Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 Review (PS4)
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 looks, runs, and plays like a pre-alpha build of a game that might have been ready to release sometime in the spring or summer of 2016. Its framerate is choppier than most extreme sports titles on the PlayStation 2. Its 20-person multiplayer sessions contain more ghosting and warping than an original Pac-Man cabinet. The entire package is missing many essential options and features from the first six Tony Hawk games that rightfully belong in any modern revival.
Even if future patches miraculously resolve THPS 5's numerous mechanical and technical malfunctions, the game still won't be worth buying, due to unpatchable problems like blasé skate parks, unbalanced level designs, repetitive single-player missions, an inefficient matchmaking system, and a lack of compelling multiplayer modes.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 would be a disgraceful piece of software to ship on the PlayStation 4's launch day, much less coming 22 months into the system's life. I did not think I'd ever play a game on this console that was worse than NBA Live 14, but Activision and developer Robomodo have somehow managed to score lower than EA Tiburon's own disastrous comeback attempt.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 preserves most of the basic ground, rail, and ramp maneuvers from the franchise's early years, including manuals (THPS 2), reverts (THPS 3), spine transfers (THPS 4) and wall plants (THUG). Flatland tricks and grind switches (THPS 4) would have been a welcome inclusion, but their absence isn't a game-breaker. The wall plant, however, really shouldn't have returned, given how stupidly simple it can make combo-building in certain locations throughout each level.
One huge control change that is certain to throw-off THPS veterans is the new landing command called “slamming,” which has totally noobified the game's rules for grinding objects and sticking tricks. Regardless of how high up you are in the air, or whether or not your body/board has stopped spinning, you can now instantly drop straight down onto a rail or right into a manual by pressing the triangle button to make a clean landing at any time. The slam is a cheap, fail-safe method of escaping potential crashes, since it will produce a flawless landing every single time, even if your body or board is turned crooked before you hit triangle. THPS 5 also automatically stops you from bailing whenever the balance meter is tilted too far in one direction, as your skater will now safely reset into an upright riding stance if he/she loses balance during a grind or manual. Really, the only time you'll wreck in THPS 5 is when the collision detection gets glitchy, which is something that happens far too frequently. Completely removing the risk/reward factor in holding onto a lengthy grind/manual is just one of many terrible design decisions that Robomodo has made for THPS 5.
Robomodo: “So, Bobby, what do you think consumers want from a skateboarding videogame in 2015?”
Activision: “Let's see, knocking oversized barrels into radioactive waste pits, ramming giant footballs between the uprights, and shooting big &%% dodgeballs from underneath their skate decks! Oh, and lots of fancy fire/lightning effects, of course –- framerate be damned!”
Robomodo: “*#&% the framerate; let's Michael Bay this &(^%#!”
Both: *Fist pound*
The gradual decline of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series began as its original developer (Neversoft) started making the game's mechanics and objectives feel less and less like actual skateboarding with each annual sequel. Current developer Robomodo hasn't brought the franchise's gameplay any closer to resembling the intense competitions and stylish video clips that fans of the sport like to see.
Kickflipping fireworks into floating bulls-eye targets and delivering lunch pail icons to a construction site simply aren't ways that I'd like to spend my time in a skateboarding videogame. Collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E and searching for hidden VHS tapes is a concept that's still somewhat fun, but without the extra adrenaline rush or the added pressure of a two-minute time limit, those pastimes also feel largely unsatisfying. Apart from the good old high score targets, most mission types in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 are either painfully tedious or annoyingly stupid. The objectives aren't even level-specific, as Robomodo recycles the same seven or eight of goals throughout the entire game.
The 10 professional skateboarders Activision paid to appear in THPS 5 are oddly absent from the career mode. Skaters don't show up inside the stages to assign you tasks, like they did in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. And there's no narrative unfolding from level to level, like there was in Tony Hawk's Underground. The eight skating sites all seem to exist in an abandoned, post-apocalyptic world, since there's nothing inside them except some inanimate objects and your mutant avatar. It's almost as if Robomodo ran out of time to make these environments more alive, as the maps do contain empty placeholder art where you can hold down a button to begin objectives, instead of instantly teleporting to the starting location.
