For better or worse, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD makes for an awfully appropriate encapsulation of the series as a whole. Activision's seminal skateboarding franchise came charging out of the gate, inspiring a generation of virtual skaters before a yearly onslaught of sequels ultimately drained the series of all its momentum. Likewise, Robomodo's remake of levels from the first two THPS games impresses early on with its modernized visuals and convincing approximation of vintage Tony Hawk action. But once that initial hit of nostalgia wears off, the faults begin to emerge: a lean selection of levels, entire game modes missing in action, and wipeout animations best described as eccentric. There's a great foundation here, but precious little beyond that.
At its core, Pro Skater HD works quite well as a remake of early-era Tony Hawk. Grabs, flip tricks, and grinds all have the same basic feel as they did in those first few games, while the career mode structure of completing various goals within a two-minute window is one that works just as well 13 years later. The controls can get a little finicky when it comes to performing specific types of grinds, and you'll occasionally find yourself coming to a dead stop when you lightly graze a wall, but for the most part Robomodo's done a solid job of porting the high-flying, exaggerated feel of Tony Hawk-style skateboarding to a modern engine.
Unfortunately, things get ugly when you fall off your board--and not in the usual blood-splattered parade of injuries you'd usually associate with skateboarding. When bailing, you'll often see your character twitch as though possessed by demons, fail to tumble downward when wiping out at the top of a half-pipe, or simply disappear right through the ground. Other, more subtle, visual hiccups litter the game as well, including frequent instances of your skateboard clipping through the very handrail you're supposed to be grinding. It's unfortunate to see so many visual quirks bouncing around the game, because they really distract from a solid HD upgrade that adds all sorts of improvements ranging from better textures to improved lighting.
As a greatest hits collection of levels from the first two Tony Hawks, Pro Skater HD reflects some spotty taste. On the one hand, some of the greatest levels from THPS2 are present and accounted for, including School II, Venice, and Marseilles. However, the levels pulled from the first THPS are more questionable. These include two downhill tracks in the form of Mall and Downhill Jam. Returning to these levels now, it's all too clear why Neversoft abandoned the idea of downhill courses after that first game: missing an objective by a hair and having to go all the way back to the start simply isn't much fun.
It's a shame better stages from the first game didn't make the cut, because Pro Skater HD features only seven levels in total--three fewer than THPS2 shipped with 12 years ago. It's symptomatic of a larger problem facing the game, which is a lack of content to support its solid foundation. Features from THPS2 like create-a-skater and create-a-park are missing entirely, as is local multiplayer. There is online multiplayer, but you'll only find three game modes and not a single one of them is HORSE, the classic turn-based duel of one player matching another's trick.
One exception to the lack of additional content is Pro Skater HD's collection of unlockables. As you progress through career mode, you're rewarded with a fairly regular stream of cheats and new characters including series stalwart Officer Dick. This stuff doesn't add a tremendous amount of content to the overall package, but it does nicely mimic the goofy sense of humor displayed in those early Tony Hawk games, that sense that the developers always had some silly joke waiting for you behind the curtains.
But for every moment you feel like you're being swept back to the beginning of the millenium, there are one or two harsh reminders of the compromises made to the passing of time. Roughly half the soundtrack consists of new songs, and beyond that the game's roster of skaters is dominated by relative newcomers. Names like Bob Burnquist and Kareem Campbell have been replaced by the likes of Jake Harrison and Emily Westlund. These are the types of changes you could excuse in a more robust package, but here they serve as yet another reminder that this just isn't the Tony Hawk you remember.
And that's too bad, because the core of Pro Skater HD is Tony Hawk through and through. The skateboarding is nearly identical to that of the first few games, and the career mode remains every bit as playable as it was when those games first came out. But the essence of a franchise doesn't make a complete game, and Pro Skater HD's overall package is a modest and meager one that fails to capitalize on that foundation. Tony Hawk may yet return to form, but this won't be the game that takes him there.