The premise of bringing back the Tony Hawk series' old-school
gameplay has been tougher than it may have seemed to Robomodo, Activision, or
even fans. I loved the early titles back in the day, but even such a seemingly
airtight premise as an update to what has already been successful is not
enough. So much has happened in the intervening years in gaming in general that
I want more than this title delivers, which at best is an approximation of the
series' gameplay couched in an unimaginative framework.
At times Tony Hawk 5 easily reminds me why I played so much
of the series when it debuted. Tricks effortlessly fly off my fingertips as I
build crazy combos on the back of whatever surface I can find. I don't know how
much skating tricks have evolved in the real-life scene since the series'
heyday, but you won't find yourself at a loss for self-expression even though
skaters' trick sets are locked to that particular person.
The levels accommodate your imagination, containing long
lists of gaps to find and conquer, new twists to familiar levels like the
Warehouse and School, and runs that need to be deciphered and mastered. While
larger than many of the original levels, the ones in this title are well
constructed, offering options from moment to moment whether you love to grind,
flip into manual, or get air. Many of the levels have power ups you can use – my favorite being the double-jump wings that let you access and grind varying
levels of the rooftop map. Players can also make their own levels with a
variety of objects. These can be plenty large and fans have already re-created
the first game's classic Warehouse as well as their own original spaces.
The game's reality, however, constantly reminds you that
this isn't the Tony Hawk you remember. Inconsistent framerate, textures that
pop in, and physics quirks that launch you into the sky mar the experience
regularly. I honestly find the latter hilarious if it occurs when I eat it
after failing a trick, but they can also occasionally happen when simply trying
to execute a move at the top of a ramp. As annoying as these bugs are, the game
has fundamental design problems on its plate.
I disagree with the decision to let players glom on to
practically any nearby rail, even if your momentum is carrying you in a
different direction or you're in mid-trick. I don't expect real-world physics,
but it takes some of the skill out of the game when you can save yourself from
failing a trick by hitting triangle/Y button and hope you catch the nearest
edge. Robomodo's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD had this same too-forgiving rail
detection, and I'm disappointed it hasn't improved.
While THPS 5 doesn't feature perfect gameplay, what's just
as unfortunate is that the progression system wrapped around it doesn't
inspire. The freeskate objectives of finding the SKATE letters or the hidden
tape give you points to upgrade your skills and encourage you to explore the
levels, but the broader missions (which you have to do well in to unlock the
next level) grow old quickly. Their basic template is repeated and adapted in
each level, which means you're going to always be racing through hoops, finding
items and returning them to a specified location, grinding/manualing for as
long as possible, etc., no matter where you are. I actually liked a few of
them, such as doing tricks on a timer to avoid having your head explode, but it
all wore thin quick.
The online modes also fail to build to anything meaningful.
It's easy to party up and play games like King of the Hill against friends or
invite whoever is near to a quick session, but there is really only one
leaderboard – despite the fact that the game keeps track of numerous
individual stats. Even among friends, the online functions don't spur that
feeling of, "Hey, let's skate in this world and see what crazy stuff happens!"
For instance, competitor Skate used to encourage players to spontaneously
create challenges in the world or dubiously rack up Hall of Meat biffs for
points. This allowed a normal session to become something else through skaters'
own ingenuity. From a technical standpoint, online players will blink out or
warp across the level, which makes it difficult to follow another person to see
what they're doing, further breaking that feeling of togetherness.
After playing THPS 5, I have renewed respect for the
struggles of Tony Hawk's previous developer, Neversoft, as it tried to evolve
the series away from its beginnings. Apart from tightening up its gameplay,
Tony Hawk 5 begs for a direction. It's clear that making a game that simply
tries to capture the good times in a new setting isn't enough, even if it did
nail the gameplay. The gaming landscape has changed a lot since the series
heyday, but this title is stuck in a no-man's-land between not being good
enough to replicate the past nor ambitious enough to move the franchise
This review pertains to the
PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game. It also appears on PlayStation
3 and Xbox 360, but without online capabilities.
Check out Brian and Ben playing the game in our new episode of Test Chamber.
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