Who would’ve thought a simple skating game for the original Playstation would become so popular that everyone just had to play it. The formula was simple, a lot of fun for both skaters and people who frown upon them. My problem was that I didn’t have a Playstation, so I couldn’t try what everyone was writing about. Also, not too long ago the third instalment in the series was launched, for the Playstation 2. “This looks awesome!” was my initial thought, and I had a vague dream that it would be great if this could be ported to the PC. And so it turned out, Activision recently published Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, and I’ve have put in more hours than what’s healthy into playing it.
The concept behind the series is that you can choose between a wide selection of professional skaters, then you basically skate at a whole lot of different locations to complete goals, earning medals etc. For some this sounds as dull as watching paint dry, but it’s really a game that deserves checking out!
Even though the engine in Tony Hawk 3 isn’t some super-famous Quake 3-ish engine it does a good job at rendering fairly complex scenes at a good resolution with a usually good framerate. The locations you can choose from are for instance in a suburban housing area, a steel-factory and Tokyo. What’s great is that you can do tricks pretty much everywhere you look, so basically every edge you can find can be grinded. Although the engine has good performance it does lack a bit here and there; like bugs where you might end up falling outside of the level, or being stuck inside a ramp. Secondly, some of the textures are of a really small resolution, which I find peculiar seeing as how nearly everything else looks sweet. I know this is a very minor issue, so I’ll move on to animation. The developers did a great job giving a realistic appearance of the actual skaters, when they jump and when they fall, which they do a lot. You know, the reason why I’ve never really tried skating in real life is because I’m not keen on wounding myself, cutting myself or breaking my perfectly usable pair of legs. So, with this game you can get some of the best from both “worlds”; do awesome tricks to impress your friends (you can export videos), without having to worry about getting hurt (except your behind from sitting too much perhaps).
Here comes the big one. In Tony Hawk 3 you’ll notice that there is A LOT of replay value; this is a game you can play for a long time. If you’re playing the game for the first time then you will want to try the Tutorial segment of the game, which surely helped me. There you can choose from a menu what kind of help you need, whether it’s simply moving or doing huge very deadly looking combinations, which are the ones giving you the most points. The main segment of the game is Career Mode, here you first choose a predefined skater, or make one yourself (more on this later). Then you select one of the eight levels and after a minimal of loading you set off skating. Each level has a bundle of challenges to complete, such as getting airport tickets and delivering them to your skating pal. This one involves grinding a little to grab the tickets and then getting across the entire airport without falling, and then simply moving to your pal. Another example is moving across floating letters, being S, K, A, T and E. To get to the next level you will need to finish a number of challenges, which get harder for each level. An example of increasing difficulty is that in the first level you will need to get 30000 points while in a later level it’s increased to 75000, all this within two minutes. After a few levels you get a chance to win a medal, but here the rules are different. There are many skaters who each get 3 tried to get as many points as possible. The two highest scores you get are made an average of, and the skater with the most points wins the gold, second most is silver and third most is bronze.
Throughout the levels there are scattered items that lets you add to your statistics. Each skater starts with predefined values in for instance how high he or she can jump or how fast they can go etc. After you find such an item you can add one point to the stat you feel needs improvement. This way an old dog can learn some new tricks.
If you simply feel like practicing a level, then you choose Single Session. This is very much similar to Career, except that the challenges you complete don’t count. My favourite is Free Skate, where you only select a level and then you do whatever you feel like, and for as long as you’d like. The problem is that you have to unlock levels in Career, so you cannot simply do a Free Skate wherever you’d like.
Controlling the skater you choose is both difficult and easy. You move him around by pressing (by default) W, A, S, D and make him / her do various tricks using the numbers on the keypad. For me, who was completely new to the series the learning curve was as I expected. At first, doing tricks felt awkward but a bit later in the evening I pulled off tricks that would’ve impressed me greatly a week earlier. One of the main changes in the third instalment of the series is that you can pull off a minor trick that’s called a Manual. When doing a Manual you move along the surface on only the two back / forth wheels. While this may not seem overly important, it’s something you use to link a series of tricks with a new one. For instance, if you’ve grinded along something and you see the opportunity to do so further on then you can simply try to do a Manual until you get there, and that way you can get scores that are really, really big.
Another couple of features that impressed me in Tony Hawk 3 is that you can first off customize a character, by selecting skin, clothes, glasses, beard etc. This is even nicer if you learn to import skins of your own (I bet you’re thinking of a female naked skater now). Secondly you can even make you own skating park, which is very simple and fun! A fully sized skating park is extremely expensive in real life, so being able to build your very own in a couple of minutes adds a lot to the replay value. You can even share parks with your friends. I know I will.
Sound and Music
I was overly impressed when looking at the in-game music playlist. On it you can find groups like Alien Ant Farm, CKY, KRS One, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Redman and Xzibit. In total, 20 songs! There’s a problem though, each of the eight levels have certain music tracks, so if you can’t manage to pass a level then you will be hearing some of the tracks again and again and again, and again. On the other hand, the music add a good deal to the atmosphere. It’s simply songs people, especially skaters like a lot, so – great move! The sound effects are also of a high standard, realistically portraying ollies, grinds etc. Activision, Gearbox and Neversoft did get the actual Tony Hawk to do a good deal of the voice-overs, especially in the tutorial. Except that you’ll be hearing quite a lot of people talking, telling you to got lost or even that the barbeque smells good. Besides the fact that there’s a bit of “hiss” in some of the voice-overs and that the music sometimes gets annoying I’m very much pleased.
*More replay value warning* 7 different options to choose from; Trick Attack, Graffiti, Slap!, King of the Hill, Keep-Away, Control Zone and Capture the Flag. You can play these across the Internet, or on a LAN. Explaining all of these would take ages, but you can probably assume what some of them are about, and you can take my word that you will not be disappointed.
As you may have guessed by now, this is a really good game. While the graphics aren’t as breathtaking as Doom 3 will be it does its job very nicely, with realistic textures and fluid animation. You can play this game for a long time until you’ve done “it all”, and even if you do that then you can still challenge people over the net or on the local network. All this, with a great music score and decent voice-overs. For any fan of the series, or of skating itself should definitely buy this game. In fact, even if you only have a mild interest in skating then you should pick this one up; it really is a lot of fun, and it won’t break your bones.