Inside Pulse 12

Review: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 (Sony PlayStation 4)

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Robomodo and Disruptive Games
Genre: Skateboarding/Arcade Sports
Release Date: 09/29/2015

The title Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland was used ten years too soon. I have never played a game that creates the feelings of dread, desolation, and hopelessness quite like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5; unfortunately, I do not think that was the motif they were going for. It often feels like a game jam title made in a few days just to prove it can be done. It reminds me of Goat Simulator without the self-awareness.

I have very fond memories of the summer of ’99, spending dozens of hours with friends playing a one level, two minute timed demo of the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. We would pass the controller back and forth trying to beat each other’s best times. The soundtrack was a revelation; a mix of the punk rock and ska music we were already listening to and bands we hadn’t been exposed to yet. There was something Zen about the first Pro Skater game. It just flowed so perfectly and felt tuned to perfection; it almost always did what you wanted, when you wanted it to. The second and third games in the series fine-tuned the feel while adding new mechanics that expanded the gameplay in major ways. As the series continued it reached a point of diminishing returns, but the games were fun to play, even if a bit less so.

Then came the dark ages; the time of the plastic skate board. Tony Hawk: Ride and Tony Hawk: Shred tried to innovate by jumping on the motion control and plastic peripheral band wagon. While it was a noble attempt, it failed to rejuvenate the series and left long-time fans underwhelmed.

In an attempt to send a message about the direction of the series, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 takes up the numbering convention that was left behind following Pro Skater 4 (seven more games followed the fourth). The idea was to send the message that this is a return to form, that the series is going back to its roots by eschewing much of the changes and additions found later in the series. It was a promise to provide a more distilled experience.

The game has all the trappings of a proper Tony Hawk game and mostly done in the ways you remember. You have your flip and grab tricks, grinds, manuals, lip tricks and reverts to help you build high scoring combos. It has also a new “slam” mechanic. When you press the button while airborne, your character slams to the ground or grind rail to help continue your combos. This is one of the biggest missteps in the game. The slam button is mapped to the same button as “grind.” Long time players are used to a certain flow to the gameplay and this completely destroys it, often making you slam down early, missing your rail and ending your combo. Had this been mapped to a different button or required a double tap, it could have alleviated the problem. Also, wall rides are now automatic, taking control away from the player, so you sometimes find yourself riding a wall when you don’t want to.  All too often though, the mechanic doesn’t work even when you want it to, creating further frustration. Power-ups have been added as well: one that makes you bigger, a double jump, and more. Unfortunately, the game never tells you what they do, and after collecting some I still have no clue what their effect was.

The only way to properly express the issues with this game is to walk through some of my experiences. The tutorial was my first problem. It gave me instructions on what to do, expecting me to do as I was shown with on screen prompts. What wasn’t expected was the prompts disappearing and leaving me lost as to what I needed to do. To get through it I ended up resetting and doing it all over again. I was then able to move on to the first level.

I started out by collecting the items in the level to get the hang of the controls. The first time I used the slam button I not only missed my rail, I hit the ground, bailed off my board and my body flew up through the ceiling; then, trying to perform a revert, the game didn’t respond to the button presses. Both of these happened more times than I can count in my time with the game, ruining numerous combos and keeping me from completing in game missions. You are constantly fighting the game to accomplish your goals. Despite this, I managed to get to level two.

To move on to a new level, you need to gain 15 stars by completing missions, such as various high score challenges and collecting items. Level two’s bland, blue, luau landscape nearly ended me. I battled the game to gain my 15 stars, and when I did I felt a catharsis I have rarely enjoyed. I hopped to the level menu to switch levels and… level three is still locked. I was deflated and defeated, but I carried on. It took me a lot of time and 21 stars for the next level to unlock. Never have I felt so despondent playing a game.

It is a tradition for Tony Hawk games to have a school stage; “School III” is the latest incarnation, and where my nightmare took on a new form. Up until this point, the game wasn’t running well, but it was manageable. In “School III” the frame rate went INSANE. The game was speeding up and slowing down at random, from chugging and unresponsive to so fast I couldn’t control it. At this time a ridiculous amount of screen tearing also started. Between the two, it triggered a migraine and made me physically ill to the point of nearly having to cradle porcelain. I gave it up and went to bed, but I came back the next day and got through it.

