E3 2007:Eyes-on Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground

E3 Disclaimer: AMN’s E3 previews are designed to inform you of what each game at E3 plays like, and what we think of what’s shown. These previews are not reviews, and we reserve final judgment of each game until it is finished and released. These previews offer an honest opinion of what a publisher chose to demo at E3. So, without further ado, read on.

What The Game’s About
Well, you know what the game’s about, don’t you? The Tony Hawk franchise is the stuff of legend in this industry and has hosted more than ten major iterations (and more than a dozen smaller versions) since its debut on the original PlayStation. The newest version of the game puts players in charge of a skater aspiring for greatness, but your particular flavor of greatness – and your path getting there – is left up to you. In Proving Ground, players refine their characters in one of four different categories, helping to define who the character is as a skater. Are they interested in becoming a star and commercial success, like The Hawk? Does their destiny lie in singularly pursuing the perfection of tricks, like Valelly? Or do they choose to be a loner, one of the underground legends of the sport? The choice is up to you.

This time around, the game takes place in levels like the greater DC area and Philadelphia. Most of the missions revolve around true skating challenges, but some of the goofing off that the franchise is known for makes its return, as well. By tagging up with Bam Margera, players will complete a number of hilarious tasks throughout the maps. Nail the Trick has now been expanded to include flips, grabs and grind this time around, so players can maintain focus on perfection throughout their skating runs.

Visually speaking, the game looks better than even Project 8 did. One shift in philosophy moves the balance meter to the sides of the screen, where highlighted areas move up and down depending on a player’s lean. A few of the major features in this game are visually related, as well. A new camera system allows players to take their favorite picture in a variety of locations. Some objectives, for example, will require skaters to take their own picture during certain tricks, to perhaps land on the cover of a skating magazine.

Another major addition is the expansive home base area, where players have their own skating pad to customize and develop. Using money they make in the main game, players can build up their homes with a variety of equipment. Audio here is a nice touch; DSP effects shift the quality of sound based on the quality of the radio or TV that you purchase. Additionally, you can run any of a series of skating videos found in the game, or your own footage from various runs.

Video is a pivotal aspect of the Proving Ground experience. The video editor built into the software is quite amazing to see, as it manages to bring the complexity of true software suites like iMovie to the game platform without making controls too difficult. This will allow players to direct and cut together their own reels based on the runs they have accomplished. They can then submit these to the developers and offer them to friends online.

Finally, online multiplayer offers a step up by being directly integrated into the playing experience, rather than being a separate option. At any time, players can select the Live/Network commands from their menu and bring up a map of the whole game world. All of the games currently going on will show up and skaters can jump right in. Additionally, players can host matches at their own skating pads, bringing an exciting new element to multiplayer.

What’s Hot
The new camera options bring a new level of replayability to dedicated fans, and the brush-ups of graphics and control schemes should satisfy players left grumbling with some of Project 8’s weaker sides. Online multiplayer will be well done, and the ability to customize not only your own pad, but any of the levels out there add a fun new dimension to the playing experience.

What’s Not
This is still just an improvement, rather than some massive jump, for this series. Therefore, gamers looking for a remarkably different experience may find their loyalties trending towards EA’s upcoming game Skate. Otherwise, Proving Ground is shaping up to be the best next-gen version of the Tony Hawk franchise thus far and will be a welcome addition to this year’s lineup in the months to come.

Skate versus Proving Ground. That’s going to be the big battle over the next few months. While our time with the game did not point to a clear winner, the Tony Hawk franchise is certainly ready to take on any competition. With the return of its addictive gameplay and the addition of some great features, like the revolutionary video editor, the next Hawk game will not disappoint.