Waiting.

A status I endured in 2012 as I waited for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD to release.

When it finally came to PS3, I felt disappointed. It was like going back to your favorite restaurant only to find that the chefs had all quit and the dishwashers were given the task of cooking. The environment and the menu were the same, but it doesn’t taste the same. It doesn’t look the same. It doesn’t feel the same.

I, again, was waiting.

The next time I heard about the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise in an official capacity was when Tony Hawk himself discussed a new title in the series that was on its way… to mobile devices.

Suddenly, all mention of this mobile title was ditched in favor of the announcement for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 coming to consoles in 2015. The prospect of a new numbered entry in the series was elating, but knowing that the same team that brought us the HD remake (and the previous games which ultimately put the franchise on hiatus) was behind this new entry left me with some skepticism.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was released on September 29, 2015, and was immediately panned critically. Outlets began running stories about how awful the game looked and how glitchy it was. There was a patch for the game on release day, but it still didn’t stop media outlets from posting videos of the titular Tony Hawk falling through walls or textures within the environment.

When I was given a free rental at Redbox, I decided to try out the game and see just how bad it was. I didn’t feel inclined to spend full retail price to try the game out, especially if it was going to lead to disappointment. For free, however, I was on board.

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Why It’s Bad

I played the game both with and without the day one patch installed. To be fair to the game, I never encountered any of the strange glitchiness that was reported and shown, but I did experience a bad game.

There were three things that made the original games in the series so great:

  1. Physics
  2. Level Design
  3. Soundtrack

There are three things that are holding this game back from being so great:

  1. Physics
  2. Level Design
  3. Soundtrack
Physics

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The physics in the game are difficult to define, but those who have played the original should have an idea of what these games should feel like.

There is something in the original games which grounds them in reality while giving it a slight stretch into abnormality. The original games in the series made you feel like you were in control and everything seemingly glided along nicely. It felt natural and sticky in the areas that it mattered; sticky in the sense that when you committed to a grind, you were one with the rail.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 just doesn’t feel right. It feels bad.

There’s a new slam mechanic in the game, which reminds me of Roll7’s OlliOlli series, but doesn’t fit in Tony Hawk. It makes sense, sure, but after fifteen years of playing these games and building muscle memory this feature is intrusive and unwanted. When you go to grind, if you aren’t right near the rail you will slam into the ground. There’s no benefit to it, and for me it only got in the way.

It’s evident that this game is that quietly announced mobile game, and some of the design logic behind putting this game on a device with a touch screen has made it into the full release. Using your Special in older games meant that you could input a more complicated string of commands and execute silly or more intricate moves. While inputting left+square results in a kickflip, pressing left, right, square with special activated might give you a triple kickflip, or something more complicated.

Because a mechanic like this likely wouldn’t have worked well on a mobile title, the developers instead introduce the special meter in this game differently. This might be my ignorance at its best, as I admittedly didn’t explore the options much after my initial frustration, but activating the Special in this game doesn’t seem to open the option for intricate button presses as its predecessors did. Instead, what I felt was that the character will instead perform a number of complicated tricks seemingly at random. With special activated, I attempted a kickflip only to watch the character try a front flip and eat pavement.

My final thought on the physics is the introduction of a “push to start” mechanic. When dropped into the world, you don’t just start moving. You must first pull R2 (or sometimes X (if it works)) in order to get the character moving. Again, another example of how this game is counterintuitive to what the series has taught us since 1999.

Level Design
That is NOT my alma mater

That is NOT my alma mater

Previous entries in the series contained levels that, like the physics, were a surreal mix of our world and a paradise for skateboarders. New York wasn’t actually New York, but rather something that resembled a New York area and stitched together level elements that made sense for someone who wanted to skateboard through that world. Some locations were in fact based fully or in part on real-world locations.

You’ll find none of this in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. Each stage feels vast and vapid, yet simultaneously cluttered and claustrophobic. There are these sweeping areas of emptiness until suddenly you’re upon a cluster of ramps and rails that don’t belong together. In addition to collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E, the developers have added a similar challenge to collect the letters C-O-M-B-O, which must be done in a single combo. It feels like this was added so that the player could see a possible line to combo, because otherwise there are no natural lines in the levels. Much like the physics and controls in this game, you no longer feel in control. There is nothing that makes you feel like you are gliding through this world, but instead you feel like you are fighting with it to make it work.

The offerings for challenge within the stages are identical stage to stage. Our familiar favorites are here, including Collect the VHS tape, Score 125,000 points, and the like. However, there’s also Collect the DVD, because why come up with anything original? Looking for something original? Well, there’s the new addition of “Pick up these things and carry them to that place” in each level. Ah, that’s why we need to avoid originality…

Yes, each stage has a variation on this new “challenge.” For example, the second stage will litter the world with marshmallows and you must collect so many and then skate them back to a large bonfire in the center of the stage. The more you collect, the larger your head grows, which never felt like it had an impact on gameplay and was more just “Remember big head mode? Isn’t this neat?”

Speaking of big head mode, it is now a challenge in each stage. You must land tricks to keep your head from exploding and you’re rewarded based on how high of a score you can achieve before your head explodes. This feels like another example of why this game should have been a spinoff and not a numbered sequel. Theres a hodgepodge of familiarity and unexpected behavior mixed together that define this game.

