Review by lylemcd

Reviewed: 12/09/01 | Updated: 12/09/01

This is not your typical game review (and it's long)

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 (THPS3) was one of my most awaited games for Playstation, especially considering that everything is pretty much for PS2 now. After playing the addiction (literally) that was THPS1 and 2 (although I didn't like 2 as much as 1), and reading the review stuff on 3, I was eagerly awaiting my next hit. While the game was certainly everything I had read it to be, let me say up front that it wasn't all I think it could have been.

Now, let me say upfront that I am NOT going to compare the PSONE version of THPS3 to the PS2 version. First and foremost, I haven't played the PS2 version (waiting to get a PS2 for Christmas). Even if I had, it wouldn't be a fair comparison. PS2 has so much more power than the PSONE that it would be like comparing an Atari 2600 game to a Super NES game and concluding that the Atari game wasn't any good.

Instead, I want to gauge THPS3 relative to the first two games, as well as on its own merits. I'm also going to assume everyone has played the first two games so that anything I say about them won't be a spoiler (I won't give any of the hidden/secret stuff about THPS3 away).

Now, most people consider THPS1 to be one of the classics of the Playstation, a must-play game no matter what your favorite genre is. I happen to agree. Outside of the technical aspects of the game (which were excellent, including the super tight control scheme that just about every skateboarding game that came afterwards copied), it simply had that indescribable fun factor. Sure, the learning curve is a bit steep but once you get the hang of it, its a blast cranking out tricks and combos. That is, like many games of my youth (I'm a crusty 31 as I write this), it was just fun to play. Whether I was trying to complete part of the Career mode or just popping it in for a few quick session runs, it was fun. In fact, even 2 years afterwards (and despite having had THPS2 since it came out), I still go back and play THPS1 quite frequently, even more than I play THPS2. Of course, I also play old Apple II and arcade games in emulation so what do I know?

Anyway, THPS2 was a good improvement on the first. The addition of the manual did deepen gameplay, as well as being able to switch around tricks (both regular and specials). I should mention that I personally liked the idea of each skater having their own signature moves from THPS1 better. That is, the 360 flip to mute is a Hawk original, along with the 900. Being able to give any skater the 900 or the Heelflip Darkslide takes away from the individuality of the skaters in my opinion. But that's just me. The levels didn't seem to have quite the thrill as in THPS1 but some of that is simply the inevitable comparison to the original ; you never forget your first, as the old saying goes. The addition of the two unlockable secret characters (Spiderman, with his own special moves which were cool to watch ; and Private Carerra who now had to be unlocked by finding all the gaps) was also an interesting improvement. Skater Heaven was possibly one of the coolest additions ever. For those of us old enough to remember the Bones Brigade and ''Search for Animal Chin'', the areas in that level were just fun to play around on. The addition of stats that you could increase with cash added a bit more depth, although not as much as you think (since I invariably ended up maxing out everything in the same order, first increasing rail balance so I could get high grind scores, and then worrying about everything else and both switch and big drop are fairly useless stats).

Which brings us to THPS3. Which, in some ways, stepped forward, and some ways stepped backwards.

First, lets look at forwards. Ok, there are more skaters including perennial favorite (for anyone who likes the show Jackass, and I'm not one of them) Bam Margera. There was also the addition of some truly outrageous super moves (like Bam's Jackass grab and some silly grinds like the Coffin and Human Dart Grinds). Even some of the added regular moves are really cool to look at, like the Crookedcop, cannonball, and Shifty airs.

And, then there's the revert. Vert skaters, who had been ignored, at least from the standpoint of combos in the first two games, now had a way to link together vert moves. I guess this is considered a forward move. I also consider it a backwards move for a reason I'll come to in a second. The level designs (which, from what I can tell are scaled down versions of the PS2 levels) are a lot busier and frenetic (look it up), with even more combo possibilities than the first two games. Which is both good and bad. yes, it gives you more combo options, but it also makes it harder to figure out what's going on (the levels simply have too much going on).

And then there's backwards. First, there's the revert. I know why Neversoft decided to put it in, to make the vert guys happy so they could get the kinds of combos that the street skaters were racking up. Thing is, it makes pulling off absurd scoring combos way too easy. I mean, getting a high combo (100k plus) in THPS1 was extremely difficult, takes some seriously mad gaming skillz. And there are still combos in THPS1 that I can't pull off consistently, like the Holy Sh*t grind, even after two years of playing. 400k+ and then some combos in THPS2 were doable without cheats as long as your grind and manual balance skills were good. In, THPS3, you can literally pull off million point combos without too much trouble. That's with no cheats, assuming you have any skills at balancing during grinds and manuals (and once you max out those stats, its that much easier to do).

