What we want from the next Tony Hawk game
Earlier this month, Tony Hawk revealed on his twitter account that he was working on a new console game with Activision -- and the internet rejoiced. Though the return of the series was presaged by 2012’s downloadable Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD, featuring a selection of levels from the first two games, the future of the once critically-acclaimed series was not always certain.
After 2007’s Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground, series developer Neversoft left to continue the Harmonix-abandoned Guitar Hero franchise, later contributing to Call of Duty: Ghosts before the studio was merged into Infinity Ward earlier this year. After Neversoft’s departure the franchise was driven into the ground with two motion-sensitive titles, Tony Hawk: Ride and Shred. Panned by critics and financially disastrous, both games featured an expensive and awkward skateboard peripheral, gummy controls, and forgettable level design. Years passed with no sequel announced, and the series seemed ready to fade away.
Now that we know a game is coming, what do we want from a modern-day Tony Hawk game? Is it possible to revitalize the once vibrant series? What made those early games so instantly accessible and endlessly replayable?
Ditch Motion Controls
The first item on any fan’s wish list: leave the overgrown plastic-tongue depressor to rot in the graveyard of abandoned peripherals, right next to the U-Force and the trance vibrator. Not only have elaborate motion controls almost always failed, packaging a skateboard peripheral evinced a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games great: they were not about simulating what it feels like to skateboard...
Focus on Traversal
...Tony Hawk was about making the player feel like a pro. The ultimate joy of learning the levels and timing of the classic games was the reward of propelling your skater across the world in a single ludicrous, unending combo. Tony Hawk games are at their best when it’s simply fun to move around, with as little interruption as possible. This means thoughtful, well-designed levels and tight controls that allow for mastery, rather than the sometimes finicky controls in the HD remix.
Here's a level-spanning combo in Tony Hawk Underground 2:
Nail the Soundtrack
So much of the character of a Tony Hawk game comes from its soundtrack: classic 70’s punk and 90’s pop-punk and ska, with occasional forays into hardcore and metal. The next game should revisit the bands and genres of the older games, fold in new and underground punk and power pop, while leaving room for some new tracks as well. Though conspicuously absent from the HD remix, one essential feature for a soundtrack with occasional genre departures is the option to modify the game’s play list, so that the game can resemble the all-Goldfinger security blanket of youth.
Close the World or Fill It Up
Thankfully, the fad of hamstrung open worlds in games that don’t need them has died down. A new Tony Hawk would have the freedom to return to its level-based roots, allowing for disparate, outlandish level choices. Though the games realize their locales with significantly more half-pipes than their real-life counterparts, the level-based structure of the early games allowed for some truly strange unlockables, like the space station Skate Heaven or the Bermuda Triangle.
An open world Tony Hawk followup isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But now that the novelty of open worlds has worn off, any future forays should be full of things to do and, most importantly, places worth revisiting. A good open world is not necessarily large, but it is dense. With well-hidden secrets or new abilities that add discovery to old terrain, an open world in a modern Tony Hawk would need to prove itself to be more interesting than a handful of memorable, well-designed levels.
Lose the Camera
While skate videos are an indelible part of skater culture, performing for the camera was one of the clunkiest parts of Proving Ground. Rigger goals featured positioning a camera, performing tricks, and then snapping well-timed pictures while the point of view switched from the skater’s perspective to the camera’s perspective. While it was worthwhile attempt to add new types of gameplay to the series, this fan won’t shed a tear if the camera isn’t brought back with Tony Hawk’s return.
Plot the Path Forward
The developer of the upcoming Tony Hawk game has a tall order: the new title needs to win back series fans by being a return to form, but it must also escape being a tired rehash of where the series has been before.
Beloved though it may be, this isn’t going to fly in 2015:
The new game should certainly feature mainstays such as the ability to create custom skaters and skate parks, as well as a cornucopia of multiplayer modes, but it is just as essential to offer something truly new to demonstrate that the Tony Hawk series is not exclusively for those seeking early 2000’s nostalgia. To successfully reignite the franchise, the next Tony Hawk game will need to show us that the series has room to grow.
What’s your dream feature for the next Tony Hawk game? Let us know in the comments.