Published on October 20th, 2015 | by Jeff Derrickson0
Tony Hawk pro Skater 5 Review
Summary: Enter at your own risk.
I’m the biggest Tony Hawk fan I know. I own all the games (including Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2X), some on multiple platforms, and I’ve played them countless times. I stuck with the series and enjoyed each entry right up until Proving Ground, which felt rushed and added a picture-taking mechanic that severely interrupted the flow of the game. Imagine my dismay when Activision ran the series into the ground and killed it with peripheral games. Imagine my joy when they announced, after too many dormant years, a return to the series roots with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. Imagine my horrified disappointment when I finally played it.
The game Activision and Robomodo delivered is riddled with glaring flaws, from bland level design to uninspired missions to misguided additions to baffling omissions to a lack of content to myriad technical issues. It is an unfinished product, and its $60 asking price is a slap in the face to consumers and a blatant cash grab meant to rip-off hardcore fans and uninformed gamers with nostalgia for the series. They had to squeeze out a few last dollars before their licensing deal expired. Nobody involved on Activision’s end of this debacle can claim with a straight face that this was a sincere attempt at reviving the series. The game never comes close to even approaching the level of success that was SSX’s reboot.
The good news is the core gameplay is still fun, and a testament to the rock-solid foundation at the heart of this series. You can beat down Tony Hawk gameplay with every issue in the book, you can pummel it with the whole damn book, and it gets right back up. It resists breaking and emerges as a beacon of hope in a sea of garbage. It’s still damn fun to string together combos with reverts, manuals, and grinds. And for those who may think that arcade gameplay is an archaic relic of a certain time and place, I submit to you my non-gamer girlfriend who is playing the series for the first time and having a blast with this deeply flawed entry. (It helps that she has a good coach.) I can’t wait to take her back and show her the good ones. And the gameplay generally feels right, much better than Tony Hawk’s Pro HD. You can tell Robomodo took the criticisms that their previous effort felt slightly off and worked to correct that.
Unfortunately, after putting effort into making the core gameplay feel right, Robomodo decided to add one big, new mechanic that nearly destroys everything. The slam mechanic allows you to slam straight down at any time into a grind. More often than not it will end your combo or slam you into the abyss. It is mapped to the grind button, so if you press the grind button mid-air too early as you approach a rail, you will slam down and miss it. It is somewhat useful if you’re getting big air, and you know you are going to miss a ramp on the way down; it can make you level and land safely on flat ground. But that’s about it. One simple solution would be allowing players to decide when they want to use the slam mechanic by making you double tap the grind button to slam. A better solution would be scrapping the idea altogether, because it’s pretty pointless.
Robomodo’s clearly precious little development time would have been better served ensuring all the moves dedicated fans have become accustomed to over the years were present. While the gameplay generally feels right, crucial parts of the moveset are missing. It could be argued that Robomodo didn’t want to add elements that weren’t there in the spiritual predecessor of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Okay, but the wall slap is in the game, and I don’t remember that being introduced until Tony Hawk’s Underground 1 or 2. And the slam mechanic sure as hell wasn’t in THPS 4. Specifically, I dearly miss the ability to do tricks while performing grinds, manuals, and lip tricks. It makes the insane combos I used to get on Gamecube and Xbox 360 virtually impossible to achieve here and adds to the frustration of the sometimes incredibly difficult mission goals.
The eight levels and missions within are wildly inconsistent in terms of quality and difficulty. It doesn’t help that some of the best levels, such as The Bunker and School III, are rehashes that we have played to death in previous titles. (That’s a pretty big problem for a game boasting a mere eight levels.) Most of the new levels are serviceable, if somewhat small, uninspired, and empty feeling. Some, such as Mega Park and Mountain, reach for the inspired greatness that we took for granted from Neversoft’s yearly releases. Everyone will have their favorites, but I doubt Rooftops and Asteroid Belt will make anyone’s list. These two levels are atrocious. If I weren’t a dedicated fan, they would have been the final straw that would make me rage quit. Both have pits all over the place where you can fall to your death and ruin a big combo, especially when combined with the slam mechanic. I was really looking forward to Asteroid Belt’s space setting and reduced gravity, but all that extra air only creates chaos and wreaks havoc on trying to actually do something, such as focusing on mission objectives.
Some of the levels have power-ups you can pick up, and for the most part I liked that addition. Mega Park has a power-up that makes your character huge, messing with your sense of scale. Rooftops has a power-up that allows you to double jump, and that is something fun and new that doesn’t feel intrusive to the core experience. It’s also essential to completing some missions in that level.
