Today sees the release of a brand new Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater title — one that has made bold claims of returning to the franchise’s much-loved roots. The question is: is that really the case and will that be enough to save THPS from oblivion?
It’s hard to ignore the air of negativity that has surrounded the run-up to the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. Videos of gameplay footage have mostly been met with staunch disapproval, many criticizing the game’s newly adopted visual style and decision to include gameplay features such as power-ups and “projectiles.” And, to be honest, it’s easy to side with a lot of the criticism out there.
The early THPS titles set the bar high for later entries to follow, and the last two releases in particular have been roundly branded as total failures. With THPS5, the game’s developers have promised a return to the game’s roots, but even in doing so, does it really stand a chance at winning back fans of the series? Or has that board long since sailed?
While early videos of the game seem to display the same sort of speed and intensity you’d expect from this series, one can’t help but wonder if a trip back up memory lane will be enough to win back fans of the Tony Hawk’s franchise. The original games boasted gameplay that was both fluid and remarkable at the time. They played well, looked great, and introduced an entirely new audience to the world of skateboarding – three things THPS5 is going to struggle to emulate.
The engine that Neversoft used to power the early THPS titles was pretty remarkable for its time. However, video games have progressed a lot since then, meaning THPS5 developers Robomodo not only have the enormous success of the first titles to live up to, they also have the lofty expectations of a modern gaming audience to fulfill. That’s a big ask, given the graphical standards most modern gamers have become used to. Yet, with the company’s HD remake of THPS1 having received such lackluster reviews in 2012, it’s clear Robomodo need to do more than rely on simple nostalgia for THPS5 to succeed.
That’s good for them because it must be said that the engine used in THPS5 doesn’t look amazing. In fact, pretty much all the footage from the game that’s been released so far seems average at best. Robomodo have also admitted to easing the difficulty factor when it comes to holding your balance on grinds and manuals, and the transition that brings skateboard to rail seems almost implausibly magnetic. All this points towards another mediocre, uninspiring play experience, and after Robomodo’s track record with its previous THPS titles, things are starting to look a little bleak for the franchise that almost single-handedly brought skateboarding to a whole new generation. Then again, THPS5 perhaps isn’t as lucky in its choice of timing as the first game was…
When the original THPS was released back in 1999, it was met with universal critical acclaim. Not only that, but thanks to its impeccably curated soundtrack and the prevailing fashion of the era, the game had a significant wider cultural impact. For the first time there was a title that captured the imagination of gamers and real-life skateboarders alike, leading many to cross over that divide and start skateboarding (or gaming) for the first time in their lives. It was a classic right-place, right-time scenario, especially given the hype surrounding Tony Hawk himself after he became the first skater to successfully land a 900° at the X games in 1999.
Unfortunately, the culture that once aided the success of the original games has inevitably moved on, and the bands, brands, fashion and figures that were so prevalent in that era are now completely different. The CKY and Jackass generation have grown old and settled down, AFI’s All Hallows E.P is 16 years older, and names like Quiksilver and World Industries have been replaced by Palace and Dime (names you’re just as likely to find at New York Fashion Week as you are at The Berrics).
But culture wasn’t the only thing that was changing. Gaming was changing, too, and for a time, THPS moved with it. The series gradually changed its formula from closed-in stages to massive open-world environments, while a narrative focus was implemented in Tony Hawk’s Underground — and, surprisingly, it worked! Time limits were ditched and exploration was encouraged so much that THUG even introduced a feature that allowed you to leave your board. It was these changes that, despite declining interest in later titles, allowed Neversoft to keep the series feeling fresh.
As such, it feels like THPS5 needs to be something a little more than a skate down memory lane with a new skin on top. The trouble lays in finding out exactly what that extra something actually is. EA’s Skate franchise has already laid claim to the “realism” end of the market, distancing themselves as much as possible from the insane trick combos and overblown set-pieces that became such hallmarks of THPS. With that in mind, it seems Robomodo only have one direction to take things in, and it’s not one that is going to win over the same credibility as the original titles did when they first landed, more than 15 years ago.
That said, it has now been over five years since the release of the last Skate game, and Robomodo are hoping old fans will look to THPS5 to (re)ignite a passion for skating with thumbs. With no direct competition from other releases on the horizon, the game has certainly grabbed itself a good window to enjoy the monopoly. Robomodo have even consulted original Neversoft employees to recreate some of the series’ most iconic locations for the new title, in a bid to add a dose of legacy to the overall package. Yet, the news of a softer difficulty rating and the game’s new cartoon-like cel-shaded appearance both smack of targeting a younger audience — one with little connection to the actual world of skateboarding itself.
That’s not to say the original THPS was only played by hardcore skaters or that it needed to be true-to-life to be seen as credible. To their credit, Robomodo have attempted to include a novel element to gameplay this time around, with up to 20 players able to skate together in one stage, just like a real skatepark. However, whether that means Robomodo have learned from the previous mistakes they made in Tony Hawk: Ride and Shred remains to be seen. Given what we’ve seen of the game so far, it seems like THPS5 has attempted a compromise between the worlds of old and new, but in doing so it could very well appease neither.
The main question is whether there’s still a fan base out there that’s willing to give Tony Hawk’s one last chance. Right now, a chance is perhaps all this franchise needs to ignite fresh interest, but without that it seems doomed to bail yet again. And this time, it could be for good.
Words by Mat Ombler for Highsnobiety.com
- Photography: Huck Magazine