Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 Preview

Activision is bringing the popular console game to the PC. We take an early look.

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As sporting games go, skateboarding titles for consoles have been an interesting subgenre. While other subgenres seem to merely appear as a result of a new fad or other brief cultural phenomenon, skateboarding has always maintained a presence in the console market. Even when it seemed like developers had lost interest in creating skateboarding games, a new developer would come along and reinvigorate the entire subgenre.

For consoles, this pattern began with the arrival of Skate or Die on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game spawned a number of sequels on both the NES and the Game Boy. The 16-bit console era, however, was met with a lull. The Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo both had a few skateboarding games, but none had the impact that Skate or Die made a few years prior. When the 32-bit era rolled around, it seemed that developers would once again miss out on an enormous opportunity to bring skateboarding to an audience starving for something new.

Then along came Neversoft and its first title, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Initially, the response to the announcement of the game was less than enthusiastic, no doubt due to the substandard "extreme" games that had bombarded the market at the time. But once the media started to sing the praises of Tony Hawk, the old Skate or Die feeling returned. Gamers anxiously anticipated the release of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on the PlayStation, and when it was finally released, the game was met with high praise. The fact that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was so easy to get into and fun to play, and that it carried a reasonable amount of depth and technique, made it an instant classic.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater ushered in the return of the skateboarding subgenre. Witnessing how well the game performed on the sales charts, other major developers took note and attempted to capitalize on the subgenre's resurgent popularity in the console market. Recognizing how powerful the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater name has become, Activision has now decided to bring Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 to the PC. Unlike the console systems, though, the PC has seen a dearth of skateboarding games, maybe because the PC market tends to focus on older members of the gaming population, while consoles tend to focus on the teen and preteen audience. But Tony Hawk's Pro Skater's universal appeal is strong enough in the console market that it should give the subgenre of skateboarding a strong foundation in the PC market. What better way to reintroduce PC gamers to the skateboarding subgenre than with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2?

What's New

For those of you not familiar with the first game, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater takes place in a completely 3D world. You skate through various parks and perform tricks, which can range anywhere from something as simple as an ollie to Tony Hawk's incredible aerial maneuver, the patented 900. As you perform more tricks and become more comfortable with the gameplay, your selected skater gains more skill in certain areas such as air or grinding.

The saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" certainly applies to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. Recognizing that the first game essentially achieved a perfect balance of solid visuals, controls, and gameplay mechanics, Neversoft is only refining the core gameplay and visuals of the sequel instead of drastically changing everything. To compensate for a lack of major changes, Neversoft will be adding a number of new features that fans have been craving since the release of the first game.

The most notable addition to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is the ability to edit skate parks. Upon entering the park-editor mode, you can select from various themes such as industrial or gothic. From there, a flat area opens up where you can move a cursor and select from individual parts like stairs or rails to construct a complete skate park. Thankfully, the editor isn't as complex as a typical 3D map editor for Quake or Unreal, and it lets you construct a playable park quickly without having to worry about the finer details of the 3D-modeling process.

Almost every object or obstacle a skateboarding fan could want, including ramps, half-pipes, and pools, are available in the skate-park editor. In fact, many of the original tracks in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater can be created using the skate-park editor found in Pro Skater 2. Additionally, the editor has a feature that actually lets you define your own "gaps," or areas where there's a break in the surface, and decide what the point total for landing a gap trick will be. Obviously you won't be able to create a park with the same level of quality as a Neversoft map, but after fiddling with the editor and understanding the finer points of skating, you should be able to yield some impressive results. And just in case a few of you might be overwhelmed by the skate-park editor, Neversoft will be including a series of premade maps that can be used as a reference for building a standard skate park.

The skate-park editor should help expand the already enormous Tony Hawk's Pro Skater fan community. The PC version lets you download parks made by others, compare another player's park to your own, or see what other players are doing to make great parks.

Create a Skater

Another added feature is the skater-customization mode. Recent console wrestling games have been widely praised for their "create-a-wrestler" features, and it looks like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is going to follow suit. You can customize your own skater's name, height, age, skating style, stance, and weight. Other customizable features include skin tone, head, torso, logo, shirt color, sleeve color (sleeves are optional), legs, pants, shins, and shoes. Even the decks (skateboards) can be changed. The variations are virtually limitless, and without any doubt, a few players are going to make an attempt at creating themselves through the create-a-skater feature.

While Neversoft is including a lot of customization to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, there are going to be a number of additions to the main game as well. The most obvious addition to the main game is that you can now select from up to 13 skaters, three more than were previously available in the first Tony Hawk game. Skating fans should be able to recognize all of the major stars from the skateboarding world such as Chad Muska, Kareem Campbell, Andrew Reynolds, Jamie Thomas, and Tony Hawk himself.

