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Oct 02, 2015

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 Review

Lights Off
3 Okay
Retails for: $59.99
We Recommend: $29.99
  • Developer: Robomodo, Disruptive Games
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Genre: Sports, Action
  • Released: Sep 29, 2015
  • Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4

It’s been 13 years since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. A lot has changed between then and now: new skaters have gone pro, the once young skaters have gotten older, other Tony Hawk games decidedly not titled Pro Skater came out, and two console generations have passed. We finally have a sequel to that game from 2002. With Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, this is Robomodo’s attempt for this franchise to return to form. It unfortunately falls short of that with an online-focused social experience that ends up feeling disjointed. This isn’t for a lack of effort and real love for this series, it just doesn’t quite come together like it should.

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 brings in ten professional skaters, with the titular Tony Hawk as your first choice, but also skaters who’ve grown up in the sport and newer skaters that were too young to be in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. The line-up includes Tony Hawk’s son Riley Hawk, Chris Cole, David Gonzalez, Andrew Reynolds, Nyjah Huston, Aaron Homoki, Ishod Wair, with female skaters Leticia Bufoni and Lizzie Armanto. While I appreciate this fresh cast, I can’t help but wish for some classic skaters like Bob Burnquist and Bam Margera to have a spot here. There’s also an unlockable character slot for King Graham from The Odd Gentlemen’s King’s Quest as a skater, because why not?

While it doesn’t seem possible, you can create your own skater, with some limited options. First, you must take a pro skater, then press triangle or Y to swap to the custom player where you can change heads, bodies, and decks. New options become available as you play and complete specific goals, you will unlock cards for your created skater to use. The requirements for unlocking are stated on the cards that haven’t been unlocked. These are hardly the extensive options we’ve been used to in the past, but it is kind of smart. Rather than making a new character to level up, you can piggyback on a character you’ve already played or are interested in and inherit the skills you’ve spent on their upgrades. This feature is somewhat hidden, that sadly many are likely to miss.

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To play each of the game’s eight levels, a series of missions must be completed to unlock the next. Each level is gated by fifteen stars that must be earned across each of the missions. There’s a claim of 80 “unique” missions across each of the levels, but that’s a bit misleading as the mission types will often repeat. You’ll see various versions of clearing out the pool of objects, collecting items and returning them in a period of time, big head mode, and doing a manual with a lot of restrictions. They are unique to the level, but not completely different objectives altogether. The mission markers scattered across the level are just that, hollow markers without the personality of a pro skater of present or past to talk to for what you’re about to do. It makes levels feel lifeless. They also went unused by me as pressing the touchpad or the back button gives you a menu, and the missions can be selected directly from there without having to find them.

Each of the game’s levels are clearly inspired by levels in prior games, with some new and interesting levels sprinkled in. Feeling like worn territory is the The Bunker, which is basically Warehouse all over again, which is fine, but it could have gone to something else we haven’t seen before. All of the locations are fictional here, whereas prior games had some named cities to round out the locations. This damages the game’s feel as that real-world connection is missing, where levels feel designed for the game, rather than feeling like natural environments you’d find in the real world. The levels all start small and very restricting, but then once you reach the fifth level Rooftops, you realize that levels can get huge and breed a lot of potential, and even some exploits out of your skating. The locations are a safe collection for Tony Hawk levels, with the exception being Asteroid Belt as the weirdest but somehow normal inclusion.

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The act of playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is fantastic. It plays fast, and while not all of the moves and modifiers are there (double-tapping a grind to do a different grind unless you are in SPECIAL mode), it plays fast and is responsive to your inputs. I feel the controls and movement far exceeds Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD that was on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. A classic Pro Skater thing to do is extending a trick beyond the timer after it reaches zero, that’s still here but is dependent on the mission type, and can’t always be done. But that’s a really great detail to make sure is included. There’s a generous balance meter that keeps you holding a trick for longer, but it doesn’t increase your score dramatically that it becomes a problem.

Sure to be a divisive addition, is the slam. While in the air, if you’re likely to overshoot a gap, or want to land to start a grind right then and there, you press triangle or Y. It’s a very swift and somewhat awkward to see in motion, but it works well and really helps to keep a combo going if you want to recover from a mistake in your line. I really like its inclusion, the only problem I have with it is the fact that it is the same button as the grind button, so you will likely end up slamming on accident.

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is a game that wants to be social but doesn’t know how to do it well enough. The game is always online, whether you go into a public game or start a private match. In a game, you can party up and play modes or do some of the missions in co-op. Online is impressive with 20 skaters around, but its promises of seamless only shows the seams as you’re bouncing back and forth from different lobbies. When you’re in a private game, you can play on a very empty level without random players getting in your way.

The game’s biggest offender, is the constant back and forth between the lobby and the missions. There’s no way to just access a mission and flow smoothly. While I’m not too bothered by how this works, if this worked better, could have saved me more time playing the game than waiting for it to load. An odd thing happens while playing this game privately: after completing a mission, it sends you back to freeskate, with people – even if you were playing solo before. This can be avoided by retrying a mission, then declining to start it where it’ll then put you back into a private freeskate. That is not ideal. Over time this becomes a nonissue because you’re never in the “lobby” for very long if you’re just going after the level missions.

Editor’s Note: If you disable the internet on your console and play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, it is like playing a completely different game. The game loads quickly, mission objectives start instantaneously, and so the flow issues go away completely. The game’s claims of being seameless are restored when completely offline. This is something that can be patched in, but until then is a bit obnoxious to go offline for, but becomes totally worth it when you see the advantages.

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Freeskate objectives (when not in a mission) have you collecting S-K-A-T-E, doing a combo while you snag the letters C-O-M-B-O, grabbing the VHS tape, or smashing objects is kind of for nothing. Doing these do not help unlock levels like they did in the past. Rather, these unlock parts for your create-a-skater, but the incentive of the freeskate objectives is lessened. Doing any of these objectives in player-created parks only net you XP, and have no real reason to be done otherwise.

A Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game can’t be complete without its soundtrack. And for the record: the soundtrack is rad. Now, a great soundtrack does not a game make, but it sounds exactly what a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack in 2015 should sound like. A lot of the soundtrack features bands I haven’t ever heard of before, and am now introduced to. The soundtrack spans metal, rock, alternative, and hip-hop. It all makes for a great mix of songs, with my favorite artists Icon for Hire and KILLER BE KILLED as the standouts. But sadly, there’s also issues with the soundtrack. You’re likely not able to hear a song play from start to finish as you bounce in and out of missions, as they will stop the current song and begin a new one at the next loaded area. Only if you replay a mission will a song keep going. A staple missing here is the ability to even see what song is playing, there’s no popup or menu option to know what’s “now playing”, which is a shame in helping get these artists discovered. Luckily, there’s been a track listing reveal to know who’s on it.

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The videos and GIFs of glitches and bugs are not indicative of my experience, to this day I still have had only one instance where I was thrown clear of the level after a bad landing, stemming from the slam feature. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 isn’t broken, it is very much playable and enjoyable, but getting past the hurdles of the design decisions of this game make that difficult (unless you’re completely offline). You can see what Robomodo was going for, but it just isn’t all the way there. Robomodo remained faithful to this series, and it is something I will still continue to play, mastering each level because that core gameplay is still present and addictive, which is why we played all those years ago.

A PlayStation 4 code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes