Has it really been 13 years since Tony Hawk 4? Time feels like it's flown since it was published back in 2002 at the height of the series' popularity.
That fourth iteration of the franchise was received with widespread critical acclaim. However, since then, Tony Hawk games have fallen out of favor, with a string of increasingly disappointing titles that came to a head with 2010's Tony Hawk's Shred, a game that shipped with an expensive motion-controlled skateboard peripheral.
Shred didn't sell well, and the franchise was put on hold… until now. Well, apart from Tony Hawk HD, a remake of levels from some of the early games that was a digital-only release in 2012. In terms of Tony Hawk games proper, THPS5 is essentially the tenth game in the series, and promises to bring the franchise back to its more simple, straightforward roots.
And it does do that. Though unfortunately, in a package that lacks polish and finesse.
Things start off well enough, however. Once you've chosen a skater from a choice of one of ten pros (well, nine pros and Lil Wayne for reasons that remain largely unexplained), or indeed you've created your own skater from the somewhat limited options available using various heads, bodies and outfits, you're put into the first level, the Berrics. There's an element of multiplayer here, since up to 20 other players skate around the same environment as you. It sounds cool, but actually doesn't really add much to the game. You can watch other players pull off tricks and stunts, but I found that the game was a little laggy, and players moved so quickly that I couldn't really see what they were doing other than bombing along at speed. Definitely a nice idea, but one that feels superficial and not particularly well executed.
The objective of the Berrics, and indeed subsequent levels, is to complete a series of missions. There are 10 basic ones, as well as "pro" missions to unlock, and you can score up to three stars on each – if you're good enough. Score 15 stars or more, and you can move onto the next, slightly more complex level. There are eight levels in all, meaning that there are 80 basic missions to complete, plus a bunch of bonus ones on top of that.
Missions range from hitting drones that are hovering around the environment to constantly having to pull off tricks to – I kid you not – ensure your head doesn't expand massively and ultimately explode. It sounds funny, but in practice it just seems incongruous. Some missions are more fun than others, and most of the entertaining ones require you to pull off specific tricks and stunts to complete them – usually against the clock. Others involve you skating around at speed hitting or collecting items. These feel a lot less interesting than the combo-based missions, almost like the designers were running out of good ideas, and created these as basic filler.
What's most important to a Tony Hawk game is the feel of the controls, and for the most part THPS5 gets it right. While the button presses to execute combos can occasionally feel a little on the finicky side – the timing is quite tight – grabs, ollies, manuals and reverts are mostly straightforward to pull off. It definitely doesn't feel as smooth as intuitive as earlier entries in the series, but generally speaking, with a bit of practice you can pull off stunts and skate around in a style that feels quite spectacular and rewarding. The new slam move definitely helps here – a physics-bending maneuver that enables you to drop downwards from an ollie onto an obstacle into a grind. It makes transitions from the ground to grind very easy.
While skating and executing stunts, your Special Meter slowly fills. When it's activated, your skater can use his or her special tricks for additional points. It's a useful way of racking up extra bonuses on missions. Speaking of which, as you complete missions, or indeed go head to head against other players in the game's six multiplayer modes, you earn experience that enables you to level up your skater. Points are earned every other level that you can put into attributes that boost certain skills – such as skating faster, or making it easier to balance while grinding.
The game also features a create-a-park mode, which lets budding skateboard park designers create their own levels, which they can then share online. It's a nice idea – assuming you're patient enough to get to grips with the quite complex means to put them together.
THPS5 does tick some of the right boxes. Its controls are good enough, it features eight environments with a whole host of missions to complete – as well as gaps to find, DVDs and VHS tapes to collect, and the words C-O-M-B-O and S-K-A-T-E to spell out by hitting each letter (the former in one continuous combo, which is extremely challenging on most levels). It's got a great soundtrack of new and classic skate-punk tunes too.
However, it's presented in a package that just feels uninspiring and is awkward to use. Graphically, the game is quite bland. The characters are reasonably well rendered, but sometimes they just look a little too sharp and out of place against the rather mediocre backdrops. The environments are reasonably fun to skate around, but again, they're just not particularly well drawn. They're hi-res, sure, but they lack interesting detail, and the coloring lacks impact. The environments end up feeling stark, and old-fashioned.
Another thing that really takes the edge off the game is the clumsy menu system. Navigating through the game is really clunky, and loading is slow. You can start an event, and then skate around a bit before the actual event kicks in, which can be somewhat jarring. Why there are these lags between pressing a button to start something, and it actually starting is a mystery to me, but it just makes the game feel like it hasn't been put together particularly well. These pauses happen at the end of missions too, and it just feels shoddy. Like nobody had time to tidy up the game's presentation once it was finished. Indeed, that's something that I felt constantly: the game feels unpolished, and not particularly buttoned down.
Then there are the glitches. THPS5 uses ragdoll physics that can result in some pretty strange-looking wipes and crashes. Sometimes the body of your skater can fly off in a random direction as though his or her board suddenly exploded under their feet. Also, the game crashed twice while I was reviewing it, which to me signals a rushed product that hasn't been fully tested. And sometimes the framerate inexplicably drops while you're skating around. It just all adds to the feeling that THPS5 needed a few more months of testing and finessing to really hit the standard of a full-priced game.
And that's pretty much THPS5 in a nutshell. While it has the right fundamentals in terms of concept and gameplay, the package as a whole feels not quite fully baked. There's definitely some entertainment to be had here, but while the missions are reasonably fun, certain themes are recycled repeatedly, resulting in a feeling of repetition. And all in a package that feels bland, uninspired and somewhat glitchy.
The tragedy is that THPS5 gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the game's full potential - but doesn't realize it. With an online mode that really meant something, with better presentation and graphics, with more interesting and imaginative missions, with a more comprehensive create-a-skater, and more intuitive create-a-park mode, this could have been a truly great game. But sadly it's lacking in all those areas, and what we're left with is a core skating game that is entertaining for a while, but whose numerous flaws ensure it soon wears out its welcome.
Very poorly designed, with lots of menus to fiddle with, and inexplicable lag between missions.
There's plenty of missions to complete, but some of them get repetitive.
Ambient sounds are poor, but the soundtrack packs 32 solid skate-punk songs.
The environments are bland and generally uninspiring. Feels more last generation than current.
You can definitely see the potential here, but despite having good enough controls and plenty of missions to get your teeth into, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 lacks polish and finesse - and ultimately becomes repetitive.