The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remaster feels great

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 may be a remaster, but it’s also ambitious. The upcoming collection of the iconic PlayStation-era games aims to take everything players loved about the original titles — the skaters, the courses, the tricks — and update them so they feel at home in 2020. It’s not as simple as it sounds.

Games, particularly early 3D ones, don’t always age gracefully. It’s a tricky balancing act; change too little, and the game will feel dated, but change too much, and it may as well be a different game. Thankfully, from what I’ve played, THPS1+2 has found the sweet spot. This is Tony Hawk the way I remember it.

The demo I played — which will be available on August 14th for those who preordered the game — is, admittedly, a very brief slice of the overall experience. I could only visit one level (the iconic opening warehouse stage), use one skater (Tony Hawk, obviously), and play through the single session mode where you have exactly two minutes to do whatever you want. But it was enough to get me excited for the final product.

The most obvious change is the way the game looks. The blocky, muddy characters and environments have been replaced by much more realistic visuals. The characters, in particular, look great. I loved the way the skaters will shift their bodies somewhat awkwardly when landing a particularly difficult trick, and there’s a cool effect when you wipe out, as if someone was rewinding a VHS tape. But despite the new coat of paint, things aren’t that different. The warehouse is laid out exactly the way it was 20 years ago. All of the details — the wall you smash through to reach ground level, the hard-to-reach office space, the taxi cab — are still there. They just now look much more realistic.

This extends to the way the game plays. Now, I haven’t played THPS in many years, so I can’t exactly say the remaster is completely faithful in terms of controls. But it feels the way I remember it playing; likely, that means developer Vicarious Visions smoothed over some of the awkward animations and controls so that the new version didn’t seem dated. Whatever the studio did, it worked. At its best, THPS has always fit in a narrow space between an over-the-top arcade game and a more realistic simulation, and it still feels that way. There’s just enough realism and difficulty in pulling off cool tricks that it captures the excitement of skateboarding without all of the frustrations. Even if you suck, it’s fun. And you can still do it all while listening to Goldfinger and Rage Against the Machine.

There are still a lot of questions about the game, of course. THPS1+2 combines two games, with a metagame over top that links them together in a way that’s supposed to create a cohesive whole. There are also new online and creation elements, along with a modern cast of skaters. These elements will be an important factor in whether the new game has staying power, and I haven’t been able to experience any of them yet.

But the demo is still a relief. One of the reasons fans have been so excited for the remaster is that the Tony Hawk series has… well, it has not been very good for years. I wouldn’t blame anyone for being wary of yet another attempt to revitalize it, considering past attempts like THPS5, which was, to put it nicely, a disappointment. That’s why this new demo, brief as it is, is so welcome. There could still be issues with the game at large, but at its core, THPS1+2 does what it says: it plays like classic Tony Hawk while looking like a brand-new game.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 will launch on September 4th on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC (via the Epic Games Store).

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