mix it up, folks. I can only recommend Tony Hawk's Proving Ground to only the biggest fans of the franchise who simply want more. If you're looking for something new with a rewarding experience, I recommend SKATE.