December 23, 2009
For Tony Hawk’s tenth skateboarding iteration, after being dethroned by EA’s Skate and swapping developers from Neversoft to Robomodo, controllers are out and a bulky plastic skateboard peripheral is in.
Obviously you’re not going to be launching the board up in the air or kicking it into a spinning pirouette, so it’s more a series of codified abstractions than a real skateboard in your living room – push down on the back to Ollie, wiggle the board a little to do tricks and wave your hand over the sensors to grab it. On screen your awkward movements and uncoordinated seizures translate into the tricks and moves we all know and love – Christ Airs and Melons and Turkish Delights and Polish Social Workers.
As you can imagine, seeing your physical actions being read by the magic electronic plank beneath you, and spat into the game world, is quite exciting. It’s like when you first used a computer mouse in the eighties or nineties, but now you’re standing on it and looking like a burke in front of your friends. You scrape your foot along the floor and as if by magic (or an infrared sensor on the side of the board) you start to move in the game.
It’s really quite stimulating – after the 15 minutes of configuration, Tony Hawk’s pandering voiceovers and video tutorials where Tony’s wearing the absolute whitest Vans trainers in the world – to be wobbling about on a plastic board and making somewhat approximated animations appear in the game world. It’s physically engrossing and kinetically pleasing. Then Tony asks you to do a “flip flick trick”, which sees you popping the board up, rotating it 90 degrees clockwise and then swinging it back in line with your TV. Easy, let’s do it.
Your character does a spin and lands on his face. And then your foot is apparently over a sensor so your skater does a nosegrab instead. And then your skater does a manual, for some reason. Then your Xbox crashes.*
Tony Hawk RIDE
I don’t want to belabour the point, but I spent 2 hours reading about this fabled trick on the internet. Developers Robomodo released some handy YouTube videos but the comments are filled with angry gamers who can’t make their complicated (and annotated) instructions work. Forums have dedicated topics to this line of trickery and video reviews bring it up as an impossible move. I think it would be easier to just buy a skateboard, learn how to ride it and land a ‘varial’ in real life. Backwards. On the moon.
None of this is made any easier by the half-second lag between living-room-wobbles and in-game- manoeuvres, the ultra-sensitive sensors that launch you into grabs if you step on them or the general inconsistency from one movement to another. Sometimes the board is ultra sensitive and other times it just goes to sleep. Leave the board perfectly still on the floor and menus will spin and skaters will push themselves to their inevitable doom. That definitely isn’t going to help matters when you actually step on it.
Therefore the game is, in a word, broken. If your 360 controller’s guide button only popped open the dashboard once in five presses, or your toaster would only start toasting when you slam the button with the force of an Olympic God**, you’d probably start digging through your cupboard for a receipt. Or a hammer.
It’s hard to pin down, exactly, where the majority of the blame lies. The skateboard controller itself is actually a pretty decent piece of kit – sturdy, aesthetically pleasing and its grip tape and curved underbelly give a pretty accurate representation of a skateboard. The game itself however, rattling about in the large box like a toy frog in a box of Shreddies, is so embarrassingly awful that it makes Proving Ground and American Wasteland look like ambitious artistic endeavours.
It’s so far away from being a satisfying and complete game that you’d swear they accidently left the proof-of-concept beta build in your box. It’s shallow, stupid and lacks many of the features that Neversoft built in nine refinements of the series. You won’t miss doing tuck jumps or hanging onto gutters, but the session markers and video creation tools are sorely missed. But you can still dress your skater up in different clothes! Ell Oh Ell, I made him 7 foot tall and really fat!
Tony Hawk RIDE
The four (four!) skateboarding modes it gives you are: time trial, trick, vert and challenge. If you say “free skate” is a mode, you’re getting slapped. The first three basically require you to wiggle about enough to get a good enough time or score to complete it. Challenge is the fun one (that’s sarcasm, if you couldn’t detect it, challenges make me want to gouge my eyes out) that asks you to do extremely specific moves. Fun, challenging and satisfying when you pull it off, TV-smashingly infuriating for the hundred attempts that you failed because the board didn’t work right or the game arbitrarily said you failed.
Obviously talking about the terrible graphics, incessant glitches, embarrassing skater videos and uninspiring cities is pretty redundant when, you know, the game doesn’t work correctly. But the menus deserve special mention – they are, without a doubt, the least helpful menus since Little Chef. I could write an entire dissertation on this ugly, mangled mess of inconsistent actions and useless information boxes. Sometimes you can navigate (poorly) with the skateboard, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can press the buttons on the side of the board, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes they say “clearing the vert gap is totally gnarly” without an iota of irony.
Between every mode you must – take a deep breath – accept a pop-up by doing an Ollie, insert your name by physically picking up an Xbox 360 controller, back out of the event, enter the next event, reposition the board, kick the start button and do an Ollie. It could be cut in half if they didn’t ask “Regular or Goofy?” between every event. Oh, you can remember that my man is naked except shoes and tight shorts, but you can’t remember my preferred position on the skateboard?
null Tony Hawk RIDE is rubbish. It’s almost amazing how rubbish they managed to make it and still have the balls to charge the price they are. RIDE is, at a very basic level, a few minutes of physical, kinetic fun. But it’s more of the “£1 a go in a Brighton Arcade” kind of fun, and not the “£99.99 boxed product from Argos” one.
*That’s not a joke for effect – the game has fully locked up my Xbox 360 three times since receiving the game.