The decline of a beloved series is one of the toughest things for gamers to handle, and few series have fallen harder than Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Although once revered for being exciting and innovative, resulting in hundreds of awards and some of the highest critical averages in industry history, recent titles have struggled to show even a trace of the heart and soul of their forefathers.
When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was announced, many were hopeful, and even more were skeptical. Developed by the same Robomodo team responsible for the series’ fall from glory, it went against huge odds in an effort to put the series back on track. Now it’s here, and it’s everything we were afraid it would be.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 makes a strong first impression by throwing a skate video featuring the game’s professional skater cast at you. After you see Jaws launch off a rooftop and Chris Cole perform a never-before-done combo on a ledge, you’re introduced to the game’s intuitive and easy-to-navigate menus. As you stare upon the pro skater list and familiar levels, nostalgia is summoned, leading you to believe that this might just be the game you were hoping for.
The moment that you step on a skateboard you’re reminded of why Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater has been so popular over the years. Linking grinds and big air with manuals and reverts is exciting and methodical in a way only rhythm games can emulate. Pulling off flip tricks and grabs is just as you remember it. As you spend more time perfecting the art of the combo, your hand dexterity will increase, and so will your points!
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 doesn’t completely rely on the nostalgia of early releases, as it attempts to introduce a few new systems. The Special Meter is a highlight by rewarding you for staying on top of your board with electrifying tricks (i.e. Casper Flips and 900s) that net massive point rewards. Learning to use it at the appropriate time takes practice and skill. Meanwhile, Power-Up Boards help to add some variety to gameplay with in-stage power-ups that provide neat perks specific to each stage.
The same can’t be said of Slam. Bound to the same button as Grind (triangle or Y), it’s supposed to allow you to quickly drop in height to land specifically where you want after catching air. In most situations it doesn’t work in the way it was intended. It regularly causes you to miss a grind if you aren’t 100% precise, and the game doesn’t try hard enough to understand what object you’re trying to grind to make Slam work in a successful manner. It’s cause for frustration, and the game is worse off for it.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 comes across as very familiar, to a point where even its presentation doesn’t stray far from its early roots. But its visual quality isn’t favorable, with everything from the game’s environments to character models and animations appearing unrefined and dated. This becomes worse with time as the later stages have been given less attention from the developers, leading to unfulfilled design.
Given the unimpressive visuals you’d think that at the very least the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game to grace current-generation consoles would run well. Instead, it’s a game that strays far from the smoothness of 60 frames per second. When objects are introduced to gameplay, such as beach balls being pushed around or crates being smashed, the framerate dips to unbearable levels. It’s especially bad when visiting player-made stages that have many objects present.
Starting you off in The Berrics, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater makes an attempt to be skater-oriented. As with its predecessors several pro skaters (in this case, 10) are featured in the game, video footage can be watched to amp yourself up, and even a few real-world skate spots have found their way into the level design. Because of this, skaters may find the game more enjoyable than others.
There are eight stages to skate on, each with a distinct theme and unique mechanical elements. There are a fair amount of missions on each stage, to a point where you can expect to spend between 45 to 60 minutes on a stage before completing everything. You will earn skill points and currency that can be used to improve the capabilities of a skater of your choice, including a custom skater equipped with purchasable looks and gear. The game’s main single-player journey doesn’t quite stretch to the 10-hour mark, but it is supported by Create-a-Park.
First introduced in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Create-a-Park (previously called Park Editor) is better than ever. There are tons of tools for constructing and fine-tuning your level before sharing it online. You can build vert-oriented parks, street spots, multi-layer creations, real-world inspired locales, and more. If you aren’t a fan of spending a lot of time building a place to skate in, you can easily visit the thousands of user-made parks available online. Most of them aren’t very good, but the few that are well-made help to extend the relatively short play value of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5.
You can head online with up to 19 others and hang out in the in-game hub before selecting an activity to participate in. It works relatively well, although the framerate issues are in full-force within these lobbies. The online activities are the star of the show when it comes to multiplayer, with King of the Hill and point challenges creating intense competition between players. Those who happen to take interest in honing their skills will find reason to spend time online.
As the experience goes on the game’s excellent soundtrack becomes a pivotal piece to the fun factor of the game. It makes even the monotonous tasks fun, but only for so long. With time, not even the sounds of great music can keep the enjoyment afloat. By the time you near the final stage, repetition comes crashing hard as the game fails to deviate from conventional design.
Surprisingly, that isn't where Tony Hawk's Pro Skater fails most. A lack of polish has resulted in one of the buggiest modern games on the market, a true wonder when you consider it was published by Activision. Within your first 60 minutes you can expect to fall through terrain, get tossed into the air when attempting to grind objects, and get stuck in invisible walls at a moment's notice. In some cases it's a reason to laugh, but not when it prevents you from completing a task. Made worse, a day-one patch weighing in at over seven gigabytes has already arrived, which is larger in size than the entire game, and it still wasn't enough to put things in a state where you aren't running into a glitch every few minutes.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 might be a numbered iteration for the franchise, but it doesn’t feel like it. Its moments of thrilling gameplay and competition-rich multiplayer are sideswiped by bad performance, the poor implementation of Slam, and frequent glitches. The series might have once had potential to be revived, but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 makes sure that all signs of life have been squeezed out of it.