Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 (PS4)

Growing up as a gamer among my brothers I had the privilege to share my time playing some of today's retro classics in good company. One of the most memorable gaming moments that I can think of in regards to those times, and those classics includes me playing "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2" on the PSOne with my brothers back at the old homestead. We always challenged each others' high scores, and even spent time laughing as the characters wiped out on the pavement of various environments in an over-the-top fashion. Things like the absurd gravity effects which caused characters to drift forever upward made for some truly laughable moments. I also loved unlocking the secret characters which always seemed to make the experience even more enjoyable. Being able to play as different versions of Spider-man was awesome as was the other unnatural characters which became a part of the Tony Hawk's lore over the years. The series was definitely epic in every way imaginable back in the day, and as time progressed with new releases the franchise always seemed to stay close to the roots only deviating from said set path to innovate a little. Everything about the series from the arcade style skateboarding features to the secret characters, and unlockables as well as the easy to learn mechanics always kept true to the classic Tony Hawk's pro skateboarding video game formula.

Past all that, and onto the recent release of "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5" though I have found that while the game has attempted to stay true to it's core standards it deviates somewhat, and sometimes fails at being the more fantastical, and rock solid skateboarding adventure that it once was. Instead of adventurous treks through larger than life skate parks for that high score we have a series of environments that are more true-to-life in size, and centered mostly around a socially interactive experience much like a true skate park would be. Things like online competitive modes, and a new "Create-A-Park" map editor will have you experiencing the game with people from across the globe in a variety of different ways as you show of your virtual skateboarding skills. Even the offline single player which has you gaming by your lonesome offers up social standings in a sort of leaderboard fashion that keeps track of your performance progress, and feats in the limited selection of levels that are made available to you. I think this time Activision really went for that true-to-life skate park appeal, and only added certain arcade style gaming nods into the mix as more of an afterthought. Those missions that have you completing gap lists, and collecting items as well as spelling words are more or less a way to unlock the customization extras which are tied to the game's new skateboarder leveling system. As such the main focus is more about impressing people with your skills, and less about the single player campaign shenanigans.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 (THPS5, from hence forth) seems to be a game that doesn't exactly know what it wants to be. The menu system options, while organized in appearance are overshadowed by a sort of a chaotic in-game transition phase that kicks into place shortly after you begin. It has you briefly hanging out in a social "Free Skate" mode in order to later venture out into the single player, and multiplayer modes of play via the "Touch Pad' menu. Things like this, and other features tied to the various aspects of gameplay keep the game from being any one thing. It's a truly thinned out, and unorganized experience with not one truly central theme ...

From the main menu listings, which will appear shortly after the THPS5's cinematic intro you'll find in place a simple selection of gaming, and informational options including that of "Play", "Create-A-Park", "Skater Bios", "Tutorial", and "Legal Agreement". Each of which are sub-divided into further categories (Legal Agreement excluded). The "Play" menu option will allow you to play single player on the THPS5 maps, or on your own created maps as well as on other gamers' created maps which can be built in great detail within the provided "Create-A-Park" editor. Supposing you choose to go with the traditional THPS5 maps, or levels you'll be loaded up onto a map location of your choosing in which the rules of old still apply. As you perform tricks in the form of lip tricks, manuals, grabs, grinds, and skater specific special tricks you'll be trying to reach that highest combo oriented score among other things with the applied use of skate park ramps, rails, quarter pipes, and half pipes. Staying true to the THPS games of old you will still have mission objectives such as spelling out "S-K-A-T-E" by collecting the floating letters of the word, and performing combos as you collect each letter of the word "C-O-M-B-O" in order. There's even the items such as the VHS tape, and CD that you can collect to unlock other things in the game.

New to the experience are lucrative side missions listed in the "Touch Pad" menu as "Missions". These missions are objective based, and usually include a set goal of some sort. They also usually have a set time limit, or ending point that will occur if you don't abide by the rules, or meet the demands. The missions for each map/level are unique to said location, and tie-in with older THPS features. Things like the exploding big head, and interactive objects that must be dealt with in a certain way are all a part of the outlined mission objectives. You'll often times find yourself collecting themed items while running "Point A" to "Point B" errands. On occasion there will even be missions where the virtual Tony Hawk lists tricks onscreen that must be performed in order to score. As usual the goals, or end scores come in a "Amateur", "Pro", and "Sick" variety. Each of which must be met under certain guidelines. As you complete the missions your top score achievements will be saved, and you will be rewarded in-game currency as well as some TPHS5 cards which in turn gives you extra options for customizing your character. Along with the rewards also comes a sort of leveling system in which your skater level will increase with a sort of experience points feature that ties directly into the previously mentioned rewards system. Feats of prowess in the form of high scoring will usually level your skater up faster, and earn you better rewards across the board. Playing in any mode, whether single player, or multiplayer will reward you though.

