- Hmm to be honest, I’ve never heard the take that the post THPS4 levels became unwieldy.
I think most seasoned Tony Hawk fans agree that THUG has some of the best if not the best level design in the entire series. I can safely say Moscow is my favourite level in the whole series, but I’ll put Manhattan, New Jersey, and Hawaii up there in my ranks before I go to any levels from earlier entires. And I think that fantastic level design extended into to THUG2 before taking a dip in quality.
Not appeal to authority, but I’ll just throw it in there that YouTuber Squared Eyed Jak does a lot of Tony Hawk coverage and he ranked every single 200+ Tony Hawk level across all games from worst to best and THUG’s Manhattan was his #1 with 3 THUG levels appearing in his top 10.
I think it’s because they aren’t just aimlessly big but are the most well thought out in the series. A level like New Jersey can take you from the ground near the abandoned houses up onto the roofs then onto power lines, then back down into the school yard fences and playground structures, then onto the massive bridge, into a long and fast hospital loop, into a train yard, back to the hospital, back across the bridge and the loop continues.
And it’s not just the overall lines but it’s the amount of detail within the lines and the level. There are so many quality individual spots within any given level that it’s almost a game in itself to make choices on how to combo between all of them. It’s interesting, allows for a personal sense of play and exploration, and just way deeper than any other THPS game.
THUG levels by far have the best combo lines in the whole series. Some of the earlier games have cool levels but they don’t compliment the fundamentals of the game like THUG’s spots and lines levels do.
A lot of the fundamentals of THUG’s design and early THPS design appears in sequels and especially in THP8 which combines a lot of the games together. I actually really like THP8’s goal structure for stuff like Bronze, Silver, Gold medals for things like “longest grind” because those types of goals encourage you to extract the most out of the level itself. But ultimately, THP8 suffers really really badly from having boring and empty levels. We’re talking wide open spaces with nothing to interact with. Compare that to Manhattan where you have so many options for objects to skate on, THP8 feels like an empty open world. So the game relies too heavily on the goals to have fun. Whereas THUG is fun to be in by virtue of the level design, the stat challenges, and spread of goal variety.
THPS4 also shares some of THUGs design but it was still figuring out the identity of this type of game. Some of the levels like Zoo had such little flow between spots that it was almost difficult to make fun goals. The goals were rigid like doing multiple trick call outs on the same half pipe. But it definitely has its shining moments like the post-game extremely difficult score challenges and such. I think THPS4 started the job, THUG finished it.
THUG2 has the same good qualities of level design as THUG but I don’t think it has as many great levels or goals.
THAW has some amazing levels and others that are big and aimless. Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Downtown basically feel like the same level because they are just city streets with a few interwoven ramps.
So all this comparing is to just make the overall point that THUG’s level design isn’t good because it’s bigger. It’s good because it’s by far more thought out than the other games in the series, and especially the games starting at and after THPS4.