Some of the new mission types are pretty fun, too, especially the big head mode. In big head missions, you have to keep landing tricks to keep your head from expanding and exploding. It just feels like a fun, natural spin on the vanilla trick attack mode. Another new mission type I like tasks you with collecting as many items as you can and returning them to a central area to bank them. If you fall before banking the items, you lose them, which creates a great sense of risk and reward for staying out a little longer and finding one more line before going back and safely storing away the items. The same mission types are used for each level, but at least they are mostly enjoyable.
Unfortunately, the difficulty is all over the place and gets way too hard near the end. There is a mission type where you have to skate through rings as quickly as possible. In Rooftops, the ring challenge requires perfection to achieve an amateur ranking. In the following level, the ring challenge is so easy I got a sick ranking my second or third try. The game consistently ramps up difficulty in certain mission types, such as trick attack, but the ramp is too steep. In Asteroid Belt, you need a score of 1.5 million in two minutes for just the amateur ranking. Sure, at this point you will have leveled up your character considerably, but again, I have trouble achieving high scores without the moves I’ve become accustomed to, and Asteroid Belt is a pain in the ass to begin with, anyway. And I’m a seasoned veteran of this series. I wonder how casual fans picking it up on nostalgia will fare. Considering you need 15 mission stars to unlock the next level each time, I would love to see stats on how far people get in the game.
The worst offense, though, for many who dare pick up this jagged package of fun and frustration will be the technical shortcomings. Although the Tony Hawk games have always featured incredibly tight controls, they have also always been a little bit rough around the edges. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 keeps the tradition alive not just with crazy, wonky physics but all sorts of serious glitches. The game lacks the polish (and content) people have come to expect from $60 titles. The Internet was littered with videos of people clipping into environments before there was a single review. (Activision stealth launched the game with limited marketing and no reviews copies before release.) The majority of my play time consisted of the usual things I expect from the series, but after many hours, there were a few instances where I experienced the glitches that had the entire Internet mocking the game.
The game has crashed a total of four times for me; I honestly don’t know whether to blame the game, Xbox One, or this generation in general, because nearly every game this generation has crashed on me at least once. At one point, I clipped into the environment and got stuck inside of a ramp. Luckily, I haven’t experienced the game corrupting my save file, which some players have reported. I have found the game to be nowhere near as broken as some Internet clips would leave you to believe, but there is a general lack of polish to the whole experience.
At best, it’s on par with the series as a whole, but that ignores Project 8, my favorite in the series. Then again, most gamers ignored Project 8 and most later entries in the series, which is a shame because I think it continued to grow and improve from Underground through Project 8.
It’s funny. People who claim to be fans constantly complain about how easy it should be to do this series the right way. They trash the later games and wish the series would return to its roots. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is a too-literal interpretation of that wish, giving these so-called fans exactly what they asked for. And these same fans looked at some gifs, mocked the game, and are staying away. The people who really love the series, such as myself, are getting a half-baked attempt to appeal to these long-lost fans.
Some things are just inexcusable, though, considering they were never present, even in the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Despite any other technical flaws, Tony Hawk games have always been smooth, fast-moving experiences. Here, you get dropped into a free skate mode in each level. For the casual nostalgic fan (who won’t be buying this anyway), the free skate mode includes classic goals you can complete at your leisure: collect SKATE, COMBO, a VHS tape, and a DVD. They don’t help you unlock new levels, but they will give you stat points to spend. However, any time you want to do an actual mission in a level, it reloads the entire level, the textures slowly pop in, and then you can play the mission. This happens every single time you enter or exit a mission. It definitely disrupts any sense of flow to the game, since you will be dealing with the level reloading every two minutes or so, and adds to the inescapable feeling that the game is an unfinished mess.
Oh, and while you are in free skate mode just playing around in the level, other online players will be dropped into the same level with you. This is the main advertised new feature of the game. Trailers and pre-release interviews really emphasized 20-player simultaneous online play. I’m not sure why, because there is absolutely no point to it whatsoever. You don’t interact with these other players in any meaningful way.
All sorts of little things are missing. You can’t customize your deck. You can’t edit tricks. You can’t edit the song list; you can’t even see the soundtrack. As I already noted, you can’t even do all the tricks you used to be able to perform. There is no graffiti mode in the multiplayer. For the love of God, there is no two-player splitscreen. Combined with the dated graphics and glitches, these inexplicable omissions add up. Activision has already acknowledged the problems with the game and promised five new skaters and two new levels for free, but it may be a case of too little too late.
Robomodo mostly nailed the soundtrack and core gameplay, but there’s not a lot propping that up. Slam mechanic aside, the game may play fine, but what’s the point if there’s only a handful of somewhat bland levels? What is going to keep you coming back?
Nobody wants to see this franchise make a comeback more than me, but that isn’t this game. This is an entry for desperate, diehard fans only. They will have fun, but even then I would have to advise waiting for a price drop.
I can’t tell you this is a good game without losing all credibility. I also can’t tell you I’m not having fun. Enter at your own risk.