As far as the selection of skaters goes you will find some new, and old faces from the real life profession in a slightly cell-shaded appearance along with character specific special tricks that can only be performed once the special meter has been filled through landed combos. Among the new, and returning pros are 'Tony Hawk', 'Riley Hawk', 'Nyjah Huston', 'Leticia Bufoni', 'Aaron "JAWS" Homoki', 'Ishod Wair', 'David Gonzalez', 'Lizzie Armanto', 'Chris Cole', and 'Andrew Reynolds'. Each of these pro skateboarders come complete with a personal bio, and skate video that can be accessed via the main menu listing of, "Skater Bios". When you begin the game you will be selecting one of said pros via the character selection screen, and as you earn skill points through game mode completion along with the previously mentioned rewards you will be able to customize their 'Stats', and appearance. The 'Stats' which basically follow the oldschool THPS formula will enhance a skater's performance according to 'Speed', 'Ollie', 'Manual', 'Grind', 'Vert', 'Spin', 'Special', and 'Lip Trick'. Thus making it easier to reach those high scores. When it comes down to the skater customization options the unlocked/purchased 'Head', 'Body', 'Board', and 'Emblems' options can serve to create a new character entirely. Of course the specific specials, and stats will stay intact though. When it comes down to the emblems you can think of them as badges of honor, much like you'd find in a game like "Call of Duty". For performing certain feats of prowess you can unlock, and assign the emblems to your customized character showing off exactly how skilled you are.

Back to the modes of play ... Beyond the single player campaign of sorts you'll find that Activision's developers have added a "Modes" mode in which you can go head-to-head against other online players in a competitive skateboarding battle of skills. This selection of multiplayer modes which includes, 'Quick Match', 'Trick Attack', 'Deathmatch', 'Combo Mambo', 'Big Head', and 'King of the Hill' incorporates some of the themes of the single player missions while adding things that seem like they'd be better fit for the "Call of Duty" franchise. In 'Deathmatch', for example you'll be performing ollie oriented grabs to shoot projectiles at the other participating player/s in order to score points. In 'King of the Hill', which is a nod to certain competitive games as well you'll be trying to take the crown from the crowned player by knocking him/her down. Of course only the crowned king will be able to score so securing said crown, and holding onto it as you perform tricks is a must if you want to win. Other "Modes" mode options that require mostly skateboarding skill includes the "Trick Attack", and "Combo Mambo" in which you'll be given a certain time limit with which to gain the highest ranking score. That score coming from the trick combos that you perform within the given time frame. Big Head, also being one of the optional modes will have you performing tricks to keep your head from growing large, and exploding. The player to last the longest in that particular mode wins. As far as what you win goes you'll find that your win count is recorded in your "Bests" menu listing, and that you'll earn in-game currency as well as well as some THPS5 cards for further character customization. Should you not be able to find anyone playing the mode you can begin without them, and play while you wait.

When it comes to the new "Create-A-Park" editor it seems that the developers really strove to make this one of THPS5's flagship features. It's a very detailed map editor in which your custom creation can be uploaded for others to play, and rate. Customization options come in the form of templates (Beach, Skate Park, School, Warehouse, Space Station) which come in different sizes (Small, Medium, Large) as well as with all the features necessary for building a complex skate park structure. You will initially be required to choose a themed template, and a size before applying all the skate park features that makes the map a playable level. When it comes to applicable items you'll find variety of different things that can be added such as, 'Ramps', 'Quarter Pipes', 'Rails', 'Grind Objects', 'Street Props', 'Dynamics (themed objects such as chairs & mail boxes)', 'Fun Boxes', 'Centerpieces', 'Floors', 'Walls', 'Power-ups', and 'Missions (S-K-A-T-E, C-O-M-B-O, VHS, CD). Adjusting each feature is explained via a tutorial once you enter the mode, and is not too complicated for gamers to comprehend. You can adjust the height of the item, the location where you want to place said item, and even the direction where you want the item facing. As with the THPS5 core maps/levels you'll also be able to apply the base missions by applying the necessary items. There's even power-ups for those of you looking to make the map/level even more interesting. When rating someone's map/level you'll be prompted to give it a thumbs up, or thumbs down, and select any tagged descriptions that might apply to the map's experience. The player created maps are listed according to orientation (New, Complex, Challenging ...) for easy access, and even come ranked according to popularity. If you put in the time to make a quality map/level you might just become popular with those who seek to enjoy that particular mode's offerings.

