Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5
Publisher Activision Developer Robomodo Format 360, PS3, PS4 (version tested), Xbox One Release Out now
360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One
You know you’re in for something special when even the developer’s intro splash has framerate problems. Expectations are lowered right off the bat, and with good reason: this is about as stable as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 ever gets. It is shockingly, brazenly unfinished, a remarkable mess of a game in just about every respect. There’s the insipid visuals, the abysmal technical performance, the will-this-do? mission design, and the comically dreadful physics. THPS5 is an insult to its history, to its licensed skaters and sponsors, to modern hardware, and to anyone who plays it. The only person to emerge from all this with their head held high is the Activision suit who has presumably earned some kind of medal for having the chutzpah to suggest selling the game for £40, and the brass neck to push it out the door in this state.
THPS5 would have been an ugly game ten years ago; indeed, we might even have preferred it in a lower resolution than 1080p, since at least there’d be less of it to look at. Environments are bland and barren, their textures arriving late on the scene thanks to streaming issues on consoles that are capable of so much more. The second you spawn into a level based on THPS2’ s School II and start to roll forward, the framerate falls through the floor and slowly lurches its way back up to something approximating stability. For a while, anyway: the refresh rate jerks up and down like a yo-yo on a knotted string throughout, and there’s rarely an obvious explanation as to why.
Still, if it’s bafflement you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Quite how you can make such an extravagant mess of a near-perfect 16-year-old physics model is anyone’s guess, but Robomodo has. Ollie innocently towards a handrail and the engine interprets your gentle, foot-high jump as a leap of such force that you clip the rail and fly a couple of hundred feet into the sky. One poorly judged aerial spin sees us crash into the base of a quarter pipe and slide on our backs across the length of the arena. We have lost legs through floors and seen arms disappear through walls; we’ve fallen out of the world, spinning into the blackness beyond.
Such glitches in a game so clearly pushed out of the door before it was ready for the public gaze are to be expected; perhaps, if we’re feeling kind, they’re even forgivable. Yet some of Robomodo’s worst crimes against science are intentional, the studio fiddling with a physics model that was fine just the way it was.
We should have seen it coming: similar tinkering with the series’ clockwork systems turned the studio’s 2012 remaster-cum-compilation THPS HD from what seemed like a sure slam dunk into an embarrassing air ball. Yet there are some mind-boggling design decisions here, chief among them the Slam move, which fractures the laws of gravity and thuds you sharply downwards from the air. The intent, presumably, is to give you a way of preventing yourself flying out of bounds and losing your combo, an occasional problem throughout the series’ life that’s especially prevalent here. It’s not the worst idea on paper, but mapping it to the same button as grinds is a special sort of madness. Suddenly, 16 years of muscle memory count for nothing, a fractionally premature button press seeing you clatter back to Earth in the wrong place, killing your flow and combo. Newtonian physics are disrespected elsewhere by red ramps that boost you pointlessly high into the sky, a double jump on a level set on city-block rooftops, and a space station where gravity’s pull is reduced – but only in certain areas, leaving you second guessing, usually incorrectly, how early you need to jump. Even when physics is behaving as it should, Robomodo’s design team ensures you don’t have too much of a good time. While a straight-up high-score challenge is the first order of business when loading into one of the eight stages for the first time, and is as satisfying as ever when the Slam mechanic isn’t ruining your run, things deteriorate rapidly after that. You’re left with fetch-and-carry quests (find ice cream cones around a warehouse, then deliver them to the pool outside), speed challenges (skate through rings to a time limit) and a tremendous amount of weird nonsense, perhaps asking you to destroy targets using fireworks that shoot from your board when you do a flip trick, or to knock barrels of toxic waste into the puke-green sludge of an indoor pool. The difficulty curve is all over the place and by the end even the high-score challenges have lost their lustre – the lowest tier of the infuriating space level asks for 1.5 million points in two minutes.
With all that in mind, it’s understandable that the game’s much-touted, series-first online mode is on the quiet side. Our high-score and deathmatch invites go unheeded, the arena filled with fellow players standing stock still (looking up trade-in prices on their phones, we assume) and the action obscured by constant text popups as player after player leaves the game. Meanwhile, server-side connection hiccups – of which we’ve experienced a few – boot you back to the main menu. It all feels thoroughly pointless.
All of it. The rumour mill has it that THPS5 has been shoved into stores so prematurely because Activision’s Tony Hawk licence expires at the end of the year; we suspect that had the Birdman known this would have been his videogame swan song, he’d have offered up an extension for free. A man who spends his days twirling gracefully through the air has ended his videogame career clattering to Earth at speed, his arm disappearing through the floor before he skids on his backside 100 metres across the stage, clipping through a wall and pinging off into the infinite void, where he will hopefully find some peace.
Quite how you can make such an extravagant mess of a near-perfect 16-year-old physics model is anyone’s guess