Tony Hawk's Proving Ground First Impressions

The ninth game in the famed skateboarding franchise is going to the East Coast.


It's hard to believe that Tony Hawk's Proving Ground will be the ninth game in the venerable skateboarding franchise because it doesn't seem all that long ago (1999) when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater came out. A franchise that gets to a ninth game is obviously doing something right, so the challenge for the developers is to maintain the winning formula while trying to keep it fresh. And with Proving Ground, developer Neversoft is hoping to make you live the life of a skater.

By a considerable margin, Proving Ground looks to be the largest Tony Hawk game to date. Design work on the game began even while its predecessor, Tony Hawk's Project 8, was still halfway in development. The result is a game with a streaming world that is two times larger than any of its predecessors. It's also one set on the East Coast, which is a change from the West Coast nature of the recent Tony Hawk games. Proving Ground is set in the troika of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C.

Tony Hawk is back and looking better than ever.
Tony Hawk is back and looking better than ever.

You'll begin the game as an unknown skater in Philadelphia and begin to work your way up the ranks. How you do that is up to you because Proving Ground is going to be a lot more flexible in the storytelling department than any of its predecessors. That's because there are three classes of skaters in the game: hardcore, riggers, and career. Hardcore skaters skate for the thrill of it; they don't care about trophies or accolades. Riggers are innovators that like to transform everyday environments into skateboarding challenges or perform a trick that's never been done before. Finally, there's the career class, which is made up of professional skaters who are looking for sponsors and a paycheck.

Each class has its own mechanics, story, plot twists, pros, abilities, upgrades, and skills. However, you don't just sign up for a class. Instead, each class also has its own goals and challenges. If you accomplish more rigger goals, you'll align yourself more and more with the riggers. However, there's nothing to keep you from stopping your progression in one class and pursuing missions in others at any time. There are nine episodes in the game that can be played in any order, along with more than 80 cutscenes, which gives you a good idea of how much story is packed into Proving Ground. "Depending on how you choose to skate in the game, it will change what your ultimate goal is going to be," said lead designer Chad Findley.

The big news is that the actual skating department is beefing up the "nail the trick" feature introduced in Project 8. With nail the trick, you can click down on both analog sticks when you're in the air; this slows the action and focuses the camera on the skateboard. You can then control your feet, allowing you to flip the board around. In Proving Ground, Neversoft is adding "nail the grab" and "nail the manual," which adds a lot more moves to your arsenal. Now you can perform complex maneuvers and attempt tricks that would make even the most hardened of pro skaters think twice. Then there are new abilities, such "aggro kick," which is a hard kick that ups some serious speed on your board. There's also skate checking, which is just like hockey checking, only a lot faster. Skate checking will be useful for dealing with security guards and others in your way.

All of this will be happening in the aforementioned East Coast cities, which are packed with famous landmarks and settings. For instance, Philadelphia is divided into several neighborhoods. There are the slums that you start the game out in, as well as a downtown that is complete with Love Park, the fabled proving ground for many East Coast skateboarders until the mayor of Philadelphia cracked down and banned skaters from the park. Philly also sports the popular FDR Skatepark. If you head over to Baltimore, you'll skate around its downtown, as well as its harbor neighborhood. You can also try to earn your way into Lansdowne, a locals-only skatepark. Once you cross the bridge over to DC, you can skate around the National Mall, the Air and Space Museum (complete with the lunar room), and Union Station, which leads to subways that take you back to Philly.

Aside from being large, the other cool thing about the virtual world is that you can go online. For example, if you're skating around virtual Philly and see a phone booth, you can go all Matrix and pick up the phone to find all the different online game types that are going on in the city at that moment. These include familiar modes, like walls, as well as new modes, like 8-player Horse.

Then there's your skater lounge, which is sort of a giant trophy room, but it's the size of a warehouse. Every time you win a challenge, a piece of it shows up in your trophy room, and you can personalize the room with unlocks or different themes. This is a cool place where you and your friends can just hang out online, skating around.

The last cool new feature in Proving Ground is the video editor, which you can use to make elaborate movies. You simply record your skateboarding and save it in the game. In the video editor, you can call up the recording and edit it or tinker with the camera angles. The camera controls are powerful; you can select from a large number of preset camera angles or manually control the camera during a replay. You can then take the footage and splice it apart, rearrange the sections, add in effects, such as bloom or a fish-eye lens, or add in audio from the game's yet-to-be-announced list of more than 50 song tracks. (Unfortunately, you won't be able to import your own tunes.) The finished product can look as good as any skateboarding video you see on television, with your friends over Xbox Live or PlayStation Home. The only downside that we can think of is that apparently shared videos can only be two minutes long.

Skate or Die!
Skate or Die!

Everything discussed thus far will appear in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. There is a Wii version of the game also in development (Page 44 Studios is working with Neversoft on it); however, details regarding it are a bit scarce right now. But it will make full use of the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk.

Proving Ground clearly sounds like it's going to bring a lot more to the table than some of its predecessors, which is definitely a good thing. Many of the features also seem promising, as well as a step in the right direction. After all, if the Tony Hawk series wants to make it for another decade, it needs to evolve to keep up with technology and expectations. Tony Hawk's Proving Ground will ship sometime this fall.

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