My experience in the first three levels of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 covers a lot of my issues with the game, but not nearly all of them. Every time I started a single player game, after one mission it would force me into multiplayer. It did this every single time I completed or failed a mission. Often I would choose to retry a mission, only to have it send me back to free roam mode. Many times I met or exceeded the needed time for missions, only to be told I failed and would be given no stars. While attempting to start a single player game on the level “The Bunker,” the game would take five minutes to load before giving me a message that I could not connect to multiplayer. The only way to get around this was for me to take my PlayStation 4 offline completely.

The menu system is a mess. If you want to change skaters, their stats, or levels you have to quit your game completely. Want to create a skater? Choose an existing skater, change tabs to their attire page and notice the prompt to press triangle on the bottom of the screen. It is clunky and unintuitive. For the first few days the only character that even brought up this option was Riley Hawk. Finding out how to edit a character was purely blind luck on my part. You cannot check your list of tricks in game, rather you have to quit the game and head to the character menu. You cannot abort missions, you either have to wait out a timer of up to two minutes or quit the game.

The graphics are dull and uninspired. They have a cell shaded look similar to Borderlands or Sly Cooper, but lacking the detail and character. Aside from the “The Bunker” level, none of the design feels interesting or engaging. Some levels have gimmicks to freshen things up, but often they hinder the gameplay. The Asteroid level’s low gravity seems like a fun idea in concept, but in practice it changes the flow of the game and causes problems with landing tricks. More than once during a grind I was just ejected out to space for no apparent reason. The sound effects are all what you expect and the soundtrack is serviceable if unspectacular, though problematic. Nowhere in the game can you check the track list or edit it; it doesn’t even tell you the song you are listening to when it plays. It eliminates the joy of discovering a new artist and makes it so you cannot turn off songs you don’t like. After turning off my console’s internet connection the music stopped playing altogether, remaining off for 3 play sessions before magically reappearing later. The level editor has potential but was not very user friendly; as of this writing, one of the most popular levels is just the words “Bad Game” spelled out using create a park assets.

Going offline actually helped with a lot of the issues; the frame rate picked up, screen tearing reduced, the controls were a bit more responsive, it stopped forcing me to try multiplayer, and all the menus speed up a great deal. Unfortunately, I didn’t come to this realization until I was deep into the game, and this isn’t enough to make me want to play the game more, nor does it make it more enjoyable, it just makes it less irritating. Nothing in the game ever feels right, it is janky and lacks the smoothness to make things click. It often doesn’t behave how you expect it to, and more so it doesn’t behave consistently. You never quite know how things will work from level to level and, sometimes, minute to minute.

Short Attention Span Summary

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 feels like someone wished for a new Pro Skater game using a monkey’s paw. Unfortunately, like all such wishes, this one was twisted into something undesirable. While playing through the game I went through a range of emotions, though most of them were shades of disappointment, frustration, and hate. I was ready to spew forth nothing but vitriol, but by the time I reached the end of the game something strange had happened. I no longer hated Pro Skater 5, I pitied it. The game often feels like it was made as a proof of concept for a game that was two years of development down the line. It is a broken mess of game, but you can see that with more time it could have been something good. It rarely communicates what it wants of the player or what it offers, and the controls are a battle at times. Hopefully, Robomodo and Disruptive Games are given a chance to update and fix the game. It is possible that in the future it could be a very enjoyable experience if given some tender loving care. As it stands, however, what shipped is an empty husk of a game that is in no way, shape, or form worth the price of admission, especially for fans of the Tony Hawk series.

  • Steven WK

    I spent a week of my completing this game. If you have any questions, drop them here in the comments and I will get back to you. Seriously though, just go play Aggressive Inline.

  • Aaron Sirois

    No irony. What the hell is a lip trick?

  • Ryan Fuchuck

    Ole Steven rocking the gaming community!

  • Steven WK
  • Steven WK

    Thanks for checking it out, Ryan.