Combinations. Videogames have a grand tradition of obsessing over combinations. Some of the most addictive games in history have their foundations in combinations, rewarding more money, more points and a fair whack of kudos to those who have the knack of doing twenty different things at once – or, at least, in quick succession.
It's an approach that doesn't really translate very well in real life. Your boss is unlikely to give you a raise just because you're capable of fetching the whole office a batch of sandwiches whilst also completing leagues of reports and offering a free shoulder massage to anyone stiff in their chairs.
But, that's life, and it can be cruel. As can Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, in truth – though it's an altogether different kind of cruel.
In short, Proving Ground is tough, and not really one for those of you who aren't especially quick-fingered, as Iomo – unlike your boss – has decided to hand out presents to players who can tap keys as fast as your average thirty-a-day secretary. This is a challenge as quick as they come, and completely unforgiving to those who falter.
Don't let that put you off, however. Even though it might be fairly demanding in terms of skill, Proving Ground is actually incredibly easy to grasp. It's all about scoring enough points to progress. To earn those points, you simply have to take your board along to one of the game's locations – the first being a warehouse – and successfully perform as many tricks as you can within two minutes.
Most of the tricks are carried out by hitting a combination of buttons flashed up on the screen in a fairly short snippet of time, though there is some variation employed depending on the kind of arena you enter.
For example, taking on a half-pipe is purely a question of building up momentum and performing tricks at each end. To do so, you have to successfully tap in a series of keys displayed on the screen that represent directions. As is usually the case, '2' equals up, while '4' and '6' are left and right respectively and '8' is down – though remembering this can actually prove quite tricky. It may have been a wiser decision to flash the actual numbers up on the screen instead, though this is less of an issue than actually managing to hit the numbered keys in time once you've remembered what they represent.
That's because each combination of buttons will constantly take you by surprise, so the only way to meet that challenge is to have your fingers poised over each button ready. Doing so makes things a little crowded, meaning if 'down' happens to follow 'up', managing to position your fingers in time can be more than a little trying.
Of course, your fingers do tend to accommodate their convoluted positioning as time passes and, as such, Proving Ground becomes a pure test of reaction times. More points are rewarded for the tougher tricks you pull off (initially, only standard tricks are available, though you can unlock more sophisticated moves that reward you with more points when used), but the amount of points you're awarded is multiplied by an ever-increasing number the more successful moves you manage to pull off in a row.
This is true of the game throughout, though the methods in which you apply the moves change. Grinding on rails is a question of balance, with a gauge appearing on screen that drifts left and right, the task being to counteract that movement to keep the gauge somewhere in the centre. Let it drift too far either way and you'll find yourself on the floor – a 'game breaker' essentially, as the points targets needed to progress rely on you stringing together a long chain of successful moves.
That said, other 'bonus' goals – such as picking up five items of luggage when attempting the airport level, or performing a pre-selected move five times – can be achieved even if your score is lacking. You can attempt the same level any number of times, meaning it's possible to keep going back to tick all the level's boxes, even if the target score is beyond you – and there's a fair chance that it will be.
That's because, as the game progresses, achieving its goals calls for absolutely faultless performances and the application of risky and daring moves, meaning for many, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground will prove just a little too slick, a little too tight, and a little too tough. But there's an undoubted sense of quality behind everything the game does – one that encourages you to get just that little bit quicker and just that little bit better, and that, in itself, is its own reward.