Before we begin putting arms around each other as a bunch of PlayStation skateboarding fans, screaming classic pop-punk songs and praising this week’s new Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, let’s remember the last time a nostalgic cash-in pretended to be Superman.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD launched in 2012 as part of the last gasp of the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation, but it was far from the return to skateboarding glory that fans had hoped for—especially as the series had been written off after watered-down sequels and peripheral add-ons. As a “compilation” of the first two mega-popular Tony Hawk games, THPSHD only included seven skateparks from both games combined. Its “HD” status may have technically been true, but glitchy physics, questionable color-mapping, and a broken “big drop” system made it far from definitive.
Eight years later, the series’ handlers at Activision are back with another crack at the first two Tony Hawk games, once again on the cusp of a new console generation. In good news, this time, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is… good. Like, it’s really good.
What to expect, how it feels
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
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The sales pitch is simple: Every skatepark from the series’ first two PlayStation games is back, all touched up with modern graphical flourishes while otherwise resembling the courses’ original geometry. In kind, gameplay breaks down like it traditionally did—a mix of a “classic” campaign, ample “free skate” options, multiplayer versus, and a massive create-a-park mode.
Having spent the past day playing a lot of the remake’s PC version, I can report that the rebuilt-from-scratch controls and physics are (mostly) on point—with every major difference hinging on a jump from the original game’s refresh rate. What once natively ran at under 30 fps can now run at an unlocked rate at arbitrary resolutions, and I’ve seriously enjoyed the results on my 144Hz monitor.
Mechanically, the multistudio team that pieced Tony Hawk back together appears to have erred on the side of allegiance to the first two PlayStation games. How high you jump; how long you hover in midair while boosting up a half-pipe; how quickly your body rotates as you pull a trick; how long it takes tricks to animate: set a stopwatch on the modern versions and their PS1 forebears, and they’re pretty much 1:1. This differs slightly from the Xbox and Dreamcast versions of the first two games, which each added floatiness to most of the above metrics.
If your brightest THPS memories come from the ’90s, then you’re likely to remember the game as played on a CRT panel, a screen technology that benefits from lower latency between button taps and on-screen action. This was the first thing I thought about when I struggled with trick timing while playing THPS1+2 anew: is my monitor the bottleneck for my high scores and sick tricks? Does my screen suck, or is it just me? So I grabbed my Samsung Galaxy S9, toggled super slow-motion video, and got down to business.
Lapsed THPS players should expect short-lived frustrations.
On default monitor and GPU settings, my PC version of the game shows roughly 16 frames between a button tap (using an Xbox One gamepad, connected via 2.4GHz wireless adapter) and a significant in-game animation beginning (in my test’s case, a mild bending of the knees before pulling an “ollie” hop on a skateboard). On a 144Hz monitor, those 16 frames equate to roughly 0.11 seconds. Depending on your GPU manufacturer, however, you can toggle different types of “low latency” modes. In my case, I went into an Nvidia Control Panel, switched “low latency” mode to “on” (not “ultra”) and tried again. This cut the tap-to-animation time in half, from 16 frames to eight frames (down to 0.05 seconds). After making this switch, I did indeed start doing better. (Again, this is just the animation before your skater actually hops. Milliseconds matter.)
Without a copy of the game on either PS4 or Xbox One to compare, I’ll merely estimate that those systems’ input latency counts (as connected to standard HDTVs and running at 60 fps) are more floaty than a high-end PC connected to a high refresh-rate monitor. Mostly, I’ve had to come to terms with how the series’ classic controls and timings feel different when your character’s animations run that much more smoothly. Your mileage will quite honestly hinge on how that switch strikes you. (Lapsed THPS players should expect short-lived frustrations when getting accustomed to it.)
More on mechanics, achievements
If that seems like overkill, you’ve clearly never tried racking up precise, multipart skate-trick combos in a classic Tony Hawk game before. In great news, at least, this week’s remake accounts for the realities of modern screens with a mild change to the scoring system. Should you miss your trick’s landing angle, the window for landing has been widened, only with a score penalty for “sloppy” landings (or enjoy a score bonus for a “perfect” landing). However, that tweak doesn’t apply to trick animations that bleed from, say, a midair kickflip to a rail grind. (These in particular have been kicking my butt.)
With all of that in mind, the controls can best be described as “Tony Hawk 2-Plus.” Every trick chain can be extended with “manuals” (pop a skateboard “wheelie” while keeping your feet balanced) and “reverts” (land from a half-pipe with a slick rotation), while the biggest mechanic lifted from a later sequel is the wall plant, which lets you bounce off a wall with your foot instead of having a trick chain end with a wall collision. Otherwise, the mechanical system is mostly old school. Speed is managed with the same “special” meter from the first two games, while the “big drop” mechanic has been removed. That means you can survive crazy falls so long as your skateboard lines up with the ground.