The Tony Hawk video game franchise was due for an overhaul, but I don't think many expected what Tony Hawk himself announced at this year's E3. The new Tony Hawk, simply known as Ride, would include its own skateboard controller. The idea is marvelous, but how does the final product shape up? I couldn't wait to find out when we got it in for review.
If you haven't seen the skateboard controller yet, take a look at the included screenshots here or some of our previous coverage. It's a cool looking board and upon unboxing it I could tell it was made well. The durable board has a good size and weight, and I like the color scheme too. On each of the four sides, there is a sensor, and these are used to monitor your motions. The board communicates with the console wirelessly. Similar to other wireless controllers like guitars, Ride ships with a short USB-to-RF transceiver dongle. In addition to the board controller and the transceiver, you get four Duracell AA batteries, some Velcro strips (for use if you're playing on a hardwood floor), and the game. The game, just in case you're wondering, is boxed in normal retail packaging, not just a sleeve case or something like that.
After you pop the batteries into the bottom of the board (small screwdriver required), you're ready to get started. Plug in the USB transceiver, pop in the game, and press the Connect button on the transceiver. It's the only button on there so you can't miss. A red light will begin to flash and during this time you need to press the PS button on the board controller. On one side of the board controller you'll find most of the buttons from a PS3 controller squeezed into a small space. Outside of the PS button and the intentionally oversized Start button, I didn't use these controls, opting to instead use a normal PS3 controller to navigate the in-game menus. As far as getting the board to register with my PS3, I still have a few seemingly random issues getting it to sync up. Of course, I sometimes have trouble getting a 360 controller or a Wiimote to sync up for the first time on a system, so maybe I'm at fault here. That said, I've never had to spend more than a couple of minutes getting the board to attach to the system.
At first launch, and any time you change the batteries or register the board on a new PS3, the game leads you through a calibration procedure. The calibration takes a few minutes and is voiced by Tony Hawk. A helpful video tutorial shows you what to do here, and for all other aspects of the gameplay as well. I spent a great deal of time in the Training mode -- watching, and re-watching the instructional videos and trying my best to get consistent behavior out of the game. That's an uphill battle I'll elaborate more on shortly, but for now, let me give some detail on the gameplay modes available in Ride.
Ways To Play
Ride includes several ways to play. In single player, you can go to an exhibition or take on the campaign mode known as Road Trip. In Road Trip, players create a skater (or choose from one of the thirteen available pro skaters) by editing their body, choosing a name, clothing, and accessories. You can also set your stance type to Goofy or Regular. The type of Stance can be changed at the Pause Menu and is set each time a Session is begins. Goofy stance means you have your left foot on the front of the board and the right foot on the back (vice versa for Regular). Once you have your skater ready, a brief intro cutscene sets the stage with you as a successful up and coming skater.
The goal of Road Trip is to unlock other locations and challenges around the world by earning Sessions Points. Session Points are earned by completing various Session types. There are four Session types: Challenge, Trick, Speed, and Free Skate. You can't actually earn any Session Points in Free Skate, but you do in the other three.
The Challenge Session type requires that you complete certain stunts or clear certain goals while skating through the level. Challenge markers are place throughout the level. Trick sessions simply require that you earn as many points as you can while skating through a level. If you can fill up your Style meter in the lower right corner (easier said than done), you can perform Signature Moves and net even more points. Speed sessions are broken into two types: Run and Slalom. In Run, you must simply get from the start of the level to end. There are a variety of 'power ups' floating around the stage. These are red and green numbers, where the green number indicates the number of seconds to be shaved off of your final time and the red numbers do the opposite. Obviously, you want to skate to avoid the reds and nab the greens. In Speed Slalom, you must pass through a series of markers in order. Finally, Free Skate lets you skate around at your leisure in any area that you've unlocked by playing Road Trip.
A Party Mode is included that lets you share the board with local friends to see who's the best skater around. There is also eight player online multiplayer support. I spent most of my time playing single player, but what online gaming I was able to play did work well. The biggest delay in playing online for me was finding another person to play with. I think it's fair to say there isn't much of an online community for Ride at this time.
As far as locations in game, things start off in Venice Beach, and spread out to Brooklyn, and several other locations around the US and the rest of the world. I've yet to unlock them all as I've been pouring most of my hours into either Exhibition or Training. On that note, I think the developers did a nice job with the video tutorials. Tony Hawk voices the video of a real player performing the motions you need to do on your board to succeed. At first, players need to only stand on the board, then you learn the Ollie, then the flip and flick tricks. Grinding, manuals, a full set of half-pipe moves, and dozens and dozens of other skateboarding techniques are included.
Frustration Sets In
These moves look really smooth and very doable in the video tutorials, but once you start trying them out in game, things change. Enter my biggest complaint with Tony Hawk: Ride: (in)consistency. No matter the Session type, the location, the character I'm using, the skating stance I'm in -- executing moves consistently and reliably is a real trick. When you pull a move off that you meant to do, it's satisfying and cool. Anything other than that is a nuisance, but a tolerable one if it doesn't happen very often. Unfortunately with Ride, it happens a lot. I wasn't expecting perfection from Ride's board controller, but I was hoping for more than what there is. When I perform a move a certain way two different times, I expect it to work both times the vast majority of the time. The results in Ride are far from that and I'm left with an inconsistent experience that has me excited one moment and shaking my head and cursing in frustration the next. Whenever I don't get the move I was trying to do, either my motions don't register at all, or they register as something (completely) different than what I intended.
I should point out that these difficulties are on the default, lowest skill level of Casual. In Casual, you don't have to worry about steering. You can lean to choose between a few predetermined paths on a level, but you're not having to actively keep yourself on the right track. Bump the difficulty up to Confident, and suddenly you're in a whole new realm of control hell. After nearly an hour of trying to complete the severe turn training, I was ready to give up. I decided to try out the Confident skill level anyway so that I wasn't tied to the paths from Casual, but it was all and more than I could do to keep my skater from slamming into a wall or turning completely around. At times the turning seemed too sensitive, other times not sensitive enough -- to date I've yet to be comfortable on the Confident skill setting.
Still Lots of Fun To Be Had
If I were to actually skate in real life, I'd imagine I would have the same trouble as I do in Ride. In that regard, I wondered if maybe Ride's board and game were advanced enough to really be more of a sim than just a gimmick. I suppose I'll leave that up for skateboarding aficionados to debate, but I will say that the feel of Ride to the average gamer isn't going to be positive. Realistic or just plain bad, controlling your actions in Ride is too difficult and inconsistent to be continually satisfying.
In spurts, Ride is fun though. I still play on Casual and I still have a lot of frustrations with the game, but I can't say that pulling off a trick and sticking the landing isn't satisfying. For being able to keep me coming back to try again and again, I commend Ride. I just hope that some kind of patch or controller firmware update comes along sometime. If Robomodo can iron out these inconsistencies, this would be one heck of a cool game. As it stands, it's more of a very mediocre first effort for an intriguing new controller.
To the summary...