Tony Hawk's Proving Ground

It’s a hard time for skatey gamers at the moment with EA Games’ Skate and now the latest Tony Hawk title to spend their moola on. After playing both it is safe to say that despite their similar themes, the two titles are still quite different. Hopefully after this review you’ll know which one suits you.

Firstly, kudos to the Tony Hawk franchise, which has not only lasted for around 8,700 titles but spawned the skateboarding game genre to begin with back in 1999. However, it is safe to say that this latest installment isn’t the pioneering game that it once was. Proving Ground builds on the previous title Project 8 with the free-roaming inner-city storyline. You play as an up and coming skater in a new neighbourhood trying to make a name for yourself. Initially you customise your character using a set of templated face and body types to suit you. These were surprisingly limited for a next-gen title but the cheesy overly deep voice of your character should destroy any illusions of you actually being in the game anyway. Unless you sound like Billy Bob Thornton.

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Proving Ground has improved from Project 8 in the graphics department but not in a huge way. The main visual difference comes from the environment itself. The maps are obviously inspired by Washington DC, Philadelphia and other East Coast locales but with a much more skateboard-friendly architecture. The game presentation has a dirty, urban look to it that most skate games seem to stick to. The video pop-ups and menu system are pretty well conceived as well. But Proving Ground still isn’t without graphical glitches. Even after a short time playing I noticed characters' mouths not synching to their dialogue and plenty of clipping issues with players half-disappearing into buildings. Even hair and clothing seem to behave strangely at times.

The game continues to build on the extremely popular Nail-the-Trick idea that was introduced in Project 8. When in the air, you now click the left and right sticks down to go into a slow-mo mode that lets you control your feet individually with the right and left sticks respectively. This feature is probably the main selling point as it is not only awesome to watch but makes pulling off tricks a lot more enjoyable. It has even been added to, so that hitting L2 while in slow-mo launches you into a new Nail-the-Grab mode. Now the sticks move your arms – it’s pretty hard to master, but after enough practice players will appreciate the amount of control.

Thankfully Proving Ground has some new features in it to keep Project 8 fans happy. Through a series of stylish video clips of actual footage, the game introduces you to three different skating realms. There is the usual Career path for those pro-skaters trying to gain sponsorship and tour the world like Arto Saari and Tony Hawk himself. But if money and fame isn’t your cup of tea there is the Hardcore lifestyle where the likes of mad-as-pie Mike Vallely and Dustin Dollin teach you the fine art of messing your face up with the pavement. Lastly there's the "rigger" style of play, featuring improvisation masters such as Jeff King. This mode adds a level editor or puzzle element to the game. Basically you can click a button to zoom out to a birds-eye view of the map where you can place or modify pieces to rig up trick lines. For example, placing a metal pipe across two roof-tops with a ramp at the end will help you grab some serious air before landing on a curved ramp that you strategically placed.

Initially, the game requires you to complete all three types at a basic level to give you a feel for which one you wanted to master. Most gamers will take part in all three, however, as it does help to break up the repetitiveness of Proving Ground. Scattered around the sprawling city map, there are plenty of other objectives and goals to complete with different difficulties, ranging from amateur to sick. Amateur is frustrating but possible with practice, and sick is so insanely difficult that you’ll wonder what sick sadistic person programmed them in.

This is where the differences between the two titles from Activision and EA Games really become apparent. Tony Hawk games have always had that element of humour and an almost cartoonish atmosphere to the environments and characters. This suits the fast-pace, arcade-like feel to the Tony Hawk games where speed and outrageous tricks are a given. When playing I think I grinded a pavement for around five blocks at one stage before launching myself over three cars and then continuing to manual my way across several kilometers of pavement. Proving Ground even takes this to a whole new level with the “agro-push”, which is a super-powerful kick-off that sets your skater off at almost warp-speed. EA Games, however, took a much more realistic approach to Skate, almost to the point where it’s more like a skateboard simulator where care and precision is required to nail tricks and every bump and gutter become a possible death-trap.

In this regard, Skate will definitely appeal to the serious skaters out there. Tony Hawks’ Proving Ground is better suited for the casual gamers who enjoy the speed rush and gravity defying tricks. Both the titles feature a great soundtrack and plenty of celebrities, so it really is the playing style that will decide which game you purchase. Personally, I am getting much more enjoyment out of Skate and I’m putting my money on this title to finally push Tony Hawk off that well-earned pedestal.

"This or Skate?"
- Tony Hawk's Proving Ground
Follow Own it? Rating: M   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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