If ever a game were truly as good as its namesake, it would be Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Borrowing the moniker and drawing inspiration from the legendary skateboarder, the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater effectively redefined the extreme sports game genre by utterly transcending its material. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater wasn't just a skateboarding game--its incredible gameplay and imaginative level design made it quite unlike any game before. The inevitable sequel somehow proved even better than the original, and in turn, last year's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 somehow managed to be even better than that. The new PC version is mostly just a straight port of the original PlayStation 2 version of Tony Hawk 3, though its graphics have been enhanced to take advantage of current PC hardware. More importantly, it almost perfectly captures the gameplay of the PS2 version.
Tony Hawk 3 is easy to pick up and start playing--you don't even need to know the first thing about skateboarding, though you do need a good gamepad. Getting proficient at the game takes time and practice, though. Fortunately, experimentation is a huge part of the fun, and the learning curve in Tony Hawk 3 offers limitless room for improvement. Like many of the best action games, Tony Hawk 3 is a game of pure skill. As with its predecessors, the gameplay revolves around performing long, complex trick combinations. There are a number of different types of tricks: flip tricks, grab tricks, lip tricks, landing tricks, grinds, and manuals (essentially skateboard wheelies). All these can be linked together, almost indefinitely, to rack up huge points, reach incredible heights, and exceed reasonable speeds. The game has hundreds of different tricks in it, and they're all done by using simple motions on the directional pad. They also all look great.
Pulling a trick and linking it to the next one is where the challenge comes in. Tony Hawk 2 players will need to learn to use the revert, an essential new ability used for linking air tricks to ground tricks, and may also learn to master changing between different grinds and manuals without breaking their rhythm. Whatever you do, you can't land sideways--you'll bail if your landing is off, yet no matter how brutal the bail, you'll get right back up, ready for more. Keeping your balance during grinds, manuals, and lip tricks also requires care and precision, more and more so the longer you keep your combo going. Tony Hawk 3 is an extremely fast-paced game--it moves much faster than its predecessor--so it'll keep you on the edge of your seat, primed and ready with the best your reflexes have to offer. If your reflexes can't handle a first-person shooter, then Tony Hawk 3 isn't your game.
What secretly provides much of the incentive for becoming good at Tony Hawk 3 is the game's scoring system, a complex and well-balanced system based on multipliers and diminishing returns. The more types of tricks you perform in continuous sequence, the better. The more times you repeat a trick during a run, the fewer points you get from it. The longer a trick keeps going, the more points you get, but the tougher it is to keep your balance. If you bail, you lose all the points you could have gotten--you'll see them drip down off the screen, taunting you. You'll constantly be enticed to push yourself beyond your limits to earn a high score, and when you do, you'll generally take a spill for it, all because you got greedy. For a game that's all about pulling off unbelievable stunts, Tony Hawk 3 surprisingly demands restraint--another of its impressive achievements.
Though the core gameplay is incredibly fun, it's Tony Hawk 3's career mode that provides much more tangible rewards for your skills. Initially, you'll be able to play in only one of the game's nine main levels. You'll then have two minutes to try to complete as many goals as possible. Each level has a number of different goals, several of which require you to score enough points, as well as others that are much less obvious. You might have to stop a car chase. You might have to squash pumpkins scattered around the level. You might have to deliver a couple of plane tickets to your anxious buddies. In each level, you'll have to find a secret tape, usually hidden on some tiny precipice way high up off the ground. Accomplishing some of these goals will seem impossible at first. You'll be elated once you figure out what to do and manage to do it.
Completing a certain number of goals unlocks the next level, and you can either then proceed to that level or stick around and try to solve every goal in the level you're on. For what's essentially an action game, Tony Hawk 3 is extremely open-ended. Midway through a run, you might change your mind and try to accomplish another goal than the one you had set out to do. At any point in a run, you can either end it or restart it. Considering each run lasts merely two minutes, you wouldn't expect Tony Hawk 3 to be able to hold your interest for hours on end. But that's exactly what it does. You can play it how you want, but what's practically certain is that you'll want to keep playing until you solve just one more goal.
The levels are all outstanding--you can grind practically everything, ramps are everywhere, and plenty of foot traffic too. There's the foundry, filled with grindable guard rails, disgruntled workers, and molten pools of metal. There's snowy Canada, containing wannabe skaters who say "eh" a lot. There's a not-so-serene suburb. There's an airport filled with crooks and nasty security guards. There's Los Angeles, fraught with traffic and high-rises. And there's a cruise ship on the high seas. There are some other hidden levels that don't figure into the career mode, but the career mode's levels are the biggest and the best, and solving the goals in each of them is highly entertaining the first time and remains so on subsequent attempts. You'll notice that some of the goals change slightly depending on the skater you choose.
