Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (PS2)

Following the success of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Activision launched the Activision O2 label for its extreme sports titles, which included Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 among other stylistically-similar games. Around this time, the Pro Skater series and its ilk also began moving over to what were next-gen consoles at the time, including the PlayStation 2. After playing the first two Pro Skater games in anticipation of an upcoming remaster, I decided to continue exploring the series once again in order to keep the momentum going. Though not without flaws, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 features a number of improvements over the previous game and makes the transition well to the PS2 era.

The gameplay format is similar to the first two games, with competitions set between groups of levels, except this time it goes back to the goal-based progression system in Pro Skater 1, dropping the cash-based system in Pro Skater 2. The larger variety of goals in a given non-competition level is retained from Pro Skater 2, however the ones that don’t rely on score are also randomized from a selection on each campaign playthrough, adding a bit of variety to the experience. In part due to the newer physics engine, it’s also much easier to conceivably complete multiple goals within the two-minute time window, though skill and level design can also play a factor. That said, there were some goals that required me to look at a guide to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do, such as one in the Airport level where I had to deliver tickets to someone at the end of the stage. Incidentally, the sound that plays when viewing what the goals are ended up getting stuck in my head.

If you know the sound, you can hear this image.

Due to abandoning the cash system, acquiring new boards and stat points is executed a bit differently here. Boards are now entirely just for show and, while customizable, lack any stats of their own and unlocking new decks requires you to look for them yourself within a stage. Additionally, upgrading your stat points is a little trickier this time around, since you now have to go out of your way to find stat points within a level as opposed to earning them or purchasing them with cash.

A number of additional moves have been added as well, the most notable being the Revert, where you use the shoulder buttons to turn just as you land from a half- or quarter-pipe. This not only allows another way to extend your combos, you can extend them even further by transitioning from a Revert into a Manual to reach another section of the area to skate on. Custom skaters aside, the roster of playable pro skaters remains largely the same as Pro Skater 2, except Bob Burnquist is dropped in favor of new addition Bam Margera of Jackass fame, who ends up becoming important in a later game.

While a PS1 port does exist, the transition of the series to the DVD-based PS2 allows for even higher quality visuals and larger maps, without any of the draw distance that would come with the territory of the CD-based PS1. A handful of levels do well to capture the idea of a real-world locale. Speaking as a California native, one standout is Los Angeles, a highly-condensed faithful recreation of the area complete with the ability to cause an earthquake. On a more minor note, Canada is difficult to navigate at first due to its level design, though this lessens only a little once you give yourself a chance to explore the area. I will also mention that there were times where I was able to look past the walls of a level, momentarily breaking the immersion.

Usable screencaps are oddly difficult to find.

As with the previous installment, the soundtrack has been greatly expanded to include 20 songs across a variety of genres. Though one’s opinions on the soundtrack are purely subjective, I liked it overall, though the larger selection allowed more to stand out to me. If you’re curious, these include “Check” by Zebrahead, “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones, “Not the Same” by Bodyjar, “If You Must” by Del the Funky Homosapien, “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead, “Pulse” by The Mad Capsule Markets, “96 Quite Bitter Beings” by CYK and “Fight Like a Brave” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

One thing worth mentioning is that the game includes a freely playable demo of Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder, which features one level and two playable snowboarders, naturally including Shaun Palmer himself. I actually ended up playing the demo a number of times on the side due to it featuring the song “New Disease” by Spineshank. While it didn’t necessarily make me want to go out and buy the game, I did end up listening to a couple of Spineshank albums because of this demo, including The Height of Callousness, which features the song.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, or at least its PS2 port, is a great improvement over the first two games in a number of ways. The introduction of the Revert allows for greater combo variety and the visual improvements, including no draw distance, increase the immersion during gameplay. The enjoyability depends on the player, however much like the previous games, this installment is designed in a such a way that you can just pick this one up if you don’t want to worry about where to begin.

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