Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater never should’ve gone away. These are some of the defining games of the PlayStation, Dreamcast, and Xbox eras. And publisher Activision only had to put the franchise to bed because it so thoroughly pillaged its riches with annual releases and then a pair of careless attempts to revive it. Now, in the hands of Vicarious Visions, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 is back, and it’s a reminder that games don’t get much better than this.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 launches September 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Epic Games Store. As the name suggests, it is a remake of the first two Tony Hawk games. It combines modern visuals with classic levels and the skating/combo mechanics of the later releases.
The end result is a video game that looks, sounds, and feels incredible. And it’s one that should appeal to long-time fans and people who are new to skateboarding entirely.
I played on the PlayStation 4 Pro.
When planet Earth collides with Tony Hawk
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is the platonic ideal of a video game. If movies and TV are about stories and characters and music is about melody and rhythm, then games are about physics and interaction. And those are the elements where the Tony Hawk games have always excelled.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 is about moving your skater through a 3D environment. Through repetition, you learn how your character balances and what they are capable of, and then you start to see the hidden lines that you can string together through that space.
This game captures that aspect of the classic Tony Hawks. And when it’s at its best, it almost feels like a zen or meditative experience. When I’m playing, my brain shuts off. I’m just jacked into the world of Pro Skater.
It’s amazing that after all this time — more than 20 years — Tony Hawk is still the game I’m going to point to when I describe what I want from this medium. And Vicarious Visions should get a lot of credit for enshrining that so successfully.
Old school (and School II) mission design
The structure of Tony Hawk 1 and 2 is simple, and that comes down to the faithfulness of the remake. Like in the original games, you get two minutes to complete various objectives. These include high-score challenges that get progressively higher. But it also includes quests like kickflipping over specific gaps or finding five collectibles in the world.
Vicarious Visions doesn’t try to embellish these things. Instead, it offers up an exact re-creation of what you got in the original games. And that means the game can often feel basic, but I welcome it. I’m glad that the developers didn’t try to bog down the pacing with complex new scenarios.
Instead, if you want to get more from these stages, you can hop into multiplayer, which supports online and local play. It also has a casual Jams mode and the competitive ranked matches. In multiplayer, you’ll go through a variety of modes including standard score attack and best combo. I like the graffiti game where you mark your territory by performing tricks and combos on different obstacles. Then you can attempt to take course elements from an opponent, but to do so, you must land a higher-scoring trick than them.
If you’re not into the multiplayer, don’t expect to get dozens of hours out of the game, but I’m already looking forward to ensuring I have the highest scores among my friends.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 looks and sounds fantastic
But while Vicarious Visions was careful to maintain the feel and design of the original games, it gave the look a significant overhaul.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 looks like a modern game. It has smooth animations, detailed characters and geometry, and high-res textures. The lighting has a lifelike camera quality. I think Vicarious Visions’ artists also did a nice job capturing the somewhat grungy swagger of the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64 releases. That seems to come down to camera filters and effects, but it works.
The developers also rebuilt each skater to match their current, older selves. And I find that really wonderful. All of these people still skate. Tony Hawk landed a 900 when he was 48. We don’t have to pretend that skating — an art as much as it is a sport — is something exclusively for the young.
But these character models also give the game a different vibe than the punk-rock original. You’re looking at some people who — since the release of Tony Hawk Pro Skater — have gone on to create million-dollar businesses. They are parents who want to pay for their kids’ education. And it’s nice that this game doesn’t try to hide the reality of age to maintain some faux youth-culture energy.
Likewise the soundtrack has also aged but by mostly standing still. Activision was able to bring back almost all of the songs from the first two games. On top of that, it also recorded new effects for the characters. Tony Hawk now grunts like Tony Hawk. And the sound of your skateboard’s trucks slamming onto a rail or landing on the ground is almost like ASMR.
Skateboarding and video games are soulmates
Skateboarding and video games belong together. The former started in the 1950s and went through growth spurts in the 1960s and 1980s alongside the first video games. This made them cousins just because they both had a similar counter-culture streak and a chip on their shoulders about mainstream acceptance.
But it goes deeper than this. They’re about the same things. They’re about what happens when you set a body in motion on top of another body in motion. They both explore what happens when a person throws themselves into the sky and then has to deal with repercussions of a planet’s gravity pulling them back down. And they are both about expression, creativity, and form.
Skateboarding didn’t need the Olympics. And video games didn’t need the approval of Hollywood. As both were approaching maturity, they found each other and produced Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. And those games helped expand the popularity of both skating and games. They also helped to define what was special about each.
For video games, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 still shows us what games are capable of. You’ll find sad dads in books. Movies will have equally moving stories. Music can show us that emotions are not necessarily tied to language. But only video games can re-create skateboarding.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 is available September 4 for $40. Activision provided GamesBeat with a copy of the game for the purpose of this review.