The past few years haven’t treated “The Birdman” all too well, in fact, it was looking like we would never see a traditional Tony Hawk game ever again. Activision has finally stopped trying to shove plastic skateboard controllers on fans, and instead Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 attempts to return the series closer to the trick-focused gameplay from the original.
With that being said, however, not only does the game fail to capture the magic from the previous acclaimed titles, the half-baked gameplay mechanics, and poor execution ensures not even the biggest THPS fans find any enjoyment. Instead of the two-minute timer from past games, you are dropped into the environment, freely able to skate around for as long as you like (or until the server kicks you from it). Goals/missions are now selected through a menu or by skating up to an icon in the environment. Some of the goals task you with reaching a set score before the timer expires. Others combine skateboarding with timed fetch quests, or a version of Simon Says with varying skateboarding tricks.
These goals have always been a hallmark for the series, helping to give each level their personality. In Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, many of these goals are repeated throughout the eight levels, offering nothing new as you unlock new environments. The levels themselves are simply not enjoyable or fun to skate around. Small and unremarkable, the level design gets worse as you progress through the game. Sure, there are series mainstays, such as a school and warehouse, but the layouts feel only a step above what is possible with the included editor. Whether you are grinding or attempting to pull off tricks in the air, the objects in the environments feel slapped together, as if they were haphazardly thrown together in a rush. The rush you used to get from finding “sick” skating lines in past games doesn’t exist, and its a shame to see the lack of progression in the series.
Every skater in the game comes with an alternate outfit, except for a couple of the game’s special characters. Gone is any ability to create a custom skater. Instead, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 uses basic customizable options tied to each of the skaters. Upon choosing your skater of choice as a template, you are given the ability to pick from dozens of uniquely designed heads, bodies, and skateboards. The majority are locked at the onset, but they unlock as you play the game. They can also be purchased with in-game currency, but I could never earn enough to purchase more than a couple of the higher priced designs.
After choosing a level, you’ll be dropped in an online multiplayer free skate version of the environment. You can force the game to create a private match, however, after completing a mission or challenge, you will be thrown back into the same level with other players. Although it is a departure from the Tony Hawk series formula, I don’t have problems with Robomodo trying to create a more interactive world filled with other skaters. With that said, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Besides skating through each other, which in most cases has no bearing on what you are doing, there is nothing that can be done with other players in freeskate that can’t be done through the context menu. But feel free to watch poorly animated characters glide around the environment. Challenges can be started at any time, allowing other players to join a game of trick attack, but fan favorites "horse" and "graffiti" are not included.
To advance in the game, you’ll have to tackle goals to earn enough stars to unlock the next level. Unless you are in a co-op party, these must be completed alone. Upon choosing a goal, the game sits in a limbo state for a good six seconds before switching to a couple different loading screens. Instead of just removing other skaters from the environment, the game has to generate an empty version of the level. At this point, you are free to stake for a few more seconds until the game goal screen finally appears, and you can start. If you happen to make a mistake or know you won’t meet the necessary goal, THPS5 takes way too long to restart. New missions can only be selected during freeskate, although the touchpad (on PS4) button prompt is constantly highlighted on the screen.
I would be willing to put up with a lackluster online experience if the gameplay were on par with the existing Tony Hawk games, but that is not the case. Combos will end without any reason, even if you are using revert or manual to keep your combo going. Reaching the top of a pipe will sometimes toss your ragdoll body into the air for no reason. Instead of a natural progression to the game’s mechanics, THPS5 takes a major leap backward. Grinding is tied to the game button as the game’s slam feature. At any point your skater is in the air, you can slam him/her down with incredible force. If you happen to be near an object that is grindable, your position adjusts, and you begin grinding. As this is such a departure from the existing control scheme of the previous games, you’ll luckily press the button when you don’t mean to slam down, disrupting the flow of the game. No longer does your special meter trigger once you pull off enough tricks. Instead, it must be activated, allowing you to pull off special variations of the same tricks you have been doing for a short period. Even wall riding has been altered to occur automatically any time you are close to a wall. All of these changes are not only disappointing but completely unnecessary.
On the technical side of things, falling through parts of the game world is a coming occurrence in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. The frame rate will jump around seemingly at will and textures will pop in every time you start a new mission or load a level. These same issues are exacerbated when playing the user-created parks. Things will suddenly appear, and textures constantly flicker as you are skating towards them.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is simply not worth your time and money. At a full retail price of $60, there isn’t even content to warrant the price, not to mention the sheer amount of technical issues and the changes to the gameplay.
Note: The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 review is based on a digital PS4 copy of the game, provided for review purposes