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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5

Score: 40%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Robomodo
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 20 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Extreme)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 5 bears all the hallmarks of a game that was released for a single, solitary purpose: to die as quietly as possible. Itís a sad sack of a sequel, and not necessarily because itís that bad of a game; itís because it occasionally threatens to recapture that certain something that made the series great in its heyday. It doesnít plumb the bottom of the barrel like Tony Hawk: RIDE did, but at the end of the day, this is an unfinished game that is worth maybe a tenth of its price.

Technically and artistically, Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 5 might have looked at home on the PlayStation 2; I say "might have," because it doesnít even compare well to Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 3 or 4. From a conceptual standpoint, this just isnít an attractive game. Textures are flat and environments are uncharacteristically boring for the series. Iíll never call out the Tony Hawk series for taking scientific liberties with the laws of physics; I distinctly remember the moment in Underground in which the player acid drops off a hotel rooftop and launches over a helicopter only to land on the roof of another hotel. Realism just isnít this franchiseís thing. But Pro Skater 5ís physics are indefensibly bad; again, not as bad as in RIDE, but as far as the core series goes, this one looks the worst. But the physics are linked to the gameplay, so Iíll save most of those complaints for later.

Under the hood, technical problems abound in Pro Skater 5. It doesnít take long to notice; even taking the insanely huge day one patch into account. The audio drops out several times in the Activision logo sequence, and thatís indicative of the full experience. A poorly-designed user interface and unwelcome, intermittent load times round out the dubious package.

Sound design is usually a large part of what ties the Tony Hawk games to the skater culture to which they are dedicated. All of it, from the simple sounds of polyurethane wheels making continuous contact with wood and asphalt to the diverse soundtrack, helps make a Tony Hawk gameÖ well, a Tony Hawk game. In this regard, the game mostly succeeds, save for the myriad technical problems that invariably get in the way. The soundtrack is a blend of punk rock, metal, and hip hop thatís right at home for the series and the sport it represents.


Gameplay:

From the franchiseís inception to its current sorry state, thereís always been a core to the gameplay structure. Each level acts as a sort of hub, where you, as one of several professional skaters (or those of your own making) explore, in search of collectibles, challenges, gaps, and secrets. Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 5 drops the ball with perhaps the weakest series of levels and challenges weíve yet seen in the series (again, not counting RIDE).

Eight levels. Thatís all youíre getting out of Pro Skater 5. And sadly, thereís very little creativity or attractiveness to be seen. Worse, none of the levels play to the gameís precious few strengths. When the game attempts to bring you back to the franchiseís glory days, you wonít be tempted to wax nostalgic; when you unceremoniously pull off the famous Leap of Faith in School III, youíll instead be tempted to dust off your PlayStation and pop in Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 2, a superior game in almost every way.

Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 5ís design philosophy is loaded with cracks, none more threatening to its structural integrity than its always-online approach. You can press the button corresponding to "Start a Private Game" as hard as you want, but once you start actually getting into the meat of the experience, youíll find your game invaded by other skaters. I understand what Robomodo was hoping for; social interaction is a huge part of the current generation of gaming. But it feels shoehorned in; literally everyone Iíve run into has kept to themselves, forgoing each contrived skate party in favor of completing objectives on their own. And I felt the same way throughout. So while the online component deserves a mention for being idealistic, it isnít implemented well at all.

So whether youíre a party animal or a lone wolf, youíll be doing much the same thing. Each level has a series of objectives, and these are designed very similarly to those in previous games in the series. Youíll still be collecting S, K, A, T, and E, going to the hidden DVDs and VHS tapes, tricking through the line drawn out by C, O, M, B, and O, and taking down level-specific challenges.

Challenge structure seems expressly designed to pad out the game, an objective that is admittedly achieved with aplomb. Most of them follow a pattern and are repeated throughout each of the gameís eight levels; these generally have to do with either achieving a high score or performing well in a particular style of skating. Others areÖ well, bizarre. Take, for example, the one that has you frantically performing tricks to stop your head from swelling up like a balloon. Go too long without scoring, and your head explodes. OkayÖ


Difficulty:

Uneven. Thatís the word I would use to describe Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 5ís difficulty level. While the levelsí exploration challenges feature a reasonable climb in difficulty level the further in you go, the individual performance-related challenges are a different story. Youíll be able to complete each of them with no problem if youíre a veteran of the series, but if youíre going for the "Sick" score for each of them, youíre going to have a rough time with some of these.

Game Mechanics:

Skateboarding, as a sport, naturally lends itself extremely well to video gaming; each particular trick type is mapped to a particular button, and when you combine this with the different ways you can spin and flip your skater in midair, the combo possibilities are endless. So between flips, grabs, grinds, and manuals, youíll never run out of ways to string tricks together.

I remember playing Tony Hawkís American Wasteland and wondering how far the developers were willing to go in terms of new gameplay mechanics; with the introduction of parkour, combos could essentially be lengthened to the point of near-eternity. Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 5 cuts out just about everything that was added after Pro Skater 3 and adds one new mechanic. Unfortunately, itís an absolutely terrible one.

Grinding is an important part of combo building in this series, and its implementation is nearly ruined by the introduction of the slam mechanic, which shares the same button. Now, when you press the grind button in midair, your skater somehow crashes straight down with incredible force. No longer can you prepare and position yourself as you approach each rail or edge while holding the button down; when you press it, youíd better be directly above a grindable edge, or your combo will probably end prematurely. Itís a poorly-conceived mechanic that is poorly-implemented.

Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 5 is a completionistís nightmare; itís a bad game that forces you to play it to completion several times if you want to 100% it; all the stat points you earn from leveling up can only go to the skater youíve been playing with; since the game has very little inherent replay value, most people will give up on it before seeing absolutely everything there is to see. And while the customization options are welcome, the core game isnít enjoyable enough to spend any significant amount of time with them. This includes the level editor, which is functional but ultimately superfluous.

The Tony Hawk franchise has been on life support for years, and if Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 5 tells us anything, itís that itís time to pull the plug. The Birdman had a great run for the most part, and recent efforts have unfortunately defiled the franchiseís legacy. This is probably the last Tony Hawk game weíll ever see; if this is the case, it's a shame it had to end on such a bitter note.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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