The Tony Hawk series has been around for over 15 years, and in that time introduced a new genre in gaming. The fluidity of pulling off crazy street and vert tricks, the stunning soundtracks, inventive levels, and rich mechanics made it a true standout franchise. However, like most series, the franchise started to lose steam, with developer Neversoft eventually walking away from its creation. Since then, Chicago-based outfit Robomodo has tried to rejuvenate the franchise.
While its first two attempts at bringing the series back were a complete bust due to the forced skateboard peripheral, the company also put together Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, which seemed to hit the right notes with fans to some degree. Now, Robomodo and Disruptive Games have put out the next instalment in the Pro Skater series, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5. Unfortunately, this game was clearly rushed and could have used a few more months in development.
Tony Hawk games are known for their button-mashing trick system, but not mindlessly so. The feel of linking together all these tricks was always immensely gratifying and accessible enough for almost anyone to try. In this latest edition, the trick system remains intact. Your flip tricks, grab tricks, grinds, manuals, switches, and reverts are all mapped as they were many years ago, which fans and newcomers will be able to grasp immediately. There is even a tutorial to get you up to speed before you start shredding in the game's eight environments.
As you link up your tricks, you will increase your combo multiplier to really help nail those sick scores. As you successfully pull off more tricks, you will fill up your special meter, which can now be activated when you're ready by pressing L1. In the past, this would activate automatically, whereas now you can save it for the right moment. This is pretty neat but there's a huge issue with the special meter now, as you can't fill it up from scratch and use it mid-combo.
Also new to the game are the power-ups, which are scattered around specific levels. Some of these are helpful, like the wings power-up that lets you double-jump, as well as the ice power-up that lets you boost while doing manuals. However, other cosmetic upgrades like super-size do nothing but eat up screen estate.
While the similarities are there, though, compared to earlier instalments in the series, the trick system does feel like a devolution in some areas. For example, you cannot change the trick layout or tricks mapped to specific directions, and neither can you customize which specials are triggered on specific inputs. While this was how the original and its sequel were, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and beyond allowed this kind of customisation all the way back in 2001. It's now 2015.
When choosing one of the approximately ten skaters, you will be able to upgrade them (like in the originals) in their Speed, Ollie, Manual, Grind, Vert, Spin, Special, and Lip Tricks categories. A really nice touch this time around is the ability to relocate any of the skill points earned to whichever categories. So if you're stuck on a mission that requires more speed, you can go back and remove any allocated points you've placed in other areas to put into Speed, etc. It's a very welcome feature and one that this reviewer found himself doing several times.
You can even Create-a-Skater if you want. The Create-a-Skater unfortunately isn't what it used to be back in the day. Instead of an intricate, robust creation system, we're left with just choosing the preset head and body choices, followed by which board to use – and that's it. Oddly, you customise a skater based on the one that you've chosen. So, if you're playing as Tony Hawk, your custom skater replaces his appearance but maintains his preset trick set and the stats that you've acquired.
In the game's career mode, you'll free skate around the several environments, looking for the SKATE and COMBO letters, finding the VHS (remember those?) and DVD tapes, and locating X number of objects. These are now free skate objectives as opposed to actual missions like in the older games. It's not a bad thing, and actually gives reason to free skate the levels a bit without any time limit.
Then there are the actual missions, which you can either trigger by approaching them on the map or by pulling up with a press of the touchpad. Missions consist of your classic two-minute high score runs, earning the highest combo, completing a string of tricks in a specified line, etc. You can acquire three stars per mission (AM, Pro, and Sick score), with the top tiers netting you more XP. This can then be used to level up, which will earn you more skill points to assign to your skater, as well as new customisation items. Every level has 10 main missions, and upon completing those, you will unlock five additional Pro missions. These will test even the most devout fan.
The missions in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 start off fairly easy and ramp their way up, but if you're going for the Sick score for every mission, then be prepared for some insanely challenging ones. Actually, be prepared for some controller-throwing difficulty – and not because of the missions being challenging, but because the collision detection and framerate can be so infuriatingly erratic. There is one level in particular, the Asteroid Belt, which is an absolute glitchy mess. Grinding on rails doesn't register properly, and if it does, it kicks you off due to geometry collision with the board and object. This makes a few missions that require you to grind a lot borderline impossible.
Worse still, this particular stage tanks the title's framerate from 60 frames-per-second all the way to under 10 frames-per-second. How is it that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 in 2001 ran at a locked 60FPS with more going on in the environment? The unusual thing about the performance is that all of the levels run differently. Some stages usually stay at 60FPS with dips here and there, while other levels stay closer to 30FPS more times than 60FPS. It's far too inconsistent.