For those of you looking for a quality soundtrack, I do have good news. You will find that here, but in a very limited presentation. Unlike previous THPS games the soundtrack, which seems to have a lot more tracks randomly plays out not allowing the gamer to select a song, or even add a song to their created skate parks. It's definitely a missed opportunity, and one that could have lifted this game to greater heights. In the way of a graphic presentation the game does sport a sort of slightly cell-shaded character design. The skate park elements, however are more new-gen, and make the game look up to par with more recent game releases. One thing you'll notice on the character selection/customization screen is that the characters still bare that oldschool THPS build. They are oddly stiff in animation, but in-game they do move more freely.

Now the Verdict ...

I seriously wanted to enjoy "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5", but I just couldn't get into it. I found myself troubled by too many of it's features. The main gripe I had with the game related to the way the modes transitioned. I felt that all modes could have been made better accessible through an actual main menu system, and series of sub-systems instead of the additional loading times, and "Free Skate" area that acted as an intersection between them. Having to go from the "Free Skate" area to the single player "Missions", and the multiplayer "Modes" is a visually messy trip plagued by multiple loading times, and less actual gameplay. By designing the game the way they did Activision's developers made the "Free Skate" area a chaotic mess, and made it seem less important than any other mode found in the game. Had they have definitively separated each mode of play including the"Free Skate" area at the main menu listing it would have taken away the need for the intermission. In fact in doing so "Free Skate" could have become the social hub experience that it was intended to be. As it is though the transitions from "Free Skate" to the other modes of play makes the game seem less "Triple A", and more along the lines of a work-in-progress.

Other complaints I have include the fact that the leveling, and customization options weren't the focal point they should have been. They seemed less important due to fewer available options, and poorly relayed reasoning behind said earnings. Had the developer expanded upon what they offered in the way of character customization, and made it a fully fledged part of the game the desire to play over, and over throughout the handful of available locales would have been easily justified. Even with the multiplayer "Modes", and single player "Missions" in place I felt like the game was lacking. It was lacking in the area of fun, and excitement that older THPS games had going for them. I really missed the features of the older games such as the music track selection options, and the seemingly larger skate parks. It lacked the feels, man.

Speaking of the music ... The soundtrack in this game, while impressive does not allow for track selection, and does not give a listing of the songs. I will say that some of the songs are more along the classic side of things while others are more modern-day selections. Thinking back I can't even recall the song title popping up onscreen like it used to in the older THPS games. It's a shame they didn't offer the gamer the option to select which track they wanted to listen to as they played. I don't think they added the option to add a favorite track to your created skate park either. All missed opportunities.

As far as the graphics go the stiff character design was my only complaint. It is reminiscent of older THPS releases, and only seems to have been upgraded to HD, and in a "slightly" cell-shaded form. With that being said though the skate parks look better than ever. Aside from the sometimes choppy frame rate issues inflicted by unknown reasons, everything about the gameplay design looks pretty darn good in THPS5. Sadly graphics do not make a game great though.

One thing where this game excels, and where it takes true advantage of online gaming is the "Create-A-Park" editor. I can't personally recall this mode being available in previous THPS games, but in THPS5 Activision really did go all out with the mode. You can make some awesome skating parks, play on said skating park creations, and even have others play on, and rate them. I think this is where gamers will invest a lot of their in-game time as the other modes only offer experiences that are limited to a certain extent.

Before I close I need to mention that in the "Free Skate" hub, via the "Touch Pad" menu you can do some cool things like "Invite" other players to game, and receive invitations from other players to play with/against them. It's a feature that slightly builds upon the social aspect of THPS5. As far as the "Social Experience" goes I have to say that I found some annoyances during my online time in multiplayer. The inability to turn off the mics of people who are obviously trolling by sending horrible noises through the headset is unacceptable. There needs to be a mic mute patched in ASAP! I've also noticed in the multiplayer "Modes" that some players seem to have figured out how to hack the game. In one instance of "Trick Attack" the opposing player's score rose to ridiculous amounts while my own ceased to accumulate any more points despite me performing different combos. While it likely won't happen I think there also needs to be a reporting option made available, so that legit gamers can report those abusing the system.

Considering all I've mentioned, and how most of it falls on the negative side of the rating spectrum I don't think I can recommend this game at it's current retail value. Supposing the developer patches it to perfection, and listens to those complaining I might take that statement back. As it stands though 'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5" just does not seem polished enough to warrant the "Triple A" price tag that it bares. I'm just being honest.

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