I can’t skate, not even close. Ollie? Pop shovit? I have no conception of what they mean (well I do a little) or how to even go about attempting them. However with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 I could at least feel like a ‘Pro Skater’ without the hours of real world effort and injury.
Released in 2002, with a 94 score on Metacritic (PS2, the version I played) and over 9/10 from pretty much all journalists I feel its safe to say this game isn’t just a cult classic. THPS4 doesn’t seem to be viewed through Rose tinted glasses then. Well I put that to the test and I agree… for the most part It has certainly aged in its aesthetic and presentation but the controls, enjoyment, soundtrack and general couch multiplayer fun are 100% intact. So the scores were well deserved.
Tony Hawks Pro Skater 4 gameplay is where the game truly shines, this is the case for all the games in the series. For a skating game this should have to go without saying, I’m looking at you Pro Skater 5, if the skating doesn’t feel good then your game isn’t any good is it? Well Pro Skater 4 is incredible, it feels tight, smooth and simple. Yet it has intricate and complex manoeuvres like balancing, grinding and wall jumping that can help you pull off incredible combos. It was easy for me to pick up again and understand how it worked and after some fine-tuning I was better than ever. A game that is easy to pick up and play again is what you want. You don’t feel lost when you step on that board, you feel at home.
What about the actual game then? Well you go from sandbox to sandbox and complete tasks for people that can range from doing tricks, playing tennis with a skateboard (I know!) or even the classic, collecting the word S-K-A-T-E in one go. I actually have a funny story about one of these missions, in the first level a dapper older gentleman wants you to retrieve his car from what I can only assume were hooligans. As the hero you do so, but he says “that’s my baby, please get my baby” and FOR YEARS I thought there was a baby in the car, but no, it was just the car itself. Whilst this might seem irrelevant or stupid what it did was create an unforgettable moment from something so simple, and that is what this game does best.
All the tasks reward you cash and eventually a new level, the cash can go towards customisation of skaters and clothes, and even stats. The single=player aspect of THPS4 was unique in its simplicity but rewarding, both in game but also in the moments it gave you.
The other place this game really shines is in it’s local multiplayer, split-screen sandbox fun where you could either just explore the levels with a friend or challenge each other to points games, games of slap or even races. And of course it was perfect for the game. I would spend hours with my brother on the very first level exploring and finding the wire that took you on top of the buildings, or just chasing him around the map. It was just simple fun, coupled with great controls it meant for hours of fun.
I cannot mention a Pro Skater game without the soundtrack, funnily enough this one is the only one I’ve ever played but even I know of the legend of the Pro Skater tunes. There are so many great songs, “TNT” “All my Best friends are Metalheads” “The number of the beast”. One other major memory of this game is playing it and then my dad coming in and rocking out to the music whilst we would play. it helped create an emotional connection in something that my dad wasn’t typically interested in, Video-games. Even despite this emotional connect simply looking at the soundtrack on Spotify and remembering that the Sex Pistols, N.W.A and Run-D.M.C are all in this game makes me smile. As most of it is music I actually like. I do understand that this is all subjective, but there is so much of it I feel everyone could find something to enjoy. It also just fits the game so well, its all pop-punk, metal and the kind of stuff you expect those ‘edgy sk8r bois’ to listen to.
Finally its worth mentioned something that was in an error gone by, customisation and cheat codes. You could make your skate parks to mess around in, granted I was never any good at it but the fact that it was there meant more creative people than I could make something fun to combo in. Now cheats… ooooooohh the cheats! Want to have all characters? Levels? loads on money? We got you. Want to play as a zombie? Jango Fett?!?!? or have a big head? Moon gravity? We still got you. Not only was this incredible fun but for me it breathed a new life into the game when i revisited it a few times before I did for this (yeah I revisit it that often), as I discovered the cheats and messed around with them for an evening. This kept the fun going, for a long time, years later.
So what was Tony Hawks Pro Skater 4? It was a blast, it was well made, had enough features to keep you coming back but most importantly it was phenomenal in the moment. As you sat there and played on a CRT with someone and 666 blasts and you do your fancy skater moves you’ve been practising you realise… This is bliss.