The ride of your life, or the road to hell?
The Tony Hawk franchise has had its ups and downs. The first few games were incredible, and gave extreme sports video games a new lease of life. Then they became overly complicated, followed silly stories and just became a lot less fun. Neversoft stepped aside and passed on the Tony Hawk torch to someone else for this incarnation, and what a difference that made. The new developers, Robomodo, decided to give the series an extreme makeover, and actually change the way the game is played. Maybe they should have hired Gok Wan. The game is published by Activision and is available on the Xbox360, PS3 and Wii.
At the end of the day, skateboarding is skateboarding. There is only so much that can be changed about that, and to be honest, Neversoft had already made all of the changes that they could, for better or worse. When Skate came along, it introduced a new way of using your gamepad to control your skater. Tony Hawk: Ride has taken that idea one step further and said “throw away your controller. Nothing can be more authentic than using a skateboard controller”. An interesting idea.
The game looks quite good and has an instantly recognisable Tony Hawk style. The player will have the chance to create a skater, as is the norm with the Tony Hawk games, or use one of the thirteen real world skaters that feature in this game, including two lady skaters. There is then the choice of training, xbox live, party mode or single player. Single player will give you the choice of road trip, which is the campaign, oer exhibition. The game is set over various cities worldwide and offers four different game types from the menu. These are the usual free skate, allowing the player to explore a given area, challenge, where a player must complete tasks, trick, which is all about pulling the big tricks for the big points, and speed run, where the player must hurtle through a course in the fastest time possible. Of all of the modes, speed is perhaps the most fun, providing a downhill skating style experience. There are also three different difficulty levels, but more on them in a minute.
The big deal about Ride is the skateboard controller. Being of a good size and fairly solid, it certainly looks quite impressive. Hop onto the board and swipe your foot along the side,as if pushing a real skateboard, and away you go. Slap the tail down to perform an ollie. Lean left or right to steer. The board is covered with sensors that pick up your movement, so pulling tricks involve a tilt here, a twist there and a fake grab somewhere else. This should be a lot of fun.
Should be, but isn’t. Sadly the skateboard controller makes the game far too difficult. Of the three difficulty levels, casual, confident and hardcore, casual allows for the most fun. All of the steering is taken care of for you, you just pull tricks whilst following a line. Pop an ollie and grind a rail, its all fairly simple, but lacks immersion and control. The game is almost playing itself.
However, change to one of the other difficulty settings and its almost as if your skater has recently suffered a concussion. In the harder difficulty settings, the player has more control over their skater, perhaps not for the best. Steering is overly sensitive and you will often find yourself skating round in circles, colliding with the scenery in an unconvincing way and then falling off your board. Trying to follow a particular line is nigh on impossible and will result in extreme frustration.
Pulling tricks is a simple affair, as long as its not a particular trick that you are looking to pull. The player can go nuts on the skateboard and perform some truly epic moves, but should you require a specific trick to fulfill an objective, then frustration raises its ugly head again. Each trick requires an exact selection of moves from the player, and it is far too easy to mess up one of those moves and ultimately perform a different trick.
Another thing to be aware of when getting ready to play Ride, is the amount of room required for the skateboard controller. It is fairly big anyway, but I found that things like nearby furniture and such interfered with the sensors and resulted in some interesting maneuvers.
I used to be a skater and have long been a fan of Tony Hawk. Back in ‘89, I even chased him down the road, along with a couple of hundred other skaters, when he and the rest of the Bones Brigade visited Romford skatepark. So yeah, he was a childhood hero. I really wanted to like this game and indeed had been excited since it was announced. Now that it is here though, I feel deflated.
I can fully understand the direction that Ride has taken, and I fully respect Robomodo for trying something new. The original Tony Hawk games have always been about button pressing combinations and this made it very intimidating for new players to pick up and play. The skateboard controller certainly makes the game more accessible to players of all types, but has also reduced the game to a novelty. The game will probably be very popular to the casual audience and will become a recurring party type game, to be bought out during family gatherings and after a night down the pub. Serious gamers, however, will find the games controls too random to enjoy.