Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 Xbox One Review
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 is a sad attempt to latch onto nostalgia. It does not recapture the glorious days of the past, nor does it try to propel the series forward. It’s just an impotent pile of trash, and the company that allowed it to be brought to market in this fashion are arguably no better. It would be great to say that releasing a game in such a state is laughable, but over the past few years any humour from seeing a game limp onto shelves in such fashion has eroded away. I have no ill will towards the people employed at Robomodo, they did a job they were employed to do. Although it is debatable if they did it to the best of their ability, or if they received enough funds to even have the chance.
My contempt lies at the feet of Activision, and their choice to ship a game that feels like its sole reason for existing is to fulfill a contract. I am jumping to conclusions here, but I do so in search of a reason how things got this bad. Whilst there is no evidence to prove that this game exists due to a clause scrawled on a contract back in 2002, it gives me solace to believe so. People never set out to make a bad game, but the reality is making a good one is hard. This is just one of the times the reality cruelly hits home. It is better for me to believe this mess is Activision’s own creation. If they’d lose more money by not shipping a game this year, why not offer the minimal viable product to consumers in hopes of making a bit of money in the long run? It’s not consumer friendly, but it is a good business move – even though it makes a multimillion dollar company look amateurish as they peddle dodgy wares in a back alley hoping they go unnoticed.
There is no one place to start to explain what’s wrong with THPS5. Aside from the unending technical problems that range from confusing to bizarre, the game dumped at the core of this clutter is itself a bewildering mess. The level layouts just feel wrong. The older games, in particular THPS2 and 3 , had ramps, halfpipes, and grind rails expertly placed. It was easy to get into a rhythm as you traverse levels with ease seeing your score skyrocketing. Items were so well positioned you didn’t have to think, it felt instinctual where you should go, and what you should do next. In fact, it is only now, a whole 16 years after the conception of the franchise, that I truly appreciate how well built the parks and locals of those old games were. A place for everything and everything in its place.
For THPS5 it honestly feels like some of the game’s levels were made at random, like a hastily decorated Christmas Tree adorned with trashy unmatching lights and other nonsensical bits and pieces horded over the course of half a decade. The game is full of ramps to nowhere. It feels like every empty wall has had an item placed against it without thinking how the placement would affect the level as a whole. This lack of forethought is evident in every little corner of every level. At best the level offerings feel like prototypes that could have developed into something much better (if given some time), but at worst they feel unsalvageable. Sure, every THPS game over the years had a few levels you could call duds, but the good always outweighed the bad. The bad drastically outweighs the good this time, so much so that it breaks the scales.
The simple fact is the game as a whole just feels dull, and the more you see the more that feeling grows. Even with the limitations of the much older consoles there was always a feeling that someone worked hard to build the level setups. Whilst the technology did not exist back then to render nails hammered into plywood, there was always an intrinsic feeling they were there. Someone had always labored to build the virtual parks of the older games. This feeling is vitally missing in THPS5, and its omission greatly hurts the game’s overall appeal.
I have not even mentioned the technical issues of the game yet, which are unending. It is possible to fall through objects mid-trick. You can even fall through the ground by standing still. Clip the side of a ramp wrong, and your character can be sent flying at superspeed half way across a level. The last time I reviewed a Tony Hawk game was Project 8. In that review I stated the game had a few framerate issues that could cause problems while trying to land a trick. Nine years on, the framerate here is so inconsistent that it is at all times a complete nuisance. Any particle effects seem to drop the frames to single figures. I am not hugely susceptible to framerate drops in most games, but it’s so blatant here it is impossible to miss. These are all parts of the game that could be fixed with a patch, but the sad fact is even if the game ran decently issues are too numerous to have any fun playing.
If there is one technical achievement worth praise it’s that the load times are quick and snappy, although on the flip side they are numerous. If you pick a level, you are quickly taken to that level in freeplay mode. If you want to start a mission (which feel incredibly basic), you skate up to a marker in pseudo-open world fashion to begin. Then the game loads again before depositing you back in the same location to commence the chosen mission. After you beat the mission there is another load screen to put you back in freeplay mode. That’s at least two unnecessary loads every time you partake in any action, and when you realise these will happen every time you want to tackle a mission on any level they get obnoxious. Another facet of the Tony Hawk games that are always lauded are quick restarts, letting you cancel out of a sessions and pop back in within seconds. THPS5 tries for a version of this, but the near ten second wait to restart ruins the effect.
The big addition to the franchise here is a “slam” command mapped to the same button as “grind.” Hitting slam whilst in the air forces your character back down to ground level much quicker than normal. You can be 20 feet in the air, or 2 foot off the ground, and the slam will always work the same way. The best use of Slam is if you are about to overshoot a rail you want to grind on. Hitting the button will plop you down onto the rail in double quick time, and your score keeps ticking higher. However, having Slam and Grind mapped to the same button means it is regularly more a hassle than anything else. If you’ve played Tony Hawk games in the past you’ll likely have jumped towards a rail, held down the grind button as you advance towards it, and when you then come in contact with it you will start to grind. This is now near impossible in THPS5, as if you touch the grind button before you reach the rail you will slam, and miss the grinding opportunity. This turns a possible useful idea into a ruinous addition to the game, making it near impossible to play the game the way many players will want too. There is nothing wrong with change, but change needs to be good to begin to accept it.
Speaking of change, Graffiti and Horse were the best multiplayer modes in the old Tony Hawk games. They are not in this game, or at least I never found them as I navigated the clunky menu system on show. Once again, I would have no issue if they removed them and included something better, but there is nothing better here. For the multiplayer modes to be so lacking is another incredibly weird part of this package, especially as the game seems obsessed with shoehorning social aspects into the experience. It’s nice to see a bunch of multiplayer and party ideas borrowed from the likes of Burnout Paradise, but there is crucially no compelling modes included to justify it being there.
Whilst running down the list of things to complain about, the soundtrack is also unspectacular. This series was never one for using well known songs, but the ones picked were always a great listen – and with enough time they would burrow into your head and never leave. Music tastes are highly subjective, but THPS5 does not seem to have enough range to appeal to a broad set of tastes, and seems to rely far too much on angry men in there mid-20 shouting at things. Maybe I am out of touch? Maybe it is the children that are wrong? I don’t know anymore. At some point, double digit hours into my pain, I muted the game, and put together a playlist on my iPad that I could skate too. That was an improvement. The game was still bad, but I felt better. That’s what matters most.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 is the gaming equivalent of a pet store choosing to sell a dead parrot to customers. You are obviously going to receive complaints once your patrons find out, but the establishment will remain blindly ignorant once they come pouring in. The parrot is dead, stiff, bereft of life, and it rests in peace; just like the Tony Hawk franchise now forever will be.
This is not a game, it’s a black hole where no fun can exist, and any hope the Tony Hawk franchise had to reboot itself died a slow suffocating death within. No one should buy this. Not at any price. Not even as a joke. It is not often that a game sours me so much that I end up ranting, but that’s what this travesty has done. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 is broken on all possible levels for a game to be broken. No amount of promise, patches, or fixes can repair this one. The flaws on show are irredeemable. Not only does the game miss the mark, it accidentally smashes into one it never even aimed for. It is such an all encompassing mess that a publisher with any morality at their core would have never allowed this disguised vomit to hit market.