(Activision for PS4)
By Mike Delano
Except for an HD reworking of the original game a couple years back, the Tony Hawk series of skateboarding games has been missing from the gaming world as of late, after previously appearing with incredible regularity for more than a decade. So one would think that, after so long an absence, developer Robomodo really has a new spin to put on the series with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, something that could reestablish the brand and establish it in the minds of a new generation of gamers. After all, the Guitar Hero series — itself on a five-year hiatus — is coming back later this month with what appears to be a fresh new take on the franchise (live audiences, new guitar, new control scheme).
Unfortunately, THPS 5 is definitely not a fresh new take on the series. As is evident from the name, the game aims to bring the series back to basics after a string of titles (Underground, American Wasteland, Project 8) attempted to expand the core Tony Hawk gameplay with new ideas like getting off your board and exploring larger, more open worlds. Back-to-basics is often a good plan for series as long running as this one, but THPS 5 plays it too safe. Many of the ideas in the later Tony Hawk titles and EA’s Skate series (a strong Tony Hawk competitor in the late 2000s) were worthwhile, and showed how the skateboarding genre as a whole could evolve and stay relevant. THPS 5 isn’t interested in many of those ideas, though, and sticks with a bare-bones missions-and-collectibles structure that feels stubborn and lacking ambition. The visuals and skate park layouts are similarly underwhelming, although the eclectic soundtrack carries on the series tradition of energetic, skate-worthy tunes.
At its core, THPS 5 still has the satisfying, addictive tricks-and-combos gameplay that was so revolutionary in the late ’90s, so it’s hard not to have fun revisiting the go-to combos that are forever burned in your brain and simply tooling around on this new set of skate parks. But in 2015, when so many games big and small are taking the concepts of the past and successfully modernizing them for a whole new audience, THPS 5 feels like it was completed, frozen and put on the shelf in 2002, only to thaw out this year and awaken as a stranger in a strange land.