Although more than fifteen years have passed since it was ported to the Nintendo 64, I still find myself drawn to the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It was a fantastic game in its time, and still holds up extremely well despite being generations old and visually dated. There’s just something about the title and the way that everything about it clicked, that makes it infinitely replayable for me, even though I’ve spent hundreds of hours with it over the years.
I still fondly remember the day that I saw the N64 version at a local video store. The clerk had put it out early, but hadn’t caught her mistake, so I snatched it up and took it home for what ended up being one of the best seven day periods of my gaming career. That was when my love for the franchise developed, and it kickstarted my interest in the extreme sports genre as a whole.
At that point in time, I had just hit double digits, and was entering the prime of my life. There was tons of time for gaming, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater took up a lot of it, thanks to some saved money and a purchased cartridge. The same ended up being true of its sequels, too, and I spent an unimaginable amount of hours with them. In fact, I continued to pick up and play through every iteration until the series started to lose its focus and became gimmicky, with the likes of Tony Hawk Ride. Demoing that for five minutes was more than enough.
After reading the above, you can surely imagine how excited I was the day that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was officially announced. I was worried about Robomodo being at the reigns once again, but hoped that my dream of the series making a glorious return on current-gen consoles would soon come true.
Fast forward to now, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is officially out in the wild, although Activision surely wishes it wasn’t. Why is that? Well, to put it bluntly, the game is a boring and broken mess, which makes its publisher look pretty bad.
So much for all of that hope and anticipation, huh? I should’ve trusted my gut and avoided setting myself up for such disappointment, but the game certainly wasn’t this bad at E3.
What’s so disappointing about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is how undercooked it all is. There’s nothing polished about the experience, and it makes me wonder why it was even released in this state. Then again, Activision’s license is soon up, so wanting one more kick at the can could be the reason why such a rushed and broken game saw the light of day.
After installing it and downloading its hefty day one patch, you’ll find yourself watching professional skaters — all of whom are featured in the game — pull of sick tricks, via a real world film montage. It’s sad to say, but this is the best part of the THPS 5 experience. After that, it’s all downhill.
Once you get past the intro, you’ll find yourself with several different options to choose from. One lets you customize your skater or edit a pro through laughably dated means, another gives you basic biographies for all of the included pros, and the most important one allows access to every available level. It does this by opening a sub-menu, where you’ll find “THPS 5 Levels,” “My Levels” and “User-Created Levels.”
Obviously, the first option pertains to the campaign, or whatever Robomodo wants to call the core, progression-based part of this game. It’s quite unlike what we became used to over the last decade and a half, because it’s more about free-roaming than anything else, and only has a basic, star-based progression system. On top of that, every time you choose a new level, you’re dropped into a free skate session with upwards of twenty other people. This is something which can be avoided if you press triangle to request a private game, but for some reason loading a private session takes longer than connecting to an online one.
The skate parks themselves mostly range from dull and poorly mapped out to mediocre, but there are a couple of solid parks; one of which blends the warehouses from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 together, complete with the iconic chopper. There’s little heart to things, though, and a lot of the designs show a lack of confidence. I honestly felt as if I was playing a game that was trying to imitate classic THPS gameplay, as opposed to a mainline Tony Hawk game, and couldn’t believe that this was what I’d been looking forward to so much.
How you progress through this ‘campaign’ is simple: Each level has several nearly meaningless free-skate goals (ie. collect SKATE and COMBO; knock over ten barrels; find the hidden DVD and VHS tape), alongside a list of about fifteen to twenty ‘missions.’ I put the word missions in quotes, because these are pretty half-assed attempts at them, and come off as mini-games more than anything. The sad thing, though, is that they’re required for progression, and earning stars from them is the only way to continue the campaign.
Every mission awards the player up to three stars, and each one pertains to a different objective tier. Think of it as a bronze, silver and gold system, but one that uses the terms Am, Pro and Sick to delineate its awards, because that’s exactly what it is. Expect to need to earn fifteen in each stage, too.
Examples of these missions include knocking balls (or alien eggs) out of a pool as quickly as possible, posting extreme high scores, jumping and grinding your way through a course of rings and collecting as many lunchboxes as you can before a timer runs out. Sure, some of those objectives bring classic Tony Hawk gameplay to mind, while others evoke some of the silliness that crept into the series around the release of THPS 3, but they’re simply not fun to complete.
Some have unfair time limits and expectations, and many end up being quite boring. It also doesn’t help that, in order to launch a mission, you need to press the touchpad, scroll through a menu, select the mission you want, and then wait for two loading screens. It first loads you back to the start of the map, then brings up a prompt that asks you if you’re serious about starting that mission. When you say yes, it loads again.
All of the above is a chore to deal with, and what truly hurts things is the fact that the core gameplay is far from being either polished or accessible. It’s full of glitches, doesn’t feel like it should, and has a lot of serious physics problems that will leave you cursing at your TV. And, being that the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise has always been about arcade precision, you can imagine how frustrating and difficult to play this can be. That’s not to say it’s completely unplayable, but a lot of the missions ask for an amount of precision that is hard to achieve with gameplay this wonky. Hell, I can’t count the amount of times where I had to replay one ring race, because my skater failed to properly grind around a curved rail.
Speaking of grinding, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the new slam mechanic, which lets you slam downward at the press of a button. This can be helpful if you come off of a jump sideways and want to right yourself, but it only works half the time and leads to a lot of frustration. A lot of that is due to the fact that it’s assigned to the grind button, as you’ll occasionally find yourself slamming downward instead of grinding as planned.
Outside of the campaign, you’ll find a limited amount of multiplayer activities that lacks the ever-popular graffiti mode, as well as a park creation suite that has allowed some users to outdo the developers. However, although these options are appreciated, the base gameplay is just too boring and broken to entice people to return on a daily, or even weekly basis. I know that I don’t plan to return, especially since the game crashed twice and corrupted my save file, forcing me to start all over again after having made it to the final stage. I’d collected 11 stars in it, too.
With all of that said, I don’t feel like I even need to tell you to steer clear of this travesty. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is a glitchy mess and an absolute chore to play, and should have never been released like this. It has a decent soundtrack (although some songs play far too often), but it’s poorly made and isn’t worth anything close to $59.99 US, let alone $79.99 CAD. You’d be better off flushing your money down the toilet, instead of wasting it on this ugly and downright broken train wreck.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 should not have seen the light of day. It's boring, runs poorly and is, above all else, broken to the point where a crash corrupted my save file. Don't support this lazy cash grab.