It's easy to recognize that Activision's "Tony Hawk" series has floundered in recent years against stiff competition from EA's fledgling "skate" franchise. The fact of the matter is, the signature gameplay on offer just got stale over the years (despite slight innovations offered up with "Project 8" and "Proving Ground"). And that's where "Tony Hawk: Ride" comes into play. With its fancy new skateboard peripheral that pushes player immersion to new levels, Activision is hoping that players will be quick to hop on board and dish out $120 bucks for the chance to simulate skating like the pros. So is this the season to give Tony another chance?
Robomodo's first shot at the Tony Hawk franchise totally changes how players relate to the game thanks to the new skateboard controller they've developed. Players stand on the board and shift their balance to simulate turns, ollies, kickflips and the entire gamut of a pro skateboarders trick book. "Ride" allows players to create their own characters to travel to locations the world over and compete in challenges like speed runs, park-specific trick challenges, and the occasional halfpipe.
This thing is solid. Activision has plenty of experience making plastic peripherals to litter your home with, but none of them feel quite as weighty and dependable as "Ride's" skateboard controller. Taking it out of the box, it is instantly clear that it's a fine piece of craftsmanship, and standing on it and maintaining balance is a relative breeze. My experience with the controller was played on a thin rug over hardwood floors, and I slowly came to master balance on the deck despite my initial misgivings about my sometimes-terrible center of balance.
It's All in the Motions
I've read about a number of players having difficulty pulling off their intended tricks when using the controller, but I didn't have many issues after using the board for a few of hours. In fact, I was particularly impressed with how well I managed to use the thing given my complete lack of skill on a real skateboard. Kickflips are handled by tilting the board after performing an ollie, while varials and shove-its are activated with a quick pivot of the board. Also, placing your hand over one of the four optical sensors on the board allows your character to pull off a mid air grab or stall at the top of a quarter-pipe.
Later challenge stages that require very specific tricks to be pulled off at very specific times did prove challenging, but they also prompted me to become very aware of how my feet were manipulating the board to better my chances for success on the next run.
A Solid Setlist
With tracks ranging from Beck's "Gamma Ray" to the Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Zero" I have to say that "Tony Hawk: Ride" has one of the best soundtracks I've heard of late. There are over 50 songs to enjoy here and my ears have yet to tire of hearing any one of them while faux-skating in the middle of my living room.
Casual is the Only Way to Go
"Ride" features 3 different difficulty levels, but only one of them allowed me to actually enjoy the experience of controlling my character with a plastic skateboard. The casual difficulty setting hands the task of steering your character over to the computer so you can stand there and focus on pulling off tricks, instead of constantly battling every small variation in balance that'll otherwise steer your character off course. I believe that there are people out there -- real skateboarders, for instance -- that will appreciate the next step in difficulty, but to me that step feels more like a leap… across a 20 yard chasm.
This "Low" is Loading, Stuck In Another Menu
At first I thought the long load times and constant irritation of occasionally being forced to navigate menus with your standard 360 controller (only every time you land a high score) was irritating, but I was wrong. These menus are an absolute mess to navigate. Multiple menu screens offer the same set of choices. The challenge selection menu is quite literally impossible to back out from without first selecting a challenge, waiting for the game to load, and then quitting that game. And the sheer amount of one second "hiccups" between each menu screen makes the whole experience a bit more of a chore than I'd like.
Just Say "No" to Live Action
Live action actors in videogames had a time and place (read: "Night Trap"). It's never been done well ("Night Trap" is campy, campy, campy!!!). And will never be done well (unless they make "Night Trap 2: The Quickening") Combine that with the fact that professional skateboarders are neither actors, nor charismatic, and you have the terrible mini-cutscenes from "Ride." Every line these pros deliver looks and sounds absurdly phoned-in.
"Tony Hawk: Ride" does allow you to hop online and connect with up to three other players to challenge each other to any of the game's available sessions, but there have to be three other players online for that to happen. Sadly, when I could find a match (which was rare), it typically only had one other person in it.
At first, I was a bit surprised to receive two copies of "Tony Hawk: Ride" in the mail, but it's a good thing Activision sent that second copy. After trying to calibrate my first skateboard controller for an hour and 20 minutes (all while Tony Hawk kept repeating, "this is probably the easiest thing you'll do all day." Oh the irony…) I decided to try out the other controller to see if it would work. And it did -- right away. I have since tried to calibrate the original skateboard and it continues to fail every time.
"Tony Hawk: Ride" is a difficult game to recommend. It's price point is high (at $120 you can get two new titles for the price of this one) and the learning curve will have many players hitting a brick wall faster than they'd probably like to if they don't have much experience skateboarding. While there is plenty of fun to be had in the game's casual setting, I can't shake the feeling that I'm playing some great first-person shooter like it's a rail shooter, and that's just not the "immersive skateboarding experience" that I'm looking for.