Tony Hawk games have a long history of providing hours of entertaining sandbox play and Proving Ground is no exception. This latest iteration does a lot to up the ante for sandbox-based gameplay, moving away from the very linear story mode of Tony Hawkâ€™s Underground and into a more free-form set of individual stories you can pursue as you try to improve at various aspects of the sport. On top of the story line improvements, the new addition of rigging (setting up rails and ramps, etc) as an option provides even more sandbox play. You are no longer tied to only the lines that are laid out by the level designers, and you can even place cameras and take pictures of your best tricks.
The basic components of a Tony Hawk game are all still in their familiar places. The create-a-skater options are solid, the controls are still a series of quick button-presses, and there are still plenty of achievements to be completed (â€œSpin a whole lotâ€Ł â€œGet mega pointsâ€Ł etc). Grinds, manuals and fliptricks are easy to hit and recover from, making the main component of challenge in the game stringing together really long lines. There are some cool tricks for doing this, such as being able to manual into a wallplant to pick up speed.
The best way to get really long lines, though, is to use rigging to set yourself up. Rigging is a skill you can learn that allows you to place quarter pipes, ramps, rails and cameras. There are different sizes of each, and there is some limitation on placing them during challenges, but they allow you to connect two lines that you otherwise would have needed some long manual or a perfect run-out to get between. You can also use ramps or quarter pipes to reach places that would be hard if not impossible to get to otherwise.
In addition to the story lines, which revolve around different types of skating, there are many different challenges on the map. There are markers that show you where long grinds start, with subsequent markers for the amateur, pro and â€œsickâ€Ł accomplishment of a line. The same is true for long jumps and manual sequences (usually involving wallplants). Besides the markers, there are also photo opportunities, which set up some particular challenge you have to complete, like â€œfliptrick over this bridgeâ€Ł.
At this point, the basic Tony Hawk gameplay of grinds, manuals and air tricks is well refined and familiar. It is still fun, but there is nothing new about it, and even though this game adds significantly to the range of things it asks you to do, none of them provide an interesting new challenge â€“ they merely provide more technical barriers to overcome. This is an especially glaring weakness in the face of the new game SKATE, which provides a more realistic level of difficulty for every aspect of skating, and allows you to take and edit videos of your lines and great tricks. Those who are finding the ever-increasing complexity of Tony Hawk challenges tiresome would be better off trying SKATE.
Though it is true that Tony Hawk now faces its stiffest competition in a long time, the amount of improvements present in Proving Ground shows that there is still life left in the franchise. The more simplistic controls allow for much more dynamic lines and combos, but they also require you to do more outrageous things in order to feel youâ€™ve accomplished something. Fortunately, the large number of challenges and the addition of rigging make finding outrageous things to do much more frequent and interesting (as in, it requires some creative input from you). If sandbox skating with easy to learn controls is your thing, this is a Tony Hawk that is well worth playing.