The world probably didn’t need another “classic” Tony Hawk game, but I was sure happy to hear that Activision was giving it another shot. But the end result probably couldn’t have gone worse. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is a mess of half-cocked ideas, astoundingly poor execution, and technical woes that layer a little insult on top of injury.
After a few years of either going dormant or getting into the not-so-lucrative business of selling plastic skateboard controllers, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is an attempt to return to the goal-based, trick-oriented gameplay of the original Tony Hawk games. This means enclosed levels with set goals. Most goals are timed, but this game doesn’t go back to the traditional two-minute run timer found in the first few games. Instead you’re dropped into the environment and can trigger goals from a menu (or, when it decides to work properly, you can skate up to an icon in the world and start a goal from there). Some of these goals simply ask you to get a specific score. Others have you playing Simon Says with skateboard tricks, some have you collecting a whole mess of objects as quickly as possible, and so on. The goals in a Tony Hawk game are a huge part of what gives a level its character. Unfortunately, this game seems to have a small number of goal types, and these are simply replicated and remapped onto each of the game’s different levels.
The levels themselves are also a huge part of a Tony Hawk game. Over the years, the franchise has produced some absolute classics. The levels found in Tony Hawk 5 feel like they’re about a half-step up from the levels you can create with the game’s in-game editor. They have no character and feel slapped together, like someone was in a hurry. There are tons of circular grind areas where you can rack up huge points, but none of it feels custom-crafted for interesting combos. Sure, you’ll probably be able to grind, manual, and revert your way from one side of a level to another, but it never feels like you’re uncovering some kind of sweet new hidden combo line. The levels feel like they have zero potential and are set in a variety of bland areas, from a standard skatepark to a rooftop level that might be the worst level this franchise has ever produced.
And then, of course, you’ll perform tricks on these levels. The trick system is missing the branching grind system found in earlier games, and there’s no flatland trick system at all, which is more than a little disappointing. Double and triple kickflips have changed, with triple kickflips now hiding in the game’s new special trick system. Previously, you’d do tricks to fill a meter, and while it was full you could enter specific button combos to perform special tricks. This is how Tony Hawk did “The 900” and how Chad Muska did “that thing where he pulled out a boombox or a guitar or whatever once the series started getting weirder and weirder.” Now, that meter fills up, but you have to pop it with a press of the L1/LB button. Once active, your normal tricks are replaced with more extravagant ones for a short period of time. It’s a lame change. Other lame changes include automatic wallrides, allowing you to put your wheels on a wall by simply jumping in its general direction, and a “slam” that drops you out of the air faster than you would normally. The slam looks awkward and interrupts the flow of the game. In Tony Hawk, that flow is everything. Having this weird, higher-speed move that comes out of nowhere just feels bad. The levels have no flow. Hell, even the menus have no flow.
OK, let’s go deeper. I’m going to put this out there: A big part of what made Tony Hawk so successful back on the original PlayStation and PS2 was the way you could instantly pause the game and restart your run with a few quick presses. Bing, bang, boom, you’re back in the game and ready to correct your previous mistake. Games like Super Meat Boy benefit from that same sort of quick retry, making trial and error as frictionless as possible. In Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, starting a goal includes a load screen, which takes you out of the meaningless online freeskate mode and drops you into a solo instance. Then you sit there for a few seconds. Then a menu for the goal in question shows up. Then you have to wait for a little animation to complete, hit a button to start the goal, then your skater teleports to the goal start point and a three-second timer begins. Then, and only then, are you permitted to skate. If you mess up immediately–which, given the trial-and-error nature of some of the game’s worst goals, is likely–you need to pause, push down like four times, enter a menu, confirm that you want to retry, then wait while the game hits a load screen and picks up from the “here’s what this goal is” part of the previous process.
This might be the part where you think I’m a maniac. Or that I’m nitpicking. But if you’ve played the early games in this franchise, you’ll understand just how key a quick restart is. And how unforgivable it is that it takes so long to give a goal a fresh run. Oh, hey, while I’m at it, you have to quit all the way to the main menu to change levels or dig through the game’s awkward skater select screen to spend stat points or mess with the game’s reduced version of a character creator. Stuff like this just hammers home this sinking feeling that the people responsible for this game had no idea what made those early games so incredible in the first place. It’s probably not worth speculating about that, but here’s what is clear: THPS5 misses the big picture, but it also gets every single little nuance wrong, too.
The freeskate online lobbies exist and let you see other skaters, but there aren’t any meaningful ways to interact with those skaters unless you invite them into a party. Then you could try a co-op goal or get into the game’s multiplayer, which is missing key multiplayer modes like “horse” and “graffiti.” The whole concept seems like it was in there from the start and meant for a bigger, more fully featured game, but never got cut out when the rest of the mode didn’t come together.
On top of all that, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is a technical mess, too. The game’s framerate is all over the place. It’s entirely too easy to fall through parts of the world or get jammed up inside of walls. User-created parks seem to suffer from these issues more frequently than the pre-made parks, at least, though user-made parks also tend to have objects that flicker and shimmer in the distance, like they’re not all there. Sometimes you can’t select goals by skating up to them and are forced to pull up an in-game menu when the Square/X button stops actually, like, starting goals. Lastly, the game doesn’t bother to tell you when you’ve unlocked the next level, so if you have achievement notifications turned off, you’ll have to count your stars to know when it’s time to leave one sorry environment for the next.
I could go on and on, and if you’ve been watching our Quick Look or hearing me talk about the game on our podcast, you probably know a few more details. But, really, the only thing worth knowing is that no part of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is worth your time. It’s bad. Real bad. And not the type of bad that makes for good comedy, either. It’d be bad at any price, but it’s especially egregious that the publisher is charging a full $60 for this sucker. It’d be something you’d want to avoid for even a third of that price. Don’t waste your time. You deserve better. Tony Hawk deserves better. Hell, even guest skater Lil Wayne deserves better.