Even with the fast-travel option, the basic structure and flow of playing career mode is incredibly bumpy, and is often roadblocked by dead end menus. You can't change clothes, select new equipment, upgrade your attribute points, or select a different skater without leaving the level you're in and returning to the title screen. If you get stuck on an overly difficult objective, restarting isn't instantaneous like it was in the old THPS games. Instead, there's now an irksome 10 seconds of loading that quickly adds up whenever you're replaying events that demand absolute perfection. Hawkman missions, for instance, have needlessly strict collision detection on the coins you must collect, often causing you to miss one or two icons that you could've sworn you just skated over. Ring Races are also much harder than they should be, because the game only displays one ring at a time and forces you to predict where the next purple circle will pop up, instead of displaying the entire ring sequence from the start.
If it wasn't my duty as a reviewer to get as close as I can to crossing the game's finish line in a week's time, I would have quit THPS 5's tedious, frustrating, and lackluster career mode a few minutes into the second level. There isn't even a reward for the people who do tough it out and complete the main campaign on normal difficulty, as three-starring every primary objective does not unlock any extra levels, skaters, or videos, like you'd expect based on previous THPS games.
Eight parks appear on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5's level select screen, and of that tiny number, two are merely remixes of levels you've probably already played to death. The Bunker is basically THPS's Warehouse with a ready-for-liftoff helicopter sitting in the middle section, plus a worthless group of hard-to-combo quarter pipes and rails hidden behind a breakable door. School III at least adds some cool new areas to the top and left sections of School II, but Robomodo's designers have inexplicably deleted the entire right side of the map, where a lot of excellent lines used to exist.
The six never-before-seen courses are substandard in quality, and all but one (Asteroid Belt) feel highly derivative of previous Tony Hawk titles. The Berrics offers nothing that you can't already find in similar indoor parks like Skater Island (THPS 3) and Skatestreet (THPS 2), plus it's much too simplistic to have any staying power. Rooftops just adds a ridiculous double jump powerup to concepts that were already explored by Construction Site (THPS 2X) and Sky Lines (THPS 2X). Bonfire Beach makes me wish I was playing Venice Beach (THPS 2) instead, so that the dumb fire effects would disappear and stop destroying the framerate. Mega Park's layout seems too much like Marseille (THPS 2), to the point that they both have a secret section with water fountains that must be unearthed by smashing into a specific object.
Mountain was the most fun I had with any map in THPS 5, but it's essentially Downhill Jam (THPS) set along an icy ski resort instead of inside a canyon's water dam. Asteroid Belt is the only stage that doesn't immediately conjure up any direct comparisons, but it also ends up being the game's most annoying area. The framerate on this space station is incredibly unstable, the low-gravity jumping is more gimmicky than it is enjoyable, and the rails' collision detection is so spotty that your board will frequently get thrown out of grind animations for no logical reason. Some of Asteroid Belt's objectives (like Pudding Pack Panic) are extremely difficult, so you'll be spending a lot of time floating atop this torture site if you want to 100% it. Each of the eight levels in THPS 5 also has at least one place with an infinite grind loop, which really kills these courses' capability to be played competitively.
Robomodo clearly didn't put much thought behind THPS 5's default collection of parks, and instead, seems to be hoping that the community will build lots of interesting content. But with only five preset themes to pick from (Beach, School, Skatepark, Warehouse, Space Station), the creation options feel very limited. You can't scale any of the objects' sizes, for example, and you can only rotate pieces in 90 degree intervals. Parks also reach a predetermined “complexity” limit pretty quickly, so you can't incorporate a wide range of obstacles. Don't expect to see many of your favorite THPS maps appearing in THPS 5, unless Activision releases them later on as DLC, because the customization tools just aren't powerful enough. Negative word of mouth and disappointing first impressions will probably eradicate this game's online community in a few weeks, anyway.
Thankfully, there's split-screen multiplayer to keep people occupied once the online population inevitably dies down...wait a minute...where is it in the menus...
...Robomodo didn't seriously forget split-screen again? How on earth is this possible? After the furor fans unleashed upon THPS HD's botched release, how the heck did Robomodo fail to include split-screen support for the second straight game?
Well, guys...at least we can play H-O-R-S-E and Graffiti online. I guess that's something...hold up...I'm looking through the online options...and...WHERE THE EFF IS H-O-R-S-E? WHAT HAPPENED TO GRAFFITI? THESE ARE THE MULTIPLAYER MODES THAT MADE TONY HAWK'S PRO SKATER A HIT IN THE FIRST PLACE! NOT “BIG HEAD” MODE, NOT “KING OF THE HILL,” AND MOST DEFINITELY NOT “DEATHMATCH!”
