It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, which made its debut on October 28, 2001 on the PlayStation 2. The first entry in the series to make its debut on a console other than the original PlayStation, THPS3 was one of the best-reviewed games of its generation, with a Metacritic score that is only rivaled by the legendary Grand Theft Auto III. With the Tony Hawk franchise now about as good as dead thanks to the release of the abysmal Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 last year, it’s easy to forget that this is a franchise that used to stand tall as one of the best in all of gaming. In particular, the franchise’s earliest entries are still considered its best and while you could easily make the case that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is the best of the bunch, I’ll always consider the third game to be superior. Here are a few reasons why, even 15 years after it was first released, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 still stands on top.
10. It Felt Like A True Leap Forward
By today’s standards, Tony Hawk 3 looks pretty ugly and archaic, but back in 2001, it felt like the future. The first entry in the series released on the PlayStation 2, which had only been out for a year at the time of the game’s release, THPS3 was a significant improvement on its predecessors in terms of graphics and presentation. The levels were much more visually dynamic and more interactive than they ever were on the original PlayStation, with terrain that would react to certain actions (remember the first time you triggered the earthquake in L.A.?)
Most importantly, the game just felt alive, as developer Neversoft took advantage of the PS2’s power to add pedestrians (some of whom could be real jerks) and other details to at least give the illusion that you were skating in a living, breathing world. Sure, the game’s presentation pales in comparison to later entries in the series — although one could make the case that it looks just as good if not better than the abysmal Tony Hawk 5 — but back in the day, it was one of the best looking and playing games around.
9. Park Editor
This was the first Tony Hawk game to introduce the park editor, which would become a mainstay feature in later installments, and my goodness was it a fantastic addition. Like any creation tool, it was difficult to make a level that even came close to reaching the heights of the ones Neversoft created for the game, unless you had a lot of time and skill to make it happen, but it was still fun to mess around with even if you could only create bare-bones parks.
Come to think of it, the real draw of the park editor was creating elaborate death traps for you and your friends to skate around in, which was rather easily to accomplish given that spike pits were one of the many pieces you could place within your created park. While later Tony Hawk games would expand the park editor’s features and even add the ability to download and play other peoples’ levels, this was the first entry that proved the concept wasn’t just a novelty feature.
8. Tons Of Stuff To Do And See
The Tony Hawk series quickly became a bloated mess by the time it hit the Underground era, but one might say that Tony Hawk 3 hit the sweet spot in terms of offering a ton of stuff to do, with none of it feeling like filler: a short, but highly replayable single player mode, awesome split-screen play, create a skater, a much more in-depth park editor, and even an online mode, a first for the series.
Additionally, THPS3 had a ton of fan service packed in, with all sorts of unlockable videos showing off the game’s pro skaters in real life, as well as ones that depicted members of the Neversoft development team skateboarding as kids! If you didn’t already have a love for skate culture and a desire to go out and try it for yourself, playing and seeing everything THPS3 had to offer was about as good a gateway drug as you could get.
7. It Had An Actual Online Mode
With online multiplayer still very much in its infancy on consoles back in 2001, it’s unlikely that very many of those who actually played Tony Hawk 3 at the time ever even got a chance to try the game’s online mode. By today’s standards, the online offerings are pretty archaic, but if you were fortunate enough to have the means to get it up and running, there was a lot to like about it.
You have to remember that the concept of playing online with other players around the world was still a novel concept in 2001 and THPS3 was a pioneering game in this regard, being one of the first PS2 titles to offer an online mode. Even more impressive was the fact that you could play online even before Sony launched its PS2 network adapter. Unfortunately, there’s no longer an official way to play THPS3 online since Sony long ago shut down PS2 servers, but there are still websites that will allow you to play it through a DNS.
6. The Revert
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 was arguably the last Tony Hawk game to add any meaningful feature to the core gameplay. While THPS2’s addition of the manual was arguably the most important gameplay feature the series ever introduced, Tony Hawk 3’s Revert was almost just as significant. The Revert allowed players to keep their combos going after performing aerial tricks off a ramp and introduced a way to link street and vert tricks together in a combo for the first time. Again, not as big a leap forward as the manual was, but it quickly became an integral mechanic in the series nonetheless.
5. Celebration of Skate Culture
While Tony Hawk games appealed to skaters and non-skaters alike, at the end of the day, they were still a love letter to skate culture and THPS3 arguably nailed this aspect better than any other entry in the series. The love that the Neversoft team had for skating was evident in every facet of the experience and you could learn a lot about the culture and its most important figures thanks to the many videos that were packed into the extras menu. I lost track of how many times I watched Rodney Mullen’s two minute long highlight reel and it’s that attention to detail that helps THPS3 stand out as a tribute to skate culture as a whole, as well as a great video game in its own right.
4. That Soundtrack
Alright, I’ll readily admit that THPS3’s soundtrack doesn’t a hold a candle to the one found in THPS2, but to be fair, very few games do. However, when taken on its own, the Tony Hawk 3 soundtrack is a tight, well-assembled mixture of genres such as punk, rock, and rap, and especially now, feels like a time capsule into what the music landscape was like in the early 2000s. Standout tracks include “Not the Same” by Bodyjar, “Blitzkrieg Bop” by Ramones, “If You Must” by Del The Funky Homosapien (best known for collaborating with Gorillaz on their hit “Clint Eastwood”) and of course, “Ace of Spades” by motherf—ing Motorhead.
3. The Secret Characters
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 tested the waters with having secret characters, famously featuring Spider-Man as an unlockable skater (it helped that Neversoft was also working on a Spider-Man game at the time). As cool as playing as Spider-Man was, it’s hard to argue that Tony Hawk 3 didn’t up the ante considerably with its secret character offerings.
Looking back, it’s easy to make the case that THPS3 had the best secret characters of any game in the series, led by none other than Darth Maul, complete with his iconic dual-blade lightsaber and a freaking hoverboard (probably powered by the Force). Really, THPS3 could have only had Maul and it would have been something to celebrate, but the fact that Neversoft also through in the likes of pro surfer Kelly Slater, Ollie the Magic Bum, the Neversoft Eyeball, and Wolverine. It doesn’t get much better than that.
2. Awesome Levels
By far the most memorable thing about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is its level selection. There truly isn’t a weak link among them, with even the opening Foundry level having a surprising amount of charm and great lines to make up for its rather bland setting. While it’s difficult to choose a standout, Canada, Airport, and Los Angeles have always been my personal favorites, but each level had something memorable about it. For instance, the Canada level included a number of stereotypes that, as a Canadian myself, I found myself really enjoying, and in the Skater’s Paradise level, you could unlock a whole new outdoor area, complete with a white sandy beach and pirate ship. This game also had one of the single greatest Tony Hawk levels of all time in Cruise Ship, so it’s safe to say that THPS3’s level selection was one of the franchise’s best.
1. The Last “True” Entry In The Series
For better or worse, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 was the last entry in the series to maintain the original game’s two-minute run design. The series would transition to open-world design starting with THPS4 and would start incorporating new gameplay systems, such as mini-games and off-board controls, that diluted what made Tony Hawk games so great to begin with.
While later entries like THPS4 and Tony Hawk’s Underground were both great games in their own right (even with some of its questionable design decisions, I absolutely adored THUG), THPS3 is the most refined and pure Tony Hawk game there has ever been. It built upon the gameplay systems introduced in the first two games and while it didn’t break the mold in any spectacular way, it is arguably the best realization of the design blueprint laid out in the original 1999 release. Simply put, the Tony Hawk franchise would never be as good, or as influential, as it was here.