Which brings us to, how you actually play a stage. No longer are we dropped into a stage and given a two minute time limit to complete as many challenges as possible and restart to try again. The developers must have hated not being able to linger in a stage because now that is all that you do. Every stage is free play and online, meaning there are dozens of lookalikes skating around in the same stage as you at any moment (unless you enter a private match).

In order to complete a challenge, you must skate up to a marker on the map, where it states: “Press [Square] to Start the Challenge.” Go on, press it. You are pressing it? Nothing is happening?

During my time with the game, this never worked. What you’d have to do is actually press the button once and then immediately hold it. Which did not in fact begin the challenge. It opened the menu of challenges and then you could choose the challenge you were trying to start. Which is fine, except you could open that menu at any time and choose any challenge, making the markers strewn across the map pointless and aggravating when they didn’t do what they were set in place to do.

The only stage I actually felt a little excitement unlocking was School III, as the old School stages were always a treat. I should have known to quell my excitement…

School III is a strange mash of familiar elements that never fully get the true idea behind those original stages. The parts that feel almost right are only a reminder of what I’d rather be playing.

Soundtrack

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As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a playlist I created of songs from THPS 1-3. Hearing these songs right now is doing a few things to my brain.

First, I have a feeling in my bones that I haven’t felt in years. I want to go grab my skateboard that’s buried in the closet and take to the streets. I want to text my friends and have them meet me at the old abandoned bank with candles from the dollar store to wax the curb.

Second, each song that plays brings back flashes of the stage that the songs were associated with. Hearing “Police Truck” by the Dead Kennedys makes me think of breaking valves in Downhill Jam from THPS 1. AFI’s “The Boy Who Destroyed the World” oozes with the bright orange glow of molten metal from the Foundry in THPS 3. The music in those games is in every way part of their DNA.

Third, I’m reminded how much influence these games had on my musical taste. As the first game released just after my tenth birthday, I was barely at the age where independent thought occurred. The music I listened to was just whatever my parents listened to or whatever was thrown at me via MTV or the radio. Hearing a blend of punk, hip-hop, ska, metal- it showed me new things. It made me react to music in a new way. I was hearing sounds I had never heard before. Every song in each game’s soundtrack had a punch to it; an energy that I wasn’t used to feeling within the music I listened to.

From these game’s, I developed a new taste and preference for music. I was listening to more complicated things, not only in the sounds themselves but in the messages within each song. They helped me to grow in a new way. They dictated my attitude and appearance, and they guided my changes during integral developmental years.

There is nothing like that in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. Maybe at 26, I’m just an old, grumpy dick who is stuck on what he knows and doesn’t want to hear anything new. Maybe some ten year old kid out there is playing this game and in sixteen years he’ll write about how hearing Skrillex in THPS 5 shaped him throughout his teenage years. The difference isn’t so much that the soundtrack isn’t good (there are a few outstanding bands on the list), but that that ten year old kid won’t associate the game with these songs. The soundtrack loops and songs aren’t tied to one level or another. The reason that I have these strong images in my head when hearing certain songs is because I got to hear them in two minute chunks over and over and over again as I tried to 100% each stage. In THPS 5, that experience doesn’t exist. It’s just background music, never the musical embodiment of that stage in particular.

Skateboarding Isn’t a Crime

Skateboarding isn’t a crime, but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 should be.

I’ve spent a majority of this review talking about how great the old games were and how unlike those games Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is. It’s a shame, because much like developer Robomodo’s attempt at THPS HD in 2012, you can feel that they tried.

Whenever I look at these big franchises, specifically the ones that feel undercooked, I try to err on the side of caution when blaming the developer. We hear about the strict deadlines that publishers place on developers to get the product out the door on a certain date, despite the state that the game is in. It’s kind of hard to do that here when this isn’t the first time a Robomodo developed Tony Hawk game has released with problems.

There’s character customization in the game, but its far too limited. Generic head options, generic clothing options, along with the random silly choices like a snowman head. The customization can only be accessed as an alternate to one of the professional skaters in the game.

The game is inherently ugly. It looks like a PS2 game, which I know is a trite and banal thing to say but it looks really bad. The developers added cel shading as a last ditch effort to clean up the ugly models, but it didn’t help.

Not to harp on this too much, but again it doesn’t feel good. There’s no punch to it like the previous games had. It’s uninspired and flat. Any flash of nostalgia is quickly painted over by a fault in the programming or a break in the physics. Introductions like the slam mechanic or the strange special trick system pull me completely out of the experience.

It’s a shame that things had to turn out this way. It’s like going on a bunch of great dates with someone and finding out after a while that they’re a racist who throws rocks at senior citizens for fun. Much like that imaginary person, I kind of want to get as far away as possible.

I hope that one day we’ll have another great game in this series. I’d even settle for a rerelease of the original games, if licensing weren’t such a tricky thing to nail down. Maybe in time, the developers can fix this and patch the game, but I won’t be around for it. I can’t recommend that you play this game, unless of course you happen upon a free rental as I did.

Posted by Joe Dix

Joe is the creator of The Free Cheese. He eats a lot of pizza and takes thousands of pictures of his pugs Oswald and Earl every day. He has a disorder that causes him to believe that he is Batman and his favorite video game is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

One Comment

  1. […] The game felt crummy to play, and that isn’t even talking about the terrible checkpoint system and level advancement, and we haven’t begun to lament the soundtrack. I don’t want to taint the rest of my day by regurgitating the vomit I already swallowed after ejecting the disc on this last year, but if you want to read my full disgust go peep the review. […]

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