So we've lost Graffiti mode, for some unexplained reason, during Robomodo's three-year transition from the PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4. OK, I guess I can live with only playing Trick Attack, even though its gameplay consists of nothing but repeating the same boring grind loops over and over again.
But thanks to a horribly designed matchmaking system, it's now become harder than ever to simply get an online match going. You must load up the exact map that you want to play before you can start looking for opponents. Then the game checks to see if any of the 19 other people who also happen to be loaded into your level are simultaneously searching for a multiplayer match.
The timer lasts only one minute before you have to back out, reload the level, and restart the search. Despite this being release weekend, I was already having a ton of trouble getting anyone to join my games on the first map that's available as soon as you start playing (you have to unlock all the other levels through Career mode). I did not have a single session on Saturday or Sunday where more than one person joined. The 20-person online play that's proudly advertised on the backside box art is technically possible, but it's not realistically going to happen, ever, unless you happen to have 19 friends who were also suckered into buying this sorry excuse for a $60 game.
While we're on the subject of features that used to be in the old Tony Hawks but aren't in THPS 5: why can't we import our actual faces into the game? Did the people at Activision and Robomodo forget that Tony Hawk's Underground was one of the first sports games to support face scanning way back in 2003? Are these companies not aware that both current-gen consoles have high-tech cameras, and that most other sports games these days let users put their faces into the game, someway, somehow? I guess not, because you can only choose from a few preset faces, bodies, and clothing options in THPS 5. You can't even alter your skater's default move list, or switch around some of the button inputs if you find them uncomfortable, which is something you were able to do in THPS 2, back when Lil Wayne was just one of Juvenile's Cash Money sidekicks.
You can't have a good Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game without a good soundtrack, and while the playlist in THPS 5 is tolerable, there's way too much radio-friendly modern rock and not enough classic metal, punk, and hip hop. You're also stuck hearing any songs that you don't like, because there's no way to manually skip to the next track, and no option to delete specific songs from the list of 32. The game automatically changes tracks while you're moving around the menus and hopping in-and-out of missions, which means you'll rarely get to hear the middle and end parts of most songs. Since the playlist is set to shuffle, certain songs tend to get picked or avoided an excessive amount of times.
There's not even a pause menu or an on-screen notification box to let you know who's singing what song. The screen space that should be reserved for soundtrack information is instead filled with endless notifications of users dropping in and out of your game, which can only be disabled by hosting a private session and playing all by your lonesome.
Those user interface problems are relatively minor issues, though, compared to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5's embarrassingly bad framerate. Like a bicycle, it performs at three distinct speeds, which will shift up or down, depending on whether you're skating by yourself with no ongoing special effects (speed = Generally Unstable), with fire or lighting shooting out of your board (speed = Incredibly Choppy), or are in an online session with up to 20 skaters appearing on screen (speed = Goldeneye 007). It's hard to believe that a game this fugly can somehow have massive performance issues on a piece of hardware as powerful as the PlayStation 4.
Robomodo's dusty library of antiquated skating animations lacks consistency and displays less fluidity than a seizure victim. Sometimes your skater will take off like a rocket when you push off, and sometimes he/she will inch up only a few tiles at a time. Your grinds will get randomly interrupted on certain rails and objects that happen to be extra buggy, even when the geometry appears to be nice and smooth. Transitional animations often twitch violently into place, perhaps mimicking a spiritual exorcism. The skaters' faces all look hideously deformed, resembling the types of people you'd see on a “Don't do drugs!” advertisement. Even the font selections are oddly mismatched, displaying a bizarre combination of basic text and stylized graphics. I doubt anyone on the art team will be putting Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 into their portfolio, whenever Activision finally decides that it's done dealing with Robomodo's repeated failures.
With a résumé that now includes four terrible Tony Hawk's Pro Skater titles (Ride, Shred and Pro Skater HD being the other three), developer Robomodo should be banished from ever working on this series again, if Activision actually wants to bring THPS up to 2015's standards, instead of simply banking on people's nostalgia, while knowingly shipping a broken product that offers a minimal amount of content compared to other contemporary $60 videogames.
Final Score: 3.0 (Subpar)