Grinding to a hault.
It is weird discussing the Tony Hawk games in the same sentence as some of the classic franchises in the business. However, the original game and its sequels are still some of the best memories I have from that era. I am not alone, look at any aggregate score of the first four entries in the series and you will see a pattern. They were stellar titles. The mixture of pitch-perfect controls and addictive game play made for some truly memorable experiences.
So when Activision announced the latest entry in the series, the fact that they labeled it with the monicker of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, it felt like it was serious. The revival of the games I fell in love with. While not the fifth game in the series, holding the number in its title is a sign of serious business. The big difference this time around is that the developers tried to modernize it in the worst way possible, and forgetting what really made the series truly special.
Platforms: XB1, PS4, 360, PS3
Price I’d Pay: $19.99
This is not developer Robomodo’s first attempt at the Tony Hawk series. They also did the disappointing HD remake, as well as both plastic skateboard gimmick titles. I was hoping that fourth time would be a charm, and THPS 5 had all the ideas behind it. Their commitment to making it feel like the classic titles, and streamlining it in a way that focused on the singular objectives, but in execution things went horribly wrong.
I am not one to focus on semantics, but when a game launches with a download size of 4GB and a day one patch of over 7GB, it concerns me. I let that slide. I got into the game, all sessions are online only (even though there is a private session option), OK I can deal with that. That was until I realized that the design was completely broken.
Free skate is invaded by other players, all trying to collect the same arbitrary items as I was, and the only thing that did, was make it harder for me to achieve them. Players knocking into each other, then there is the lag. The game hitches at almost every turn. Selecting a mission is easy, but when I backed out, it threw me right back in with other players, even if I was in a private match.
Eventually my colleague, Justin Celani from the site, clued me in that this can be remedied by simply disconnecting my console from the internet. This cleaned up almost all the lag and issues with missions taking forever to restart.
Once I got past that hurdle, the game still has some serious issues. First off grinding was second nature for veterans of the series. Pre-loading that grind button was imperative to my long trick runs, then Robomodo decided it was a good idea to add a new slam mechanic to the same button. This forces the rider straight down, causing me to miss a ton of my grinds, and bail more frequently. Why take such a treasured mechanic, and dismantle it? It makes zero sense.
Everything else feels familiar. I was hitting tricks with ease, although lip tricks seem more finicky than before. The new super meter is triggered by the left bumper, which now has predetermined tricks when performing normal tricks. Players can also accelerate with the right trigger and stop with the left, almost like a racing game. I actually enjoyed this addition, although using the bumpers to spin faster took some getting used to.
So what is the point of all this grinding?
Well completing missions unlocks new levels. There is also a create-a-park feature, which feels really limited in scope. Likely due to the fact that most of the included levels feel lifeless and drab when compared to the classics. I was also earning stat points to upgrade my skater, which again is only for the skater I was using. Sadly nothing felt like it made much of a difference, or it was so incremental, it was never noticeable. There are also customization options, which are pretty damn cool. For Xbox One there is even a Cuphead…well head for players, which is awesome as well as other indie darlings such as Octodad.
Visually the game is just boring. Levels are uninspired, and character animations are extremely poor. The performance is also unacceptable considering how it looks. For a game that requires precise motion, not having a locked frame rate really drags it down. The music is at least great.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is easily the biggest disappointment of the year for me. Not because I expected it to be great; but because I expected it to at least be enjoyable on some levels. Sadly it fails on almost every attempt. The core skating feels good, but never satisfying, and everything surrounding it just feels flat. I wanted this to the be the resurgence of the series, but it feels more like a budget game wrapped in a AAA game price.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.