So, you ask, so what? Well, some of the level goals (three on each level, to be exact) are score goals (High score, Pro Score, and Sick Score in order of increasing value). Even the highest high score goal (something like 250,000 points for the Canada level as I recall) is trivial to get with the revert because you can get twice that in a single combination if you're decent at the game at all. That is, when you can get 800k or more (some people are reporting 3 million point combos with the revert), getting the Sick score of 250k isn't difficult at all.

The revert also affected the competition levels. Despite claims in the game (all three of them) and instructions that your competition scores (0 to 99.9) are made based on originality and falls, they're not for the most part ; they're based mainly on your final score at the end of the run. Score high enough and you can get a 99.9 pretty much no matter what you do. Of course, using the smae tricks over and over makes it tougher to score high but it can be done.

I can remember struggling in THPS1 to get gold at Roswell (the secret level), because I simply couldn't score high enough to do it. I'd come into the third run with 91 and 92 or something and worry about making it (it was luck, depending on how the game scored the other skaters). Even 2 years later, after all that practice, I've only gotten a 99.9 once or twice on that level. In contrast, in the final competition level in THPS3 (Tokyo), you can bust out 600,000-800,000 points in a single combo and get 99 and change easily. Anything less than like a 96 in the competitions either means you really suck or you're not trying (or you're wasting time getting stat points and finding the secret deck). They might as well hand you the gold medals for all the difficulty involved in obtaining them. So considering how easy it is to score million point runs, they should have made the score goals much, much higher.

I also didn't like the new trick system. In THPS2, all the special moves (and alternate flip, grab, and liptrick moves) were available but you had to earn enough cash to get them. In THPS3, you open new moves by winning contests. Thing is, you don't some of the basic moves from THPS2 (like Tony's heeflip varial to lein which I always thought was a cool move, as well as being good for getting big points since you could hold it while you spun) until you finish the Tokyo level. And by that time you really don't need it cuz its time to move to another character and start over.

Which is part of the problem too, it gets tedious replaying all the levels with every character over and over again (both THPS1 and 2 had this problem as well but it didn't seem as bad for some reason). The PS2 version gets around this by putting stuff in different places on the level, so there's some replay value. Of course, the limits to the PS1's power prevented this which isn't really the programmers fault.

And now, the really big problems. As most probably know, Neversoft (who did the first 2 games) shipped out THPS3 development for the PS1 to Shaba games, who made Grind Session (one of the many THPS ripoffs). Now, I played two different demos of Grind Session and I thought they both sucked. Not just because they were blatant ripoffs of THPS, but because they were bad ripoffs. The controls were loose, the skaters were floaty, and the level designs were garbage. You couldn't pull off special tricks consistently and the controls were more random button pressing than anything. Maybe Shaba got it together for the final release but I'll never know because I won't even spend the $5 to rent the thing.

Now, given the 'quality' of Grind Session, I'm not sure why Neversoft let Shaba do the PS1 version. Maybe they figured Shaba could do a basic conversion of the PS2 game since they had done a skateboard game. I don't know. But I think Neversoft made a mistake in letting anyone else work on the game. Yes, I know they had to so they could put their efforts into the PS2 version and have both released at the same time. But, like the old saying, if you want something done right, do it yourself. Letting another company, much less one that did a bad THPS ripoff, do the game was a near guarantee that it wouldn't live up to the previous games.

But I think Shaba dropped the ball. First off, the controls in THPS3 aren't even as good as in THPS2. Yeah, all the controls are the same but its just not as tight, you don't pull off special moves as consistently (and I say this as someone who can play THPS1 and 2 and pull off ridiculous combos on autopilot while talking on the phone) and it gets annoying when you hit left/right square to get a special flip and end up doing the right square grab instead. This is unfathomable to me ; they should have used the same code from THPS3 and the controls should have been identical.

Also, to my eyes, the graphics aren't as good as in THPS2. Maybe I'm just getting old, but they look grainier to me (you can't even tell what some of the special moves actually are, Tony's double kickflip to indy comes to mind ; the liptrick specials are the same way you can't tell what they are supposed to be). There is also some problems with clipping and such, more than in THPS2. Like with the controls, this makes no sense. All Shaba had to do was use the same game engine (and program the revert since that was the only real addition) as in THPS2, and it would have been at least as good. Maybe it wouldn't have been better but it sure shouldn't have been worse.

By a similar token, Shaba changed the excellent THSP2 interface completely. And the changes made it much more of a hassle to navigate the game as far as I was concerned. This was especially true of the trick assignment. They changed from a nice readable big font from THPS2 to a tiny little font similar to what they used in Grind Session (did I mention that I thought Grind Session, the demo at least, sucked). Yeah, fine, I'm old and have crappy eyes but there was no reason to change the fonts. Once again, why they didn't just use the THPS2 code, and felt the need to change stuff is beyond me.

