Reflecting on the Birdman’s greatest hit
We take a look back at the Birdman’s greatest game – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3.
“WE ENDED UP WITH ONE OF THE BEST COMBO-BASED MULTIPLAYER GAMES ANYBODY HAS EVER SEEN”
It might have risked being lost in the mix; one of the middle releases in the early run of Tony Hawk’s titles, bridging a generation and without a soundtrack
quite as good as those of the two games preceding it. And yet Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 has gone down in history as the best in the series for many a purist.
The birth of the Birdman’s third licensed game couldn’t have been more banal: there had been two previous titles with Tony Hawk’s name attached (and so two previous opportunities for Brits to act confused as they thought it was a game based on comedian Tony Hawks) and both games had done really well, so Activision ordered a third entry from the team at Neversoft. By this point the formula had been established: time-based challenges in arena levels, in which you were tasked with a variety of goals impossible to complete all in one sitting, thus encouraging repeat playthroughs. A straightforward template for making sure players would play again and again, get better as they played, and so want to play even more. Those cunning devs…
It wasn’t just more of the same – that wouldn’t be characteristic of a true legend. No, THPS3 added one element that made sure the series was never the same again, and that no head-to-head contest between friends would ever be low-scoring: the revert. A legitimate skateboarding technique, yes, but more importantly a bridge between landing after a series of tricks and jumping into a manual, allowing the combo to continue. Combos – and scores – were once limited by how long you could stay in the air or keep your balance on a lip or rail. The ability to revert dumped this limitation, and with it we ended up with one of the best combo-based multiplayer games anybody has ever seen.
There was more to it than just the revert, and THPS3 was always more than enough fun played alone, though the true joy of the experience was playing with friends trying to outdo one another. Still, the mix of real-world skaters and Developer Neversoft Publisher Activision Released 2001 Format PC, GameCube, GBA, PS2, N64, PS1 Get it From the likes of eBay or Amazon locations (albeit with fantasy skate parks; Rio de Janeiro isn’t so friendly towards real skaters), special hidden characters from the likes of Star Wars and the X-Men, and the ability to make your own custom skater – and suitably overpower them as you earned attribute improvement points – meant there was a good deal of variety throughout. There’s also the fact THPS3 was playable online in certain circumstances. The PC version offered an online mode, and it was the first game to be playable online on PS2 (THPS3 actually released before the console’s online adapter). Basically, there was a lot going on beyond the ability to revert. But wow, that revert was a genuine game-changer.
We were suitably wowed by THPS3 back in the day, awarding the GameCube version an impressive 92% on its release. The PC, Xbox, and PS2 all saw very slight variations of the same game released (which version you chose came down more to controller preference than anything else), while the previous generation ended up with a PS1 and N64 version that, pretty much, just added the ability to revert to Tony Hawk’s 2. Even these downscaled versions were great fun, it has to be said, though the real meat was with the consoles (and computers) with more horsepower.
While extreme sports games centred on other stars never quite captured the magic, the Tony Hawk name retained its sparkle and Pro Skater 3 was followed by 10 sequels of ever-decreasing quality. Some were good, some moments in
them were great, and some were genuinely awful – please don’t ever be tempted to try out Tony Hawk: Ride, even if the skateboard peripheral looks like fun. But however good, or poor, the Tony Hawk’s games that followed number three ended up being, none managed to capture the sheer joy of THPS3.
So it was that Activision went back to the well and tried to recapture that old glory, but with Neversoft tied up in Guitar Hero updates and working on parts of Call Of Duty: Ghosts there wasn’t much chance of any of the original team working on these attempts to bring the past back. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD was a remake of the first three games in shiny high definition, and played like a much buggier version of said originals, though with the ability to revert in any level from any game, while 2015’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was a cynical, rushed attempt at reliving past glories that failed spectacularly in more ways than one. And so we end up here, today, with the absolute knowledge that the greatest game this series ever produced – and one of the finest games of all time – was the third one in a sequence of 19. Who’da thunk it?
The true masters remember staving off dizziness when pulling off this particular (literal) combo loop.
All hail the brilliant, new for this game, revert-into-manual combo extender.
The PS1 and N64 versions were fun, but really just upgraded versions of THPS2.