Reset is a series of second looks at influential, interesting, or forgotten games through a contemporary lens.
It seems so long ago, but people used to actually give a shit about ska. This was a thought that my brain experienced at 3:30 a.m. last night as I played Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, spending 80 percent of my time fumbling around crashing into things, trying to will my muscle memory to kick in and help me remember the correct combination of button taps it took to make Tony Hawk pull a sick 900 on some bizarre fanutation of a half-pipe in the Downhill Jam.
To reiterate: People used to give a shit about ska. I know this. I am certain of it. But as the horns on Goldfinger's "Superman" hit me like Tony Hawk slamming into the ground because I accidentally made him do an ollie slightly too close to a rail, I couldn't for the life of me remember why. "Superman" is the lone holdout from the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack to make it to the port, which takes a bunch of the levels from the first two Tony Hawk games and lets you complete them in a fairly limited “Career Mode.” It was my favorite song on the original THPS soundtrack, and it's probably my favorite song on THPSHD’s, but for totally different reasons. The first time around I loved "Superman," it was mainly because it didn't scare the shit out of my 10-year-old self like some of the really intense hardcore songs on the soundtrack did. I love the fact that "Superman" is around for this rodeo, because it reminds me that it is 2012, it doesn't look like the Mayans were right about the world ending, and I'm not 10 anymore. I would say, "Hold me, Tony Hawk," but right now Tony's too busy losing his balance in the air and getting ready to bounce 10 feet high because he was going too fast and is no longer in the vicinity of the quarter pipe he was previously interfacing with.
Let's go ahead and get the "genuine critical assessment" out of the way so I can talk about my feelings. The controls on this lag something tremendous, the physics in the game make absolutely zero sense, and the level selection—maps culled from the first two games in the series—seems to have gone into my memory and recovered all the places I strongly, strongly disliked as a youth. On top of that, THPSHD helps serve as a reminder that Tony Hawk was always the worst part of his own games; because they threw you into environments where the world was your canvas, but Tony, both in-game and IRL, only excelled at tricks on half-pipes. It might be an unreasonable gripe, but if I'm buying a game I want to want to be the person on the box, not to have to shuffle around looking for Chad Muska. But I can't be mad at any of these things, even if they add up to a game that feels like a hollow shell of those it seeks to recreate. That would involve getting mad at myself, because Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was such an essential part of my life for so long that that I probably can’t imagine myself without it.
It might be an unreasonable gripe, but if I'm buying a game I want to want to be the person on the box, not to have to shuffle around looking for Chad Muska.
As a child, I had a routine. My mom would pick me up from school, I'd do my homework as fast as humanly possible, and then I'd play Tony Hawk with the same level of single-minded commitment that I usually reserved for whenever a new Harry Potter book came out. In high school, I repeated this process with Tony Hawk's Underground, and in college spent a semester hiding out from the rest of the world playing Tony Hawk's Project 8 in the dorm room across the hall from mine. The Tony Hawk games always seemed to come to me whenever I needed them most.
When I was in elementary school, the game tapped into those same instincts that make children want to be firefighters and astronauts and stuff, except unlike being an astronaut or the king of Spain, becoming a skateboarder was insanely easy. All you had to do was say you skated, and then you were a skater (now that I think about it, it's a bit like being a "freelance writer" in that you just have to say you freelance, and somehow that makes you a freelancer). So, I got my parents to buy me a skateboard. I was still an avid Tony Hawk-er when I entered middle school, and from there I managed to make friends, listen to interesting music, and generally have things to think about besides the terrible, fiery gauntlet that is the onset of puberty. When THUG hit, I was old enough to realize I hated the minuscule North Carolina town I'd grown up in, but was still too young to actually do anything about it. But after I'd managed to unlock Gene Simmons and skate around the satanic warehouse that was his in-game lair, all of that seemed to matter a little less. I might not have been able to control my own destiny, but at least I could control Gene Simmons. Tony Hawk found me at another key juncture in my life as a thoroughly unenthusiastic, thoroughly depressed college sophomore. I'd dropped my major and was fairly certain that my girlfriend hated me, but felt a crippling need to not break up with her (this is, in my experience, something that depressed people do—they hate their lives but are loathe to actually do anything about them lest something go even more awry). Fairly convinced that nothing was going to be okay, ever, I took to the Hawk, becoming immersed in the game's sugar rush. By the time the semester was over, I'd completed something like 78 percent of the game. One day, I tried to fire up my friend's Xbox 360 only to discover that I'd played the game so much that the disc had worn out. Then, I went outside. I realized I wasn't depressed any more.
I need to give it a few years. Then I'll know what went wrong.
I don't exactly know why, THPSHD doesn't grab me by the lapels and demand to be played like Tony Hawks of the past. Maybe I'm just really annoyed by the lag. Or maybe it's because there's no pressing psychic need for me to play it this time around, no future skateboarding careers to plan, no small towns to avoid or depressions to wait out. It's not a bad problem to have, but it makes me wonder whose fault it might be. Is it mine for asking too much of a game that's meant as a tossed-off, downloadable distraction? Or is it Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD's, because it can’t make me care anymore?
The meaning we ascribe to events in our lives is rarely apparent to us while we're experiencing them—it's only the long view that offers us the perspective we need to understand what was actually going on in our heads. I never realized I was playing Tony Hawk as a means of escape; I was mostly just looking for something to do. But now I understand that those games offered serious catharsis for me at a time when I needed something, anything to distract me. I'm really not a kid anymore, and that really upsets me. By all rights, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD should help me deal with this: it's a game that was with me for nearly a decade of my life, again sitting in front of me, asking to be played. But as I enter the iconic first level of the game, a warehouse stacked to the brim with nonsense to skate over, I feel nothing. I need to give it a few years. Then I'll know what went wrong. Until then, I'll probably have that goddamn Goldfinger song stuck in my head.