Previews

Tony Hawk's Proving Ground

Hawk returns to his roots to win us over again

Neversoft is about to stuff its latest Tony Hawk with three different types of game in one. Which flavour of skating will you choose?

Woah there, Tony. It's barely been three months since Project 8 successfully popped PS3's Hawk cherry, and here you are, back with a feature-packed strut that's potentially primed to make the world's premier skateboarding series soar again
Development began on Proving Ground while Project 8 was only partially complete. It is, once again, a seamless world, but broken up into three distinct districts, based on Washington DC, Philadelphia and Baltimore City. Doesn't sound like much? Well, just to give you an idea of the scale, Washington alone contains Union Station, a mall, a subway and the Capitol building among others. Baltimore City features a downtown area, a harbour and Lansdowne skate park, a real-world trick-land that was built back in the '70s. And Philly packs in some slums, a downtown of its own and two further locales based on actual skate facilities - the FDR park, built by volunteers and a fave hangout of Bam Margera, plus the 'LOVE Park', aka JFK Plaza.

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Complex indoor skate-parks make us think of the good ol' days.

Choose your own adventure
The game begins in those aforementioned Philly slums, a story that, once again, charts your rise from no-mark to... well, that's now your own choice. If you want to go from zero to hero, from feckless boarding bum to famous icon, then you can choose to be a 'Career' skater. Or you could choose infamy over fame and keep pushing things at street level - being a 'Hardcore' skater is all about pushing the boundaries of inadvisable monkey business and stuntman-style mischief, with little concern for self-preservation. Finally, you could be a 'Rigger', as much an engineer as a skater, manipulating the game world and clambering all over the shop in order to seek out new areas and lines. Each of these three options presents an independent career progression with its own goals, skills and narrative (there are over 70 cut-scenes stuffed into Proving Grounds), and you can swap between them as and when you like.
Not that customisation stops there - the Create-a-Skater options have been much expanded beyond the piffling selection of body/face/clothing types available in Project 8, and working your way through each career strand unlocks plenty more kit and other bits and pieces for your wardrobe.
See, Proving Ground has the horn for customisation. As well as varied play styles (we do wonder whether or not that's a good idea, mind, instead of letting you settle into a one-scheme-fits-all control setup) and character details, you'll now be able to record and edit your very own footage, and take snapshots. You'll even have your own HQ, in the form a large hangar that can be kitted out with all kinds of decor, including some colourful pre-made themes - give it a dojo kinda vibe, for example - and furniture you can scatter around the place, and even skate on. That last bit's worth remembering, because you can now access this personal habitat online, and invite other players around.

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The level of detail in Tony's latest venture is amazing.

Meet and greet
While those other players are in town, you'll still be able to skate the entire world together, but with a wider range of game set-up options at your disposal. For starters, you'll can gamble your in-game currency as part of online challenges, and put your money where your headset is. If you're hosting a game, the world will be your world, and any changes you put into place as a Rigger-type character will be ones that everyone else can see, use and call you rubbish for. Plus, insult-flavoured favourite versus mode 'Horse' is making an online comeback, but it's no longer about just taking turns to score the highest combo - you can tailor the requirements of each game as you see fit, from which objects have to be tricked upon, or assign some mini-goals to each bout.
Other old features get polished up, too. The familiar 'Classic' mode - complete a series of objectives and score targets within a two-minute run - is back, this time activated via a number of Tony Hawk arcade machines dotted across the cities. Through these cabinets, you can access high-score runs from the cute retro menu, or play a whole new mode: Hawkman. This involves collecting a series of blobs scattered around the locality, their colours dictating just how you've got to collect them (for instance, red ones have to be gathered while airborne, yellow while grinding). In line with the multi-tiered Am/Pro/Sick difficulty system that allows you to choose how problematic each challenge is, Hawkman's 'Sick' rating requires you collect every blob in just one single combo. And such masochism brings us neatly to a final detail of note: the bail goals from previous games, where you'd have to fling your skater from their board and steer their floppy body into giant bowling pins and the like, are now gone. Result.

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