Another year and yet another digital skateboarding playground is offered up from the folks at Neversoft. Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is the ninth game within as many years in the Tony Hawks series, and in typical fashion the game has several adjustments to the now more than familiar format, some changes grand in execution, others more subtle.
In a similar fashion to last years ‘Project 8’ you start off as a no name skater with big aspirations, and quickly find yourself interacting with some of skateboarding’s biggest names; oddly enough trying to prove ones self to them. Throughout the course of the game you will find your character skating with the likes of Bob Burnquist, Rodney Mullen, Daewon Song, Bam Magera and of course Tony Hawk himself. Proving Ground provides an alternative to the single storyline option seen in previous games, and offers three instead; and the game quickly establishes these available routes throughout the game, those being Rigger, Hardcore, and of course the Career route that most players of the older games will be familiar with.
If you choose to take the Career route you will be faced with getting your name out there via magazines, online, and various other methods with the aim of becoming a skateboarding star; this requires you to enter numerous competitions and being seen in the right places at the right time around the adequately sized game world. The Rigger route seems most detached from the Hawk formula, as more often than not you find yourself laying lines and boxes to skate upon, these goals require use of a poor level editor which frustrates when ever used. Despite trying to be a refreshing change of pace, the rigger route ends up coming across as some bizarre puzzler detracting from the overall experience; skating. Finally the Hardcore option seems like a nod to the THUG games of year’s gone by, in which your skater has to get involved with local gangs, annoy pedestrians, and the like.
These three lifestyles are broken down into chapters which make up the bulk of the game, as you progress and complete goals your career meter will fill, each time it does you will move on to another chapter, this new system provides an easy and welcome addition to simply viewing how you are progressing throughout the game. As you career progresses, regardless of which route you take, you will be presented with the opportunity to create your very own skating team, in effect unlocking more difficult trivial challenges. Alongside the hefty career mode are the challenge modes and classic tests associated with the franchise, which overall offers up a healthy amount of gameplay for any Tony Hawk fan.
Online has seen a fair amount of attention this year and is, as advertised, impressively seamless. Players can from anywhere in the game world switch from online to off, jumping into games and finding up to eight other people to skate with in a speedy manner. All the usual online modes are in place, such as Horse, Graffiti, and so on.
Another area which has been given extra thought for this year’s instalment is the ‘Nail a Trick’ system introduced in ‘Project 8’. For those new to the system, it is essentially a slow motion mode where players can perform impressive tricks and grabs and so forth. On a whole the system works a lot better, with the controls seemingly more sensitive and responsive, although the ‘Nail a Manual’ more often than not doesn’t execute as desired. In terms of controls overall, the game yet again relies on a lot of trial and error gameplay; it’s difficult to not draw a comparison to EA’s new intellectual property, Skate, which really does mix things up control wise, making Tony Hawk’s control mechanics look aged, which admittedly, bar the ‘Nail a Trick’ mode, they are.
Visually this Xbox 360 version of Proving Ground is pretty much on par with Project 8, which unfortunately is nothing to get excited about. Several graphical glitches, like your legs disappearing through buildings, and the characters on a whole looking not quite right is disappointing.
As ever the soundtrack is an interesting mix of genres which provide a nice beat to skate to but nothing more. Outside of the soundtrack the games audio is typically standard fair with plenty of recycled sounds from previous games, or so it seems. Voice acting is particular impressive and believable but is let down from the characters visual form.
Overall Proving Ground has enough content and challenges to keep any Tony Hawk enthusiast busy, with an impressive online mode, and plenty of ways to complete the game, but for others it may just come across as the same tired game in another guise. Although enjoyable in places, several small graphical glitches, technical issues, and the rigger gameplay by and large detract too much from the Tony Hawk experience.