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Tony Hawk: RIDE Review1
by Jeff Gerstmann on
Tony Hawk: RIDE's shoddy hardware and ill-conceived software merge to form something completely abysmal.
There's a good idea at the center of Tony Hawk: RIDE. Attempting to make some sort of peripheral-based skateboarding game is a neat idea, and one that, if the peripheral were robust enough, could result in some sort of faux-skating experience that approximates the real thing in a way that's accessible to non-skaters without being completely offensive to anyone who's ever pulled an ollie. But everything about Tony Hawk: RIDE, from the game's structure to the skateboard hardware itself, is an absolute mess that feels incapable of pleasing anyone, regardless of his or her skill level.
When your feet first touch the RIDE skateboard, it actually feels pretty good. It rocks back and forth a bit, and the curved nose and tail let you pop the front or back of the board into the air with ease. It also has four sensors, one on each side, which are primarily used when you want to tell the game that you're performing a grab move. It's sturdy, and feels solid under your feet without feeling stiff. Unfortunately, any goodwill built up by the look and feel of the board is thrown out the window as soon as you're finished calibrating it.
The problem with the board is that it isn't great at translating your movements into the appropriate on-screen actions. For example, the two primary ways to pull tricks is to lift the nose of the board into the air, and then either tilt the board to one side or pivot the front of the board left or right. These are "tilt" and "flick" tricks, respectively. More often than not, performing flick motions resulted in tilt tricks. Getting through a challenge that requires a specific trick type feels like luck in a lot of cases. Also, the board feels like it loses its calibration over time, resulting in cases where popping the nose up into the air stops performing ollies. Other times, it's a case of sensitivity, with the board feeling like it's requiring different levels of pressure or height to trigger the tricks. With a peripheral like this, consistency is absolutely key to getting better at the game and learning from your mistakes. With hardware that's unable to provide that level of consistency from session to session, Tony Hawk: RIDE is already a total failure.
But it's hard to tell if it's the fault of the hardware or the software, because the game built around said board is a mess. Tony Hawk: RIDE places you into a series of fairly confined environments and, though it does still have a "free skate" option to let you explore, the main goals are things like races and score challenges. The racing feels like something out of Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, another misstep from the once-great franchise's past. The trick sections of the game are usually score-based, and most of the time it's easier to just flail around on the board to pull off random tricks than it is to carefully attempt specific motions.
The other main street mode offers challenges, which are sections of the level where you're asked to perform specific motions on specific objects, like "flick trick off of the ramp" or "5-0 grind this ledge." The more specific the tricks, the worse it gets. It also doesn't help that the game never really tells you how to perform specific tricks, so figuring out how to land in a 5-0 grind instead of a 50-50 feels like it's left to chance. In the event that you don't know enough about skateboarding to know what the heck a 5-0 grind is, you'll probably have to turn to a web browser and look up videos of said trick, then maybe you can figure out what the game might be asking you to do and attempt it from there. Also, the challenges require you to hit every trick in the challenge in one run. If you miss one, the challenge doesn't end and immediately restart. Instead, you'll keep skating until you hit the end of the challenge area and respawn. The lack of an instant restart--something that the Tony Hawk franchise has usually been pretty good about offering--makes this whole section of the game frustrating.
There's also a vert mode, which is used when you're skating in half-pipes. For these levels, you'll rotate the board sideways and stand on it while facing the TV screen, but the basics don't change that much. If you're tilting when you leave the ramp, you'll probably spin. Or maybe your feet will accidentally trip one of the side sensors and you'll grab. Or maybe you'll reach down to deliberately perform a grab and nothing will happen. It's terrible.
Tony Hawk: RIDE defaults to a mode called casual, where you only focus on performing tricks while the game steers for you. There are spots in the race and trick courses where you can select alternate paths, but for the most part, it's none of your concern. Riding along a set track and performing tricks might sound like the worst thing of all, but it's actually the most manageable way to play. Bumping from casual over to "confident" puts steering control in your power, which makes things much tougher. But considering the board can't even keep up with you on casual, asking it to keep track of your leaning to let you steer impedes the process even further.
The game also has a party play mode, where groups of people can get together to discover just how unfun Tony Hawk: RIDE is in a variety of modes. You can also take the game online, where up to four players can have a bad time en masse. Or, at least, that's the theory. I tried on numerous occasions to find online opposition, but never found any takers.
The only positive thing about Tony Hawk: RIDE is its soundtrack, which is lengthy and includes tracks from Murs, Santigold, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wolfmother, The Commodores, and more, including that "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" song from The Big Lebowski. Obviously that's not enough to make Tony Hawk: RIDE feel like it's worth anything close to its $120 price tag. While the Tony Hawk franchise has been down on its luck lately, and was probably in need of a reboot as dramatic as this, the execution is such a miserable failure that it manages to splash even more mud on Tony Hawk's legacy. I'm left with a firm belief that whichever side of the Tony Hawk/Activision partnership has the out clause in the contract should just exercise it and part ways for good. Enough is enough.