I remember my first experience playing Tony Hawk 2 quite distinctly. Activision/Neversoft was coming off a tremendous effort with the first game of the series and were looking to up the ante, and boy did they ever.
The first time I pulled off an ollie into a kickflip, and then onto a rail grind in the hangar level was one of the biggest “oh sh*t” moments of my video game career. Needless to say I couldn’t put the game down. I spent endless nights button mashing the heck out of my controller trying to get my dude to pull off some sick moves.
The single player mode was pretty amazing, but what made the game legendary was definitely its split screen multiplayer. Doing round robins with friends and trying to win every time so I could keep playing and not have to wait again for my turn brings back some fond memories. The game was truly an achievement, which makes me wonder what the heck happened!?
When Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 was announced, who could contain their excitement? The ability to revert was the new addition, allowing players to continue their combos when landing a trick on a quarter pipe. This move allowed for those combos to continue on endlessly, as long as the player could maintain his or here balance. Nothing was more fun than playing multiplayer and having a buddy try for a long trick with crazy multipliers and then knocking him over so it was all for naught.
The addicting gameplay was still intact, but something started to feel off at this point. There was less creativity involved in pulling off sick moves and levels had more patterns to them, with one grinding rail leading to another. The game and level design removed any realistic aspect of the gameplay, and instead intended for players to pull off one long string of moves -- players could continue tricks for multiple minutes past the buzzer, attempting to get a high score. The end would usually come when the person got greedy and finally fell, earning zero points for four minutes of work. Don’t get me wrong, this added some exciting moments, but the initial fun factor of the series started to dwindle.
Tony Hawk 4 was more of the same. The levels had even more patterns built into them and even though they switched up the career mode to have more of a free skate style to it, it was still in need of a serious overhaul.
Activision promised that overhaul with THUG (Tony Hawk’s Underground) and THUG 2, and it appeared at first that they accomplished their feat. That was until it was obvious they only threw on a new coat of paint rather than reinvigorating the game like they should have. The storylines were mediocre and even at times took away from what made the series so fun, the skating. There were new tricks, but the biggest addition with the ability to get off the board and walk around while continuing the combo, was not even close to as influential as the ollie or the revert. What was really in need of change was the way the controller was used to pull off tricks.
By the time American Wasteland was released it was apparent that Activision was going to pump out as many new versions based on the same old premise as possible, as long as people would buy it. They added another awful storyline that no one wanted to play through, with the same old trick system and an outdated graphics engine. I’m not so sure about our readers’ feelings on the subject, but frankly when I purchase a game based on skating, I want to spend most of my time actually skating. If I wanted to play a game with a storyline I would try for Final Fantasy or Halo.
Tony Hawk hasn't translated onto the current generation of consoles very well.
The incentive to buy these newer games was decreasing, because unlike sports games with updated rosters, Tony Hawk games had always been the same old skaters. This series clearly peaked at its second game and then coasted on that success all the way downhill until they couldn’t suck the life out of it anymore.
This is where Tony Hawk’s Project 8 comes in. Finally, fans were not going to stand for a second rate product at a first rate price. The new graphics were nice, but the big addition was a slow motion mode to pull of more tricks with the right stick. That same feature was expanded into more aspects of the game last year with the release of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground. You guys got close at Neversoft, but you didn't go for it enough!
This is why it was so great to see EA go out on a limb and release Skate last year. Critics were very skeptical of the game at first because it was introducing a realistic physics based system; but it turned out to be fun and engaging, bringing back all those memories I had when I popped in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 for the first time. I got a rush out of pulling off something as simple as a kickflip or a long grind down a railing. This was truly the innovation everyone had been craving.
Activision missed the boat. They had the market cornered, and if they had just taken the time to develop a truly new and innovative game they would have never been dethroned. As it stands, though, publications have documented Skate outselling Tony Hawk's Proving Ground by nearly a 2-to-1 margin on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
This could be the kind of competition the sports video game community has been hoping for. One where both companies, Activision and EA, attempt to out duel each other with each successive release. And the people that come out on top every time in that scenario?