Subtle changes. Minor tweaks. Nothing earth-shattering. The differences between Tony Hawk's Proving Ground and last year's excellent Project 8 may not be that huge, but they are here and rather numerous. And thankfully, they're all for the better. For a start, the front end is slicker, shorter and more to the point. The skater editing screen is simpler and so user friendly you may even bother with it for once. Plus, if you're one of those hyperactive kids, there's a Randomise option to get you right in the game with a nicely odd, instantly generated character.
Then there's a major relief for Tony Hawk veterans - there's no training bit. Thank Jesus for that - the last thing we need after nine, long, hard years of playing Tony Hawk games is to spend an hour in a boring warehouse getting told how to ollie and grind. Instead, the first couple of hours of play is your gentle introduction, as you move between the game's three career classes learning the handful of new techniques and, as ever, boosting your stats and earning money to buy all the cool clothes the kids are into. And there's hardly any story. It's just you, talking to people, doing challenges and learning to skate. Simple, back to basics, bliss.
Proving Ground is noticeably better organised, too. The old 3D radar system has been ditched. Now, if you want to know where to head next to continue your story, you click the right stick. This brings up a list, showing your available challenges. Click on one of them and an arrow tells you where to go. This is the first Hawk game for years that's easy to navigate, which is all the more remarkable given the three-pronged career game.
At any point you have three story threads going on at once. There's your Hardcore skater story, your Career skater story and the Rigger stuff. Rigger, in case, you're wondering, is skate speak for someone who likes building stuff to try and jump off and fall over. As you flip between the three plots you gain access to new parts of the game world, which is a geographically unfeasible but packed combination of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington DC. You skate between them all on the fly, when you want, and the new photo and video challenges, plus the returning graffiti missions that are painted on walls and floor for you to try your luck beating, give you something to do while you're travelling the city.
The old balance gauge has been binned, in favour of transparent trails that follow your skater's arms when you're grinding or manualing. They let you know which way to press to stop falling over, turning red, as ever, when you're going too far. A new and very useful Aggro Kick lets you boost your speed to pull off bigger jumps and get around the city quicker, and finally, the makers have managed to sort out the frame rate problems that took the shine off the previous Xbox 360 Hawk games. Proving Ground has a rock-solid look and feel, plus the more realistically designed skaters and serious plot tone makes this a Tony Hawk you're not embarrassed to be seen playing.
Also improved is the physics of the skaters - it isn't stupid any more. Last year's Project 8 featured utterly ridiculous bouncy boarders that would fly 20 feet in the air and ragdoll about all over the place for half an hour after touching a kerb at walking pace. Now, when you fall off, your man crumples in a heap. Its so much better and totally suits the more realistic, humble, down to earth feel of Proving Ground.
In fact, this latest Tony Hawk package has more in common with the ancient and beloved first two games of the series, than the comedy turns of recent years. The excitement may be draining away in its old age and the old dog's hardly learned any new tricks at all, but Proving Ground is the smoothest, best-looking and prettiest Hawk game of the lot. It really has been tweaked to perfection. It's going to be impossible to improve on this one next year.
Slick, polished, perfect skating.
- No frame rate issues this year
- Much better loading and presentation
- Great new free-roaming city layouts
- Simple online lobbies and options
- The usual lack of massive changes