Career mode also features three tournament levels, and in these, you're going just for big points--with as few bails as possible. Getting gold medals in every tourney and accomplishing every goal in all the main levels unlock movies, hidden skaters, hidden levels, and wacky cheats. The hidden skaters are fantastic--if you don't already know who they are, you'll be very surprised when you find out. An exclusive hidden skater--as great as all the rest--was added to the PC version of Tony Hawk 3 (unlike the others, he doesn't have an exclusive set of special tricks, though). To unlock all the hidden secrets of Tony Hawk 3, you'll need to finish the career mode all the way through more than 20 times. That sounds ridiculous, but there's enough depth to Tony Hawk 3 that you'll likely want to give it a shot. Sadly, all the skaters are basically identical despite their different appearances. They have different starting stats and tricks, but you can completely customize their stats and their tricks at any point. It's nice that the game gives you so much freedom, but it makes the skaters seem a bit generic. You might as well just create your own skater--the game lets you.
Besides the career mode, there's a free skate mode in which you're not constrained by time and can just do whatever you want. There's also a create-a-park mode that lets you build your own rudimentary skate parks, complete with empty pools, rails, half-pipes, and so on. It's easier to use than the PlayStation 2 version's, but it isn't powerful enough to let you build levels as detailed as in the career mode. There's also multiplayer in Tony Hawk 3. Actually, the original PlayStation 2 version supported multiplayer over the Internet--rather more stably than the PC version, as a matter of fact. Our attempts to get into online games almost consistently met with crashes back to desktop, whether we used the in-game server browser or the GameSpy Arcade program. Eight players can theoretically compete in a number of different modes of play, but the levels--which could seem packed with just four players on the PS2--aren't very well suited to larger games. At any rate, multiplayer Tony Hawk is a good idea that just isn't as fully realized as Tony Hawk 3's single-player game.
Tony Hawk 3 runs fast and smooth on midrange to high-end systems and supports resolutions up to 1280x1024. Though some of the objects look simple, the levels themselves are richly detailed and fun to look at. But the animations for the game's collection of pro skaters (and hidden skaters) are the highlight of Tony Hawk 3. Tricks and bails look highly realistic, yet the game's exaggerated physics, dense levels, and immortal skaters make the proceedings seem fantastical. As skaters ramp impossibly high off half-pipes, performing multiple grab tricks and flip tricks midflight, you'll surely be impressed. The PC version does have a few minor graphical glitches in it, and you'll see the frame rate slow down sometimes, but all in all, Tony Hawk 3 looks great.
Not to be outdone by the visuals, Tony Hawk 3 sounds excellent. The lengthy soundtrack includes a broad mix of tracks from a number of famous artists. It almost spreads itself too thin--punk, metal, ska, rap, and rock are all represented, with the best tracks coming from The Ramones and Motörhead. The recent Xbox version of Tony Hawk 3 lets you rip your own soundtrack if you want, and there's an unofficial way to do this for the PC version too. Meanwhile, the skateboarding sounds themselves are perfectly done, and there are a lot of good ambient effects used in each level. You'll also hear a lot of hilarious quips from the various inhabitants of each level, all in good fun. Unfortunately, we did experience some weird audio glitches on two different test systems. Music tracks would sometimes cut off before their conclusions, and after extended play sessions, the rest of the audio would start to drop out. Bugs notwithstanding, Tony Hawk 3's soundtrack alone is worth part of the price of the game.
Tony Hawk 3 is ported from a console, and it shows. You can at least use the mouse to navigate the game's menus, but there's no way to reconfigure your gamepad's button layout within the program and some players have reported that the game won't recognize their game pads at all. The game always prompts you to save your progress in between successful runs--an auto-save feature of some sort would have been convenient. The original version's replay feature has been removed, which is a bit disappointing. As mentioned, you can unlock movie clips as you accomplish goals, but these don't stretch to fill the screen--and you'll find them all sitting there already unlocked from the get-go in the game's install directory. Homemade skate parks are less than a meg in size, but they must be manually transferred between players before they can be used in multiplayer sessions. In addition to the generally unstable multiplayer mode, we experienced a few crashes during the single-player game. These aren't major issues, but they're missed opportunities that make the game seem a bit rough around the edges and get in the way of its community appeal.
Then again, no one said that skateboarding had to be smooth sailing, so just as easily as your skaters will shrug off the bone-crushing blows you inflict on them, so will you rightly ignore most any problems you run into in the PC port of Tony Hawk 3--because the bottom line is that Tony Hawk 3 is a thoroughly excellent, original game. If you have halfway decent reflexes and a gamepad, then you need to check it out. And if you don't have a gamepad, get one for it.