Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 Preview
If you aren't old enough, you don't quite understand the phenomenon that was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater back in the day. During the PlayStation/N64 era, this series was not only exceedingly well-received by the critics (these games have pulled down some of the highest scores in video game history), it was also immensely popular. It was one of those franchises that simply defied convention in that it didn’t matter whether or not you liked skateboarding. We all had friends who couldn’t possibly care less about the emerging sport and yet, they’d admit to playing the Tony Hawk games incessantly.
I think it hearkens back to a time when games really focused entirely on the fun factor as opposed to the content. For instance, even though a lot of gamers were admittedly poor athletes during the early days of the industry, every last one of them played sports games. Didn’t have much choice, really, as we only had a few genres from which to choose. So, as much as I loathed hockey, I still loved Blades of Steel, and I was hardly the only one. And when we hear that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is going to recapture the glory days of old, we all remember the days when fun games were fun. The upcoming effort will meld old and new in what I hope is a winning formula.
Featuring up to 20 unique skaters, a kick-ass soundtrack and seamless online interaction with other players, THPS5 is gearing up for a return to excellence. At the core of the experience will be that accessible, addictive gameplay that rocketed the IP to superstardom along with a brand new – and very robust – community experience. After all, skateboarding really was a social activity and to share it with other likeminded skaters is what made it so attractive (or so skating fans have often told me). I think we should expect something like the Autolog in the Need for Speed games, in that we’ll have multiple ways of competing against and connecting with our friends.
As for the gameplay itself, forget about the days of motion controls and other gimmicks that just didn’t work. The tricks will be here in spades, of course, but you’ll execute these as you so often did: With the traditional pressing of buttons. From reverbs to manuals and just about everything in between, you’ll attempt to land a myriad of crowd-pleasing maneuvers. The game will use a meter-based system; once you fill a meter by performing well, you can activate a very special trick that depends on your personal preference and the skating environment. In other words, because you can choose when to unleash that full meter, you can set yourself up for the kind of trick you want to throw down. It’s a great combination of freedom and old-school challenge.
One brand new feature is the Slam option: If you’re going to miss a rail or you’re about to wipe out, you can press the slam button and save yourself. You won’t finish the trick, of course, but you’ll save yourself from an epic fall, which would invariably hurt your rhythm (and score). Don’t forget that the flow and rhythm of these games was critical to understand; it really is a “balancing act” in every sense of the term. The course design has been inspired by past installments as well, along with fan feedback. Robomodo have crafted largely familiar parks, along with a few brand new School parks that will test your timing and skill. There’s also a level that brings together the beloved Warehouse levels from the first two Tony Hawk titles, so that should go over well with die-hard fans.
I suppose the one downside at this point is the graphical quality. Many have voiced their displeasure with what they’ve seen thus far, which could pose a problem. However, this series didn’t become legendary because of its visual accomplishments. The graphics absolutely take a back seat to the on-screen action, so maybe once people start playing, it won’t matter in the slightest. Still, if the display is indeed well below par for the new generation, it will be disappointing. Let’s just hope what we’ve seen isn’t finalized and the developers are still adding various effects and cleaning things up. Anyway, the highly anticipated Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 will land on store shelves for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on September 29. A somewhat watered-down version comes to PS3 and 360 on November 10.
8/17/2015 Ben Dutka