My experience with Tony Hawk's was slightly different in that I started out playing the Free Skate mode and then went immediately into two-player competition matches against Dale. In doing so, I was immediately taken by surprise of the quality of the game. I had a very similar reaction to Dale. The controls were amazingly responsive and easy to pickup, but difficult to master (a recipe for a classic in the making). Within minutes of practicing, I was already giving Dale (who been playing much longer then I) a run for his money in competitions. That anecdote is a testament to just how great the control scheme really is.
On a more technical level, I was also equally impressed. The graphics engine was extremely solid. The over-the-shoulder camera angle that would dynamically adjust to some of the more high-flying acrobatics was also finely tuned. In fact, I was so impressed by the overall craftsmanship and its effortless feel, that it made me wonder why so many other developers struggle so much with the same issues like camera-angle placement and 3D physics.
So after playing through the Free Skate and Two-player modes, I was ready to add to the chorus of praises that had already showered the game since its early PlayStation release. Then something unexpected happened. The one-player mode didn't quite live up to my expectations.
While performing tricks and scoring in a free fashion was a total blast, I found trying to complete the various goals in the one-player mode to acquire tapes to be less thrilling. Like Dale previously mentioned, one of the major problems is repetition. The whole process of finding letters, locating a secret tape and crashing through particular structures gets to be a drag after repeating the process over and over. Merely changing the environment doesn't really refresh things as much as I would have liked.
Yet there's an ever more severe issue was the way the controls handled in the one-player mode. While the interface scheme is responsive and terrific for frantically and freely performing tricks in an anywhere and anytime approach, the same interface isn't so ideal when it comes to the sort of precision required for fulfilling some of the goals necessary for the tapes. Once my character came to a complete stop, I was never sure which direction he would start-up again on, and turning around a full 180 degrees at high speeds was not always easy because it required much space that wasn't always available (on say a rooftop). Trying to land tricks on exact structures and performing jumps at key areas proved to be rather frustrating on several occasions because of those problems.
I didn't like the rigidness of the tape-acquiring goals. I would have much preferred a one-player mode that focused more on a season of competition against the other skateboarders (there are a few competitions, but they don't feel like the focus). Had that been the case, I would have found myself complaining less and getting more into the game. As it stands, I give the Tony Hawk's plenty of well-deserved praise for what it has accomplished in terms of craftsmanship, but it misses the mark ever so slightly for not putting together a better one-player mode that is more suited for the innovative control scheme.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Dreamcast version of the game.