Speaking of inconsistency, the game's online structure seems to boast some head-scratching issues. When you enter a level, you have the option of either creating a public session with up to 20 skaters or creating a private session. Want to play solo? Private sessions should solve that, right? Not necessarily. If you start a level as a private session then do a mission, once you're finished it will take you back to free skate – with other players in a public match. However, invite a friend into a private session with you, and you'll be able to avoid everyone else.
The worst part about this emphasis on multiplayer is that increases the load times like crazy, to the degree where we actually disconnected our PS4 from the Internet. To be fair, the game runs fairly swiftly when you're not connected to the game's servers, but there should be an option to play offline built into the release.
Having said that, it is cool seeing 19 other skaters in the same level with you. Now there may not be any actual interactions for you to partake in, but most people are just there to skate around. You can hit into the other skaters, but the odd thing is that there's minimal outcome when you smash into someone. The screen will notify who hit who, but both players will be free to go about like nothing happened. No one falls off their board from the collision.
It is worth noting that we completed a chunk of the missions in co-op with a friend, and it does make the title a little more challenging. But if you're looking for competitive modes, there's Trick Attack, Death Match, King of the Hill, Big Head, and Combo Mambo.
Trick Attack is your old-school, two-minute run for who can get the highest score, and will have fans settling scores among each other. King of the Hill has one player maintaining a crown and is the only player who can score points, while opponents can shoot objects at the crowned player to take the crown and score some points themselves. Death Match is a throwback to Tony Hawk's Underground 2's Firefight mode, where players shoot fireballs at each other. Big Head is about pulling off tricks as best as possible to reduce your skater's constantly inflating head from exploding. And finally, Combo Mambo is essentially who can pull off the biggest combo. The modes here are all entertaining, but two iconic multiplayer modes that are missing are Graffiti and Horse, and their absence is noticed. Also, the lack of any split-screen multiplayer is an absolute shame.
Returning in this installment is also Create-a-Park, which has been a hit since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and only got better and more advanced each installment. This time around, the Create-a-Park is a bit bare bones. You have numerous ramps, kickers, rails, and environmental objects to place in your park. However, snapping objects can sometimes be a bit awkward. You can still place all of the objects anywhere on the park, whether on the ground or floating mid-air. The disappointing element is that while you have five preset environments to base your level off of, they are actually just the stages from the main game with every single object taken out. So if you were looking to start with a basic flat area and build layers upon that, you can't.
Still, you can upload any levels and play others' (with online players able to join as well) which is neat. You can look for levels based on several categories (Fun, Easy, Difficult, and more). When you test out a level, and then quit, you're asked to rate it with a thumbs up or a thumbs down, followed by keywords to associate with the level (similar to LittleBigPlanet). One feature sorely missing here is the ability to actually search for levels by typing out names or keywords.
Now visually, yes, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 is not a great looking game. It does look like an early PlayStation 3 title, and that's a bit unacceptable at this stage of the current generation. The cel-shaded art style does cover up some of the less appealing aspects as shown off in early builds, but it's still not exactly easy on the eyes. The animations for bailing and the physics are quite wonky, too, but on the upside this will definitely lead to some chuckling. The glitches on the other hand are really out of hand. When bailing, you'll see your skater go through quarter-pipes, walls, fly up 10 stories in the air, sink through the world, etc. There's a barrage of visual glitches that are really comical in all honesty.
So by now, you're probably wondering if there are any redeeming qualities for this once glorious franchise. Well, here's the thing: while the game is plagued with a bunch of technical issues, there's still an entertaining experience beneath the mess. We would be lying if we said that we didn't enjoy our time playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, and we'll continue to return to it a decent amount. The thing is, almost all of the issues mentioned are patchable, so here's hoping that Robomodo can fix it a bit.
At its core, it is still a Tony Hawk game, though – and it plays like one, too. Pulling off awesome combos and discovering sick lines is something that still feels as immensely gratifying as it did 16 years ago. That certainly says something. Most of the levels are fun to traverse through, with the Bunker and the Rooftops being personal favourites. Also, if there's one thing to absolutely praise, it's the soundtrack. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games were known for some superb soundtracks, and this latest version is no different. All of the songs picked perfectly accompany the gameplay and really stick with you for quite some time.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 had the potential to be awesome. Instead, we're left with a game that's solid but is buried beneath so many issues that it feels like it's still in beta. If you've never been a fan of the franchise, then this one certainly won't win you over. However, die-hard fans yearning for some Pro Skater action will find that, despite all of its problems, there's still some enjoyment to be had here – even if it should have been so much more.