As well, parts of the game simply feel unfinished (hopefully what I'm about to write about isn't a spoiler for anyone). For example, one of the cheats from THPS2 is the Skip to Restart, which lets you start at different points of the level. Two comments. First, in THPS2, the Skip to Restarts were all named and the name told you where it would put you. In THPS3, they are all Skip_Restart A, Skip_Restart B which is just idiotic). Also, unless its just my copy that's tweaked, Shaba wrote glitchy code (again, why when they could just use the THPS2 code from Neversoft). When I use the Skip to Restart, parts of levels disappear and what's remaining gets fogged up. So I have to quit back to the main menu and reload the level. Yes, it's merely time consuming and annoying but it shouldn't be in a 'finished' game in the first place. That kind of glitchy code is just unacceptable (unless it's just my copy in which case, nevermind).

Additionally, places where you should have gotten something (like an end movie) for your effort, there is.....nothing. Zip, zilch, nada, the big goose egg. So whereas everything you completed (like the horrible Gap List which you had to complete to get Private Carerra in THPS2) got you something for your efforts (when you finished the game with Private Carerra you get a new movie), this isn't the case for THPS3. Its like Shaba just wasn't original enough to think of anything cool to put in the game. Which makes all your hard work seem pretty much wasted. Again, I'm old, and I'm beyond feeling a basic sense of accomplishment or pride for running the secret characters through the game, making it my 14th time through, getting 100% with them, and getting nothing for my efforts. If I'm going to put in the 45 minutes of effort to 100% every level, gimme something. Getting nothing harkens back to the days where Apple computer games said 'You are the winner', <beep>, <beep>, <beep> and that was it.

Then there's the Gap list in THPS3. Like in THPS2, finding every gap nets you a secret character (I won't tell you who it is, I imagine everyone knows already). But finding them all was more an effort in tedium than anything fun (admittedly, THPS2 shared the same problem). But, worse than that are that some of the gaps are a combination of stupid, silly, or just plain illogical. The ''Why are you here'' gap in the Foundry comes immediately to mind. There's not even consistency in the Gap listings. For example, in one of the levels, one of the gaps is clearly listed as a wallride gap. Fine. But in another level, two of the gaps which turn out to be wallrides are listed as 'Other gaps'. I'm sorry but what the heck is an 'Other gap'? That anyone found some of these gaps (and I thank many of the people on the message boards at Gamefaqs for their efforts, although I did make my share of contributions) is beyond me. Also, the liptrick gaps from THPS2 (that were sort of fun to find) are missing, I guess Shaba couldn't think of any although there were plenty of places to put them.

Another example, the park editor. Ok, I never use the one in THPS2 (not that interested in making my own parks) but THPS2 came with a combination of several dozen premade parks. Yes, they were much smaller than the main levels but they gave you some more replay value because some of them had some fun stuff to skate on and were pretty well done. THPS3 comes with pre-made parks as well. But they are the same pre-made parks as in THPS2. Which gets a big 'You've got to be kidding me!' as far as I'm concerned. I guess playing them again with the revert is something but I don't intend on bothering. I guess the guys at Shaba were either too far behind schedule, too lazy, or too uncreative to make any new parks to play for once you got bored with the main levels.

The character editor was made more extensive too (more choices of people, hair, etc) but I could personally care less about it. I made a character and finished the game with him, just to finish the game with him. Making him look like me just isn't that big of a deal.

And I guess finally, the game simply feels sort of old and worn out. Yes, fine, there are new levels, new moves, and a new trick (the revert). But beyond that it seems like more of an expansion pack to THPS2 (if they'd released an expansion pack of new levels running on the Neversoft THPS2 code, it would have been a better game, even lacking the revert). And its an unfinished expansion pack at that. That is, THPS2 felt like a fairly large increase in game over THPS1. The graphics were much improved, the manual added a lot to the gameplay, and there was more secret stuff. THPS3 felt like a rehash of THPS2 but with many steps backwards.

Now, with that said, would I recommend buying it? Yeah, probably. Its fun for a bit, but just doesn't seem to have the same zip as THPS1 (which I intend to go back playing until I get my PS2) or THPS2. And, as stated, I will be getting the PS2 version of THPS3 and playing all the way through that one. I can't imagine its any worse than the PS1 version and hopefully it will give me my next fix until I'm ready to tackle Metal Gear Solid 2.

Oh yeah, final score or whatever. Maybe a 5 out of 10. I don't think it's awesome like many, but I don't think it totally sucks (Grind Session, based on the demo might get a 1.5 if that). It just could have been better.

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

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