Tony Hawk's Proving Ground Updated Hands-On

We check out the online options in Activision's upcoming skateboarding game.

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At a recent Activision press event, we got our hands on different versions of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground. First, we tried out the upcoming downloadable demo of the game. Second and more importantly, we tried out an updated build of the full version of the skating game that is due to hit store shelves this October. Our appetites whetted by the demo, we dug right into the full game to see what the Neversoft team has been working on since we last saw the game. First stop: the online action.

Online play will let you challenge your friends to a variety of games and even wager in-game cash on the results.
Online play will let you challenge your friends to a variety of games and even wager in-game cash on the results.

Online play in Proving Ground will be a relatively seamless experience. As you're skating around in any of the game's three urban environments (scaled-down, tricked-out versions of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C.), you can move to online multiplayer by pausing the game and choosing the Xbox Live menu choice. From there, you can set up a number of online challenges and then invite up to seven other people to the challenges. Many of the online challenges in Proving Ground are returning modes from previous games in the series, such as graffiti; however, there are a few new modes as well. We tried two of the new entries: skate the line and net nail the trick.

Skate-the-line mode lets the host of the session pick a start line and then dictate one or more objects off of which competitors must hit tricks in one, extended combo. Finally, the host must place a finish line that everyone will need to cross for their scores to count. Once all of these are in place, each player will get a chance to do his or her best trick combo off of all the different objects in the world designated by the host. The player with the highest score wins.

In net-nail-the-trick mode, the host will place a start line, a single kicker ramp using the rigger menu, and a finish line. The idea here is more straightforward: Once everything is in place, players will have one shot to put together their best "nail-the-..." tricks sequence, combining all of the different special trick features in Proving Ground, including nail the trick, nail the grab, and nail the manual. The player with the highest score at the end is declared the winner.

All of the different online modes in Proving Ground will give the host options for how to set up the game. For example, you can choose to let each contestant try your skate-the-line course one at a time (while other skaters zip around in the world, waiting for their turns) or let everyone attack the course at once. You can also choose to hold certain online events in your customized skate lounge, or you can choose to wager cash on the results.

When we weren't playing the online modes in Proving Ground, we were busy checking out other aspects of the game, including the video editor. We've been hearing about the flexible tool for a while now but hadn't had a chance to check it out. To our pleasant surprise, the video editor isn't just a powerful tool, it's also pretty easy to use. After recording a handful of clips of our created skater in action, we strung them together in the editor, and with a few button presses, we were able to add different video effects, such as monochrome or graining, to give it an edgier look. Perhaps the most powerful tool is the free-flowing camera you can add to any clip you've recorded. Here, you can go back and replay any clip you've already recorded. Then you can move the camera around with the analog sticks, allowing you to zoom in and out to spin around your skater on the fly. With a little practice, you can get some truly dynamic camera angles. When you add in the game's various soundtrack music, which can be lined up to synchronize with your best shots, you've got a powerful tool that will likely be a nice vehicle for Proving Ground players to show off their creativity on the board and with the editing tools.

Proving Ground's three career paths--hardcore, career, and rigging--will give you plenty of options for how you want to play the game. Through a series of path-specific goals, you will be taken through individual storylines and introduced to new controls in the game. In one hardcore goal, your created skater is charged with cleaning up Philly's FDR skate park. To do so, you'll need to learn the new skate-checking system (which essentially lets you whack someone as you're skating along by pressing the left trigger). Interestingly, you can check fools no matter where you are in the game--skating, grinding, or in the middle of a manual.

In addition to the career path goals, there are individual goals to take part in, such as film goals. In one example, famed skate photographer Bryce Kanights will be looking to take a few snapshots of you in action. To pass the goal, you'll need to get creative, picking the ideal spot for the camera and then making sure you do the right trick at the right spot, all the while worrying about things like framing the photograph correctly. In some cases, you'll also have to make sure your all-important sponsor logo is front and center. You'll be judged on the quality of your photographs; such things as framing, trick difficulty, and more will all play into how successful you are in these types of goals.

Skaters like Mike Vallely and Bob Burnquist are just a couple of the familiar faces you'll see in the game.
Skaters like Mike Vallely and Bob Burnquist are just a couple of the familiar faces you'll see in the game.

If you aren't roaming the mean streets of the tri-city area, you can always spend some time in your customized skate lounge, which can be filled with objects you've purchased as you've progressed through the game. We saw a few new themes of the skate lounge we hadn't encountered before--the grim-looking prison theme and the spooky gothic theme, with its granite arches, as well as cracked stained-glass windows, were a couple of favorites. Video screens will let you play unlocked videos in your lounge, and a radio in your lounge will let you control the game's soundtrack. In addition, you can invite friends over to your lounge for challenges, free skating, or just to show off the cool stuff you've earned, at any time.

With the new trick controls, the multiple career paths, the online options, and the character or environmental customization, there's no doubt that Proving Ground is going to keep Tony Hawk fans busy when it's released in October. The downloadable demo should be available for players to check out soon, and we'll be keeping an eye on the game ahead of its release, so stay tuned for more.

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