Behold the last true gamer's game. Forget about simplification. Forget about attracting a fresh crowd. Proving Ground is as welcoming to newcomers as a kick in the nuts. In fact, it's the very antithesis of Skate. Whereas EA have started from the basics and designed a game based upon an intuitive control system, Neversoft have piled more and more features and commands into an already complicated title. Ironically, though, it's a good job too: because it's resulted in one of the best Tony Hawk games yet.
Don't be misled by the screenshots. The presentation does absolutely nothing to aid Tony's cause. Proving Ground looks awful; so much so that even American Wasteland manages to eclipse it in the visual department.
Maybe the large world is to blame, or perhaps the ability to drop anything, anywhere, at any time, into the game - but when put next to Skate it's crushingly bad. There's not a 'human' in the game that won't give you nightmares. And it gets even worse in slow-mo: the bullet-time effects in the photo and 'Nail The...' modes only highlight the shoddy animation work.
But, remember, beauty is only skin-deep, and we're not usually ones to fuss over utterly shat graphics if the rest of the package is sound. Thankfully Proving Ground's lacklustre approach to its presentation isn't mirrored in the gameplay. The core elements of the series remain unchanged. The controls will be familiar to anyone that's played one of the other titles, although a handy kick move has been mapped to RB (note to EA: this is where it should belong for Skate). Imagine, if you will, a bigger, uglier, Project 8 and you'll be fairly near the mark.
The world is PACKED. It's 50% larger than Project 8's (which was the biggest Tony Hawk game) and almost every square inch is designed with huge combos in mind. Three cities are included, namely Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, and all are linked and can be visited without interruption. They're not all open from the start, mind, and you'll have to follow each story to its conclusion to see it all. These cities aren't empty though. They're once again littered with Chalk Challenges, and each major area plays home to a set of Classic Challenges too.
Want more? Well, it doesn't end there... There is, of course, the ability to create a skate park in your 'lounge,' but you can now modify existing objects and drop new things anywhere in the world in order to create bigger lines.
If you're not keen on Proving Ground's setting you can make your own, provided that you unlock the objects by following the Rigger storyline. There are no barren stretches of road to be found here, and it's extremely easy to adjust a weaker area into something more to your liking. One tap of the back button is all that's needed to bring up the object selection screen, and items can be dumped in the world instantly.
The video editor is less accessible as the game doesn't record footage without you instructing it to do so first. It's a huge annoyance because the most awe-inspiring combos are discovered spontaneously. Forgive this irritation however and you'll discover a tool every bit as powerful as a store-bought editing suite. You can lose weeks on end creating professional skating videos, if you must. It's a feature only for the hardcore, but is amazingly intricate and deserves to be tried at least once.
All that said, we're a little concerned as to the reaction Proving Ground will elicit. It's certainly an ugly game and in the wake of Skate it feels outdated too. This is now the ninth mainstream Hawk title, and the game hasn't undergone any massive evolution since its birth.
That really doesn't matter though. The Tony Hawk games always were brilliant, and judging by this latest incarnation, they still are too. It's unbelievably refreshing, liberating even, to jump into a world free from the laws of gravity after being tied down by Skate's restrictive utopia. It's big, it's fast, it's a little bit mindless, and it's the perfect answer to all those niggles that held Skate back from true greatness. To quote the last line of the accompanying PR letter: "Tony Hawk's Proving Ground - still f**king brilliant."
It's not a question of 'this or Skate?' it's of 'which one first?' Still as essential as ever.
- Masses of challenges
- Powerful editing tools
- Atrocious presentation