More than We Can Chew
Tony Hawk: Ride is an ambitious outing for the Tony Hawk franchise. Activision felt they had to completely change the series after constantly being maligned by critics and fans over the last few years. Since Activision has found so much success bundling games with intuitive peripherals, they figured they might as well apply the formula to skateboarding. Unfortunately, unlike their masterful Guitar Hero franchise, Tony Hawk: Ride isn’t the polished, super-accessible experience they were undoubtedly gunning for.
The deck peripheral included is quite solid, but only athletic gamers with previous skate experience will be able to take it out of Casual difficulty. The result is on-rails, guided action that gets dull and tiresome quicker than you might expect. Still, this is the most realistic skate-sim ever made. Those who take the time (dozens of hours) to get used to the controller, or those already familiar with a skateboard, may find an interesting alternative to the real thing. The rest of us will just get angry.
Let me start this review with an apology: I was supposed to have this written about four weeks ago. When I first tried to play the game I was unable to because the deck peripheral would not calibrate. It was ironic how Tony Hawk went on and on about how this would “probably be the easiest thing” I did all day. After about a half-hour of battery pulls, console restarts, and mashing the sync buttons, I was forced to give up on the review. We contacted Activision about the problem, and they were gracious enough to send us another deck.
Alas, it took a little while to get us the replacement, and by then I was neck-deep in DJ Hero, Band Hero, Assassin’s Creed II, Borderlands, and more. Though we’re sorry for the tardiness of the review, it does point out an important flaw with Tony Hawk: Ride: there is a chance your deck won’t work out of the box. Activision even goes so far as to include a slip of paper inside the bundle asking you to contact their customer service first before taking the pack back to the shop. While we’re confident no consumer will be left to suffer with a broken peripheral, if you’re planning on burning through the game Christmas Day, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Fortunately, the second bundle that was sent to us calibrated without a hitch. With a working skateboard peripheral in tow, I was able to put the game and the controller through their paces. For starters, the deck is very sturdy and of surprisingly high quality. Slapping on a pair of Vans, players will be treated to an extremely life-like experience. In true Activision style, players really couldn’t ask for anything more in terms of a plastic peripheral. The deck has four sensor windows: one at the front, another on the tail, and one on each side. These sensors are perfect for detecting grabs. Inside the hardware, motion sensors pick up subtle movements, making it possible to pull of flip tricks, grinds, ollies, nollies, manuals, etc. with natural inputs.
On the downside, the experience on the board is so realistic, it makes playing the game extremely challenging. While I consider my athleticism to be above average (I played club and varsity soccer in high school), I’m a complete novice when it comes to skateboarding. As such, getting on the board and trying to pull off advanced techniques while maintaining by bearings was simply too much for me. Consequently, I was forced to play the game on Casual difficulty (shattering my gamer ego). This is perhaps the game’s biggest knock. If you’re anyone other than a proficient skater, expect to not only be humbled but extremely frustrated by the controls in Tony Hawk: Ride.
Even on Casual difficulty, which puts riders on a rail, letting them concentrate solely on pulling off tricks, the game is likely more of a commitment to get the hang of (let alone master) than most gamers, whether casual or core, are willing to deal with. As a result, Tony Hawk: Ride will appeal most to savvy skaters that want to bring the skating experience inside, not to the entire family, and especially not to the couch-ridden gaming hardcore. If you are a proven skater, you might be able to try your luck on Confident. Confident mode gets rid of the on-rails, guided experience and leaves the controls to you. The handicaps aren’t completely disabled, however. As you come up to lips, hits, and grinds, the game will nudge you just a bit to keep you in line. If you are somehow able to manage Confident, Hardcore will definitely try your patience. This mode is not available out of the box (you’ll have to unlock it), as the onus is all on you – there are no correcting nudges, and landing tricks without falling is much more difficult.
If you are able to get your ass off the sofa and put in your time, there is an engaging experience to be found here. Disappointingly, there aren’t a lot of modes to challenge your newfound skillz. Players can choose from Exhibition, Road Trip, Party, and Online. As you might expect, Exhibition is simply a free skate mode that allows you to go back and skate through any of the cities and venues you’ve already unlocked. Road Trip is the game’s main setting. You’ll skate your way through a specific city, earning points in various session types at venues in order to open up new cities and challenges. There are four different session types to skate through: Challenge, Trick, Speed, and Free Skate. Challenges have you completing successive objectives. Tricks have you scoring as many points as possible by pulling off different trick types. Speed sessions have you making speed runs and slalom runs in the shortest amount of time possible. Free skate lets you enjoy the venue anyway you see fit.
While I enjoyed besting the challenges, posting my name to the local leaderboard, and opening up customizing gear and new cities, Road Trip really isn’t the deep experience I was looking for. In fact, this game mode is about as profound as the decidedly kid-centric Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip for Wii. Truly, the format is essentially identical to that Ubisoft series. Old-school Pro Skater players will be miffed by the lack of complexity found in Road Trip.
There are two multiplayer game modes to play through. Party mode lets you and your friends compete in any of the venues and in any session type. Of course, only one skateboard peripheral can be connected to your console at a time, so you’ll be playing in hot-seat rather than head to head competition. Still, trading off the board between players is a good bit of fun when bragging rights are on the line. Speaking of on the line, you can get some head to head action if you jump online. This mode plays nearly identically to Party mode in that you can select the parameters to your liking. However, the big difference is rather than waiting for other players to make their runs, you will challenge each other simultaneously. Getting online also gets you access to the server-maintained leaderboards.
That’s it for Tony Hawk: Ride. If you were expecting a ton of modes to blow through, you’ll be quite dissatisfied. However, considering it will take most players so long to get accustomed to the controls, there’s probably enough content to see you through. Disappointingly, the lack of depth doesn’t end with the modes. Visual and aural presentation in Tony Hawk: Ride is also sparse. While there are a ton of cool cities to discover from around the globe, there is a stunning lack of detail bringing them to life. This also applies to the stylized art, which makes characters and bystanders look artificial and unpolished. In terms of sound, the ambient effects are good, yet nothing special. The musical themes are made up of some quality tunes, but they repeat with an annoying amount of regularity. Voice work offered up by the many pro skaters you’ll meet in Road Trip is painfully done. This even goes for Tony Hawk, who’s been making video games for nearly two decades.
Tony Hawk: Ride is not the broken junk heap some critics would have you believe. However, it is far from the revolutionary title Tony Hawk and Activision were counting on. In fact, it is actually a less enjoyable outing than lackluster games in the series such as Project 8 and American Wasteland. Still, if you’re a skater, have the patience of a saint, or are a glutton for punishment (and frustration), there is a novel, skate-sim experience that can be uncovered.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
Ho-hum. Not the sharp and polished graphics I was expecting. 2.5 Control
The deck is of high quality. Unfortunately, controlling the game via the peripheral is too challenging for most. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The fidelity is good and there are a number of quality tunes. However, the mix is sparse and the voice work is amateurish. 2.0 Play Value
Investing in the controller is a lot to manage, especially considering the lack of content and that it’s not compatible with any other game. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.