Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5
Someone mentioned to me that it has been over 13 years since Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 released. Of course we had random adventures with Underground that opened up the world a bit, and some extremely bad spin offs like Shred and Ride (which came complete with a crappy peripheral). Yet even though it has been so long since we got a true THPS experience I was excited to go back to the core series, to the roots, and jump back in with THPS5. While the game does a fine job of making you relive memories of the classic games, it falls flat on its face in many ways. Just like if Tony Hawk were attempting to do a 900, but failing, the game has some wild dreams and simply falls short.
The game isn’t totally terrible in every regard, but it feels like a game that wants to be bigger and simply isn’t. The game starts off by throwing nostalgia into your face. The Activision logo is a classic spin, you get some awesome 90’s inspired skate boarding videos, and even some fun punk rock music to get you hyped. Then you see Tony Hawk and some skaters that a lot of casuals probably won’t know, along with Lil Wayne randomly thrown in for some reason that nobody knows.
Then we get into the gameplay which is small skate parks with some fun little missions to complete. Each park has random missions that range from high score challenges, to clearing out giant balls in a pool. Some are nitpicky and annoying, while most of them are pretty fun to accomplish. I did find most of the missions (at least through half of the parks) to be rather easy as I completed the high scores with more than half the time left. I’m also sad that there are no “heats” to compete in either like the classic games.
The gameplay itself has ups and downs to it. The tricks are fluent, skating is easy enough, and things mostly work as they should. Once you find a groove in each park you can create some insane combos and have a lot of fun catching speed and gaining points. The bad side is that the game has this wonky nature for “grinds” where you press the button and your character randomly “slams” straight into the ground. You press the button and no matter the momentum you currently have, your character will randomly shoot straight down. If you are near something to grind on the character will sometimes latch on to it and grind, but most of the time it just makes you biff it because it’s so awkward. (Previous games you basically shot yourself in a direction and pre-pushed the grind button in preparation. Now if you do that you will just shoot straight down instead.) Even after a few hours of playing I hate this and have searched the menus to turn it off, but I can’t. I feel that if they removed this one perk to the gameplay then it’d play ten times better.
Other than that there isn’t much that the game offers at all. You can customize skaters, but there really isn’t much to customize. There isn’t a whole lot to unlock, and most skater videos seem to already be unlocked without me even touching the “VHS” or “DVD” collections. The game lets you free skate with other random players, which is a cool concept, but it’s beyond broken. It’s either lagging so much that players shoot across everywhere, or players just sit still. At the end of the day you just get annoyed with constant “so and so left” or “so and so joined the game.”
The last feature the game brought back is the ability to build custom skate parks, which is cool and something I always loved. The controls to do so are very intuitive and the map sizes are rather large. You could create something neat very easily and really dive into detail fast. Sadly I kept getting hit with glitches that prevented me from doing too much so I never got a chance to create anything too spectacular.
Getting to the sad part.
Honestly the game crashed twice on me right when I booted it up, which was a clear signal that something was going to go wrong. Yet I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. I carried on, and things just simply kept slipping out of place. My skater would randomly act like a bomb went off and fly across the screen. I’d fall into places I shouldn’t fall. Or my skater would randomly leap in a random direction. During a session of me building a park (which is actually really neat) I went to test my park and my skater randomly fell through the floor. I couldn’t get back into cursor mode due to some error, and I couldn’t exit and save what I had done due to an error. So at the end of the day it was a waste of time.
It’s not outright glitches that hurt the game either. The game simply feels unfinished in many ways. The game works by allowing you to pick a skate park and enter free skate. You then can go to an area and select certain “missions” to do, but the game for some reason keeps insisting on you utilizing the D-Pad for random things(The tutorials even tell you to use the D-pad for skating, and missions tell you to use the D-Pad for tricks.) So the menu pops up and 9 times out of 10 you are slamming the thumb stick trying to get the menu to move before remembering to use the D-Pad. The same thing happens with the start menu, but here finite things like pressing the start button again to get out of it doesn’t work. Instead you need to scroll to “resume” or “exit” and press that.
Now we get past the menu and we jump into a mission, right? Not really. The game goes to a loading screen and then throws you back into free skate, at which point you can skate around for about a minute before it finally loads the mission. This then causes it to load a little bit again before you finally get into the actual mission, and it starts you someplace entirely new. Exiting the mission is the same instance. You get thrown into free skate, then back into the actual free skate. Why doesn’t it just load? Its small things like this that slowly add up and make the game feel so clunky and unfinished. Another issue I had is that you go around collecting things like “Skate,” smashing boxes, or gaining a high score in free skate, but absolutely everything resets (unless you collect everything) every time you “leave” to do a mission. Get 8 out of 9 boxes, but decide eh I’ll do a mission real fast? Have fun collecting all 9 boxes again.
Visually the game is not appealing at all. I’m not a fan of cell shading games, and it makes this game look horrible. I’m not a person that needs super authentic looking graphics to have fun, but everything is just so bland and unappealing everywhere you look. This isn’t much design to it, and then to have cell shaded characters stick out like a sore thumb makes it worse. The game looks like it could potentially run on mobile devices.
All this being said, at the very core of this game there is something good that shines through from time to time. I’ve spent hours trying to just “get the hang of it” and when the game flows naturally it becomes super fun like any other THPS game before. Yet these glitches and small problems that feel unfinished squeak in at the worst possible moments and frustrate the hell out of you. Especially when you notice severe frame rate drops and become curious as to what is so tasking to make it happen....
It is also disappointing that nothing new was really done to the game either. I’m not asking for another Underground adventure, or god forbid another peripheral, but the only “new” thing we got is the “slam” feature and it totally sucks. We get thrown into an online world with other skaters, but it doesn't work... and even if it did, it's totally pointless because you hardly interact with them at all. I would have liked maybe more skaters, more things to do, some unique parks, or something simply memorable. Again there are hints of it like your board catching on fire or special perks to certain parks, but nothing too phenomenal. Instead what we get is some half thought out ideas smashed between a mostly broken game that is hoping nostalgia is enough to make you happy.
Overall if this game were cheaper (maybe $40 or less) and not a full “AAA” retail release I could understand the lack of content and desperate need to extend game time through slowly unlocking a measly 8 levels. On the flip side all the glitches and unfinished work is not excusable, and it’s clear this game was thrown together as quickly as possible to meet some sort of in-house deadline. I don’t entirely blame the developers either, it’s clear they had some ideas but this game just wasn’t meant to be something great. I’ll personally just throw it into the “lousy spin off” pile and wait for a real THPS to release.