So, there’s a new Tony Hawk game out. We’d love to bring you a review, but review copies are as rare as a perfectly-executed 900. Anyone who’s been following the press around Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, however, may see this as a blessing. Anyway, so you don’t feel let down without a review, we decided to take a look at one of the earlier, better, games in the series – Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3.
The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS) games came to life on the PlayStation 1 in 199 and have been ported to pretty much all formats including mobile phones (the old school type with keys, kids – not your fancy touchy touchy smartphones!) While the series quality has, arguably, ebbed and flowed over time, THSP3 is seen by many as the pinnacle of the series.
Released in 2001, THPS3 was the first of the series to hit sixth-gen machines, developed by series founders Neversoft with ports to the older Playstation and N64 consoles (as well as mobile ports for Gameboy Colour and Gameboy Advance) being handled by third party studios. It continued the series two minute run format – a player is dropped into an often somewhat larger than life environment which houses a number of challenges; get a high score, find a certain number of things, perform specific tricks at specific points. Any challenges completed within that two minute run are struck off the list for that stage; complete enough challenges and the next stage opens up. These open stages are broken up with score attack competitions – large arenas where you have that same two minute time limit stretched now over three rounds. Score highest and you win the competition, but there are also goals for second and third place.
The THPS series is, at its core, twitch gaming. The players skater zips round the level at high speeds and it’s up to the player to hit ramps and other objects, using the controller to fire off jumps, flips, grabs and other types of tricks. Most of these are mapped to the face buttons, with the left stick controlling movement. Players would memorise, perhaps not specific tricks, but the layouts of the levels, understanding where it was appropriate to pull off certain types of trick to maximise scoring. This third game added a new layer with the revert; come down off a vertical ramp and hit the right shoulder button to flip the board around. Use this in quick succession with a manual trick and you can extend combos to a significant degree.
While the game comes with a selection of pro skaters to choose from, the real charm lies in the Create A Skater mode. While we’ve seen character creation done better in more recent titles, the array of options and clothes can be used to build a reasonable facsimile of the player to careen around the skate parks on offer. And talking about the skate parks, the customisation options also extend to there. With a reasonably well featured Park Editor, you can build your own series of ramps, rails and jumps, making anything from smooth, easy rides to ridiculous deathtraps for your skater to break their neck on!
The skill of the games is deceptive; it’s perfectly capable to have a good time playing and enjoying tracking through the levels, but as you start to get good and delve into the multiplayer side of things, the competitive streak of THPS comes out. While offline battles could become heated, THPS3 holds historical significance in being the first in the series to contain an online mode, albeit limited to the PS2 version.
It would be remiss to talk about a Tony Hawk game without mentioning the soundtrack and THPS3 has a cracker. Featuring a selection of 20 tracks from Rock, Punk and Hip Hop’s finest, it’s hard not to listen to Alien Ant Farm, AFI and Zebrahead without this game immediately coming to mind. As with the whole extreme sports scene, the soundtrack is very much a snapshot of the early 2000’s, but that’s what makes it so appealing. This was a time before the heavy penetration of the internet, when things seemed a little bit more carefree and baggy shorts were just the clothes to wear when you were partaking in a bit of boarding action.
Given the lacklustre efforts released under the name Tony Hawk since the series was passed to developer Robomodo, it is easy to dismiss this as a relic of the past, but THPS3 really represents something not often seen in modern gaming – the “one more play” game. Dropping into the Suburbia stage, the only thing on your mind being to finally hit that high score and being off by a cool 300 points? One more play. Not quite finding all the valves in the Foundry level? One more play. One more play. Here comes the opening chords of 96 Quite Bitter Beings. Let’s do this.
Take a look at Metacritic. THPS3 sits at 97/100 on PS2, the joint highest rating on the console alongside Grand Theft Auto 3. Not only that, this is a series that, for better or worse, is still talked about today. I’d like to hope that modern gamers could see through the more recent entries that have brought the name into disrepute, perhaps save that £50 asking price for THPS5 and pop down to their local second hand game store, pick up a PS2 and a copy of this little belter. One more play. One more play.