Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground
Tony Hawk and James Bond have a lot in common. On the surface, they seem totally different. For starters, they’re from different countries. There’s also the little matter of one being a government agent, and the other a professional skater. Digging a little deeper, however, they share a common stigma: both of them have starred in too many entertainment products for their own good. That, and they have women drooling over them everywhere they go.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is the ninth installment of his name-stamped skating series. The games have never been pushed as a simulator, but thanks to the surprise hit of realistic boarding game skate, the sheer ridiculousness of Proving Ground is plain to see. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just that without competition, the Tony Hawk had nothing to be compared to. Players can string together long combos of tricks at high speeds, with little or no regard to poor old Isaac Newton. It’s good fun, but fans hoping for something fresh will be disappointed. Nearly all of of Proving Ground‘s are cosmetic, and are ultimately the game’s own failing.
Proving Ground has three classes of missions that the player can undertake. At first it may seem that these translate into RPG-style trait systems. Alas, this is not so. These missions are no different than anything seen in recent Hawk games, they’ve just been divided up and labeled. This actually serves to make the game feel repetitive, as each tier of challenges are the exact same thing done over multiple missions. The game is not, by nature, a chore, but following one particular story arc certainly seems like one. Forcing oneself to mix up the missions a bit helps, but if you do that, what’s the point of having different classes of skating challenges? The classes are Career, Rigger, and Hardcore. Career skaters are served a helping of classic Tony Hawk “go here and do this trick” levels, whereas the other two classes do the same thing, but throw in something else. Riggers make use of the cool map-editing feature, that lets players edit the world on the fly, although the cool factor is somewhat lessened by the character that anchors all of the Rigging missions- he’s such a badass, his name is Rube. Hardcore skaters… uh… be hardcore? These missions are definitely the worst of the bunch, because they drip with faux-cool slang and annoying characters.
The gameworld is a significant improvement over Project 8 and other Hawk games, delivering a massive open-world map for players to skate around. The theme this time around is the American East Coast, which means Washington DC, Baltimore, Philidelphia, and other cities. It’s a nice idea, but a bit odd- each area is just a caricature of the city it’s based on. With a gameworld as big as this, why didn’t the developers focus on making one coherent metropolis, rather than create a parallel universe where each of these huge cities are within two minutes walk of each other? To be honest, it can be hard to tell where exactly you are. Proving Ground has fallen prey to the “grey is real” style of visual design that has permeated this generation of games. However, the looks actually suits the game, because the characters are still colorful, making for a look akin to the Sin City film. Still, this just goes to show that one city would have been better than multiple miniature towns.
What else does Proving Ground bring to the table? Not much, really. There are some ‘new’ tricks, like the carve and slash grinds, but these are fairly minor additions that do nothing to enhance the gameplay. If the awesome trailer for last year’s Project 8 got you excited, what with all of the Kasabian music and slow-motion kickflips, be happy to know that the nail-the-trick mode is still here. This cool control system lets players zoom in and control each of their skater’s legs with the analog sticks, but it’s sorely underplayed throughout the game’s story mode (and that cool Kasabian song is missing, too). When it comes down to it, Proving Ground is a bit like a cake with way too much icing. It looks great, but actually eating it will reveal the problem. On paper, Proving Ground should be the perfect arcade-style skateboarding game. The problem is, Activision has all but beat this horse to death, even if they are using different shaped sticks to do it. EA’s underdog skate proved that there were other ways to do skating games, and Activision should take note of this. If the inevitable Tony Hawk’s Project 10, Tony Hawk’s Proving Underground, or Tony Hawk: The Curse of the Black Pearl: The Game of the Movie (whatever the next game is going to be called) uses the same engine this series has been cranking out for this generation, things are just going to get worse. This series needs a reboot, pronto, and no amount of celebrity cameos or bells and whistles are going to keep it alive in its current state.
Going back to the James Bond analogy, there is plenty of hope for the next Hawk game to save the title’s good name. Think of it this way: skate is to Tony Hawk as The Bourne Identity was to Die Another Day. The Bourne series didn’t kill the Bond series, it just challenged it. And what happened? We got Casino Royale, an awesome Bond flick in a completely new style. This is the model that Activision needs to follow. If Tony Hawk can’t adapt, then the series will wallow in mediocrity- and not because of poor game design, but because of good design that’s gotten awfully stale. Proving Ground is only worth purchasing if you’re a die-hard fan of the series. Otherwise, letting this one slip by on the radar would be perfectly acceptable.