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Tony Hawk Pro Skater (PSX) Review

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It's amazing that it's taken this long for PSX gamers to get a good skateboarding game. Street Sk8er was a lame representation of the sport, and the list ends there. I guess developers would rather work on the 17th mediocre snowboarding game for the system rather than give gamers something new. Well, all that's changed now with the arrival of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (THPS). Not only does this manage to be the best skateboarding game ever on any system, it also has easily taken an unquestionable place among the PSX's best titles.

Presentation/Graphics : 95
Rock-solid, inventive environments are where THPS starts. Each level has so many different possibilities for where to go and which tricks to perform it can be difficult to decide where to begin. Everything from rails to swimming pools to half-pipes to picnic tables are scattered about, just waiting to be taken advantage of. And the nice thing is there's not a glitchy polygon seam or other ugliness to be found.

The skaters have the usual varying abilities, and look plain fantastic. The animations are great, the tricks look amazing, and everything ties together perfectly. Another nice touch is that if you bail on a trick, the crashes look appropriately painful and brutal - you even get to see a little blood, and rightly so, if I might add. After all, landing on your head from 15 feet in the air is never going to be pretty by any means.

Presentation/Audio : 95
Another excellent part of the game, the basic sounds of skating are represented about as well as they can be. Grinds, landings, crashes, and even the simple sound of your board rolling over different surfaces are all spot-on, and tie in seamlessly with the graphics to create an excellent sense of immersion.

THPS has one of the best soundtracks I've heard in awhile, and I generally don't care about game music. When I heard the Dead Kennedys, I knew the game couldn't be all bad. Essentially a cool mix of punk, ska, and other traditionally skate-oriented music types, this is definitely a game that you want to crank through a stereo.

Interface/Options : 95
Navigating the game's menus and wading through the various options is a simple process, and while nothing ground-breaking, THPS's front end is clean and quick, just as it should be.

Controls follow a pretty standard pattern - hold X to crouch, release to jump at the appropriate time, and perform tricks with various d-pad directions and button presses. Simple enough, yes, but how many games actually excecute this properly? Not nearly enough. THPS uses this interface to perfection, in my opinion. Sure, you can pull off some amazing tricks pretty easily by accident, but doing it consistently will absolutely take some practice.

The d-pad works just as well as the analog stick for control, but the d-pad is certainly more precise for doing tricks. Still, I prefer the stick's looser feel. Either way, those who still don't own a Dual Shock controller won't miss out.

Gameplay : 98
Performing tricks for points, if you haven't already guessed, is the main point of the game. However, in a bit of sheer genius Neversoft/Activision added a set of varying objectives for each level that go beyond just getting the high score. On the second level, for example, one of them is to grind 5 picnic tables, or you may be required to smash all of the wooden crates scattered around a level. It is impossible to accomplish all of the goals within the short time you have for each run on a level, so these added goals not only promote revisiting the same locations, but require a slightly different mindset to accomplish each successfully. As you complete the different tasks, you earn tapes which in turn will open up other areas of the game and new equipment.

What's nice about THPS is its free-form nature. You have different objectives to meet, but the majority of the time where you go and what you do is entirely up to you. You are competing against the clock, not a race course or checkpoints. This freedom makes every run on a given level a new experience with open-ended possibilities and no limits other than your own creativity. Very fresh, and very cool.

The tricks themselves can be fairly easy to pull off, but as mentioned earlier, doing this for big points with any measure of consistency will take practice. Tricks can also be chained to form combos and the like. Where THPS excels is that the excellent animations not only allow you to easily see what is happening from one trick to the next, but you can switch to another trick instantly - you don't have to deal with canned sequences that can't be interrupted. This also adds greatly to the free-form nature of the game and puts it in a class by itself.

There are plenty of play options, as well. Career Mode allows you to unlock the new areas and equipment as you progress, while other modes allow you to Free Skate without a timer, or retry a given level as much as you'd like.

Replay Value : 95
As mentioned earlier, the varying objectives on each level give you plenty of reasons to revisit each location even after you've moved on in the main game. Beyond that there is always a sense of discovery as you uncover big-point combos or finally learn to land a particularly difficult trick. In a very old-school videogame sense, just trying to best the high score on each level is enough reason to go back to each location for more. Add in a nifty two-player mode and THPS is a game that will keep you busy for a long time.

Overall : 97
THPS is so successful in its basic execution, and it's one of those maddeningly addictive "easy to pick up, difficult to master" games that absorb your time like a sponge, that it's difficult to imagine anyone not having a blast with this title. It has huge crossover appeal - you don't have to know anything about skating to have fun - and anyone with basic videogame skills can probably appreciate what it has to offer. Don't pass this one up.

By: Andy L. 12/22/99

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