Neversoft has also added three to four times the number of total tricks to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, and each skater now has his or her own individual trick set and special moves, which means that each skater can pull off certain maneuvers that other skaters can't. Activision told GameSpot that you'll be able to edit a skater's tricks, so if you see a skater pull off a move you like, you can edit your favorite skater to include that trick.

Once you have chosen a character, you can select from two different styles of skater - one with pads, for those concerned with safety, and one without pads, for the thrill seekers. After deciding which skater to use, you select a level. There are ten skate parks to choose from, including Marseilles, Manhattan, and Skate Street Ventura. Each park has secret areas that can be accessed only if you complete a specific task. Interestingly enough, Activision noted that parks from the original Tony Hawk will be included only in the PC version, but how you access them has yet to be decided. It seems the company is leaning toward having you unlock the parks rather than making them available from the beginning.

Time to Skate

Using either the keyboard or the control pad, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater novices should be performing tricks in no time. Even if you don't have a controller and you find the default keyboard settings to be awkward, the keys can be changed to your liking. After doing a little free skating just to get a feel for Tony Hawk, you can move into the various modes.

In the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater career mode, the main objective was to skate around a level, build up some experience, and complete various tasks in order to acquire tapes. By obtaining tapes - there were five per level - you could unlock additional skate parks. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 takes a slightly different approach. Instead of acquiring tapes, you must skate to gain money (or Tony Dollars), which can be used later to increase different skating abilities, buy tricks, or purchase new boards. In addition to gaining money by performing ten tasks in each park, you will also be able to pick up Tony Dollars littered across the scenery - some in easily accessible places, others in hard-to-reach areas.

Of course, a major attraction of Tony Hawk's gameplay is going to be the free skating. You won't have to worry about getting money or increasing skating statistics, but there will be a few additional multiplayer gameplay modes to spice things up. One of the modes involves an eight-person competition in which you are judged based on how well you perform. Another mode, one that should be familiar to basketball fans, is HORSE. Opponents will face off by performing tricks, with each trying to outperform the other. If you cannot pull off a better trick than your opponent, you receive a letter. Activision was quick to add that the game isn't only restricted to the word HORSE - you can choose any word you want. Then there is the "tag" mode, which will feature LAN support. The game starts with one player being "it." This player gives chase to the other and causes the other to slow down by performing tricks. Once the player has slowed enough, he or she can be tagged and become "it."

Among the other modes is a trick-attack mode. You compete by pulling off as many tricks as possible - the winner is the skater with the highest point total. The graffiti mode involves doing tricks over various obstacles, which makes them change color. The only way your opponent can change the color of obstacles you've skated over is by performing better tricks.

Final Thoughts

As noted before, Neversoft is refining Tony Hawk's gameplay instead of making drastic changes. One of these refinements is the addition of the manual system. A manual is essentially just a wheelie, but in Tony Hawk 2, a manual can be used to link tricks together, resulting in a much higher score. The manual system also seems to give you a little more control in performing certain tricks.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 models are similar to the original game, but thanks to the PC 3D hardware, the PC version of Tony Hawk 2 has a smooth frame rate. Moreover, textures - such as graffiti tags on the walls or on the sides of a pool - look much better on the PC than they do on the PlayStation version. However, a nice feature that is certain to please those with a limited budget is that Tony Hawk actually supports a software mode. So it's no problem if you don't have a 3D card, but the game will obviously look better when it's 3D accelerated.

In the build Activision showed GameSpot, there were some issues surrounding polygon clipping and objects popping up. There is also a slight problem with polygon flicker on the actual skater models, which reveals that the models were ported straight from the PlayStation version of the game. However, Activision reassured us that these problems would be fixed before the game's release.

Music was noticeably absent from the build GameSpot played, though Activision revealed that there would be 15 to 16 songs ranging from punk to hip-hop. Each song is licensed from a popular artist, but unfortunately the details about the soundtrack could not be revealed, as contracts haven't been finalized.

There's very little doubt that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 will be a huge success in the console arena. The original game single-handedly kick-started the subgenre and introduced it to an audience much larger than the one in the late 1980s. Whether or not it will find equal success on the PC is unknown. There will certainly be a number of console gamers who will forgo a purchase of the PlayStation version just to get the cleaner and smoother PC version, but we'll have to wait and see if the core PC market will be as excited about Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2.

Activision and Neversoft are currently aiming for a late-summer simultaneous console/PC release.

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