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

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