Hoping to improve upon his Project 8, Tony Hawk returns yet again and gets back to the gritty streets with Proving Ground. Proving Ground puts you in the shoes of an amateur skater starting out in Downtown Philly’ (that’s what it’s called now dudes, get used to it), looking for his big shot at fame. You’ll meet several pro boarders along the way (who all conveniently seem to be hanging around on street corners in slum neighbourhoods…) who will set you challenges to enable you to hone your skills or obtain sponsors. There are four types of challenge for you to choose from: Career, Hardcore, Rigger and Street.
In career mode you are encouraged to hone the reprised ‘nail the trick’ mode that was introduced in P8. As in the previous title it is fiddly to get used to, but once you get the hang of the combinations it does look impressive. I enjoyed NTT the trick as by switching to slow motion it gave me a chance to breathe - everything moves so quickly I swear I was close to having a seizure playing it. In addition to NTT there is also ‘Nail the Grab/Manual’. Although NTG is fairly straightforward NTM is too fiddly and doesn’t feel right - manuals really don’t need that much control.
The other noticeable addition is the whole ‘Rigger’ section, which allows you to drop objects such as kicker ramps and rails anywhere in the city in order to create even larger combos or to get to hard-to-reach areas. I’ve never felt that sandbox park editors are a useful tool and I’m proved right yet again with this glitchy, frustrating incarnation. With so many objects already in the environment it’s hard to get things in the place you want them too, and sometimes they’ll glitch into the environment. For what feels like a small part of the game it’s a shame they made this into ¼ of the career challenges, as they are always the last ones I complete before I move on.
Thankfully the game isn’t just about completing challenges; the environment is very open and nonlinear. You’re given access to whole city districts, from parks to underground tunnels and metro systems (roughly 1.5 times the size of P8), all with very little loading while bombing around. Every inch of the environment has been ‘Hawkified’, as I like to call it, so that you can trick off of just about anything.
However it seems that Proving Ground has lost that shine that the THPS environments used to have. I loved skating around a fairground by the docks, or through a trailer park, all of which were completely unrealistic and brightly-coloured to accentuate this. This time every street corner is run-down, teeming with abandoned cars and rubbish. Any skate park here is more likely to have the dead body of a crack addict in it than a giant ramp that smashes you through a billboard onto the train tracks. It looks as though Neversoft are trying to be all gritty and ‘realistic’, but I can still grind a pavement at 30mph and stick to it around corners like a rollercoaster, so I think the realism is completely debunked by the absurdly unrealistic gameplay, which we all love. Rest assured, Neversoft are still spitting on Newton’s grave and defying the laws of physics and the actual skating is still as absurd as ever, if a little harder than I remembered.
I do have to register my distaste for the game’s attempt to be ‘down with the kids’, which is thrown at you throughout the career mode and may make you want to vomit a little. The pro skaters in the game will try to give you pearls of wisdom throughout the game, and listening to Tony Hawk reminisce, saying how he wishes he was back in the ‘hood, hitting home-made kickers is so contrived you’ll wonder if they’re really taking it seriously. And they’ll always be trying to recruit the younger kids playing the game with constant messages like ‘just get out there - anyone can be a super pro skater like me’ etc. I don’t want any preaching in my game about what it means to be a skater, I just want to hit a stupidly big ramp and land on another impossible ramp and then kickflip off the top of a car!
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground still has the openness that made Project 8 fun but some of the new additions feel just that-tacked on. The soundtrack is ear-bleedingly awful and combined with some of the really tricky ‘sick’ challenges and pro skater brown-nosing this edition could put off any casual THPS fans. For those who loved P8 and want more or if you are a teenage boy who feels a little distanced from society then this will be right up your mucky alley.