Let’s be honest, on the current generation of consoles the Tony Hawk franchise has been torn apart. This is not entirely Activision’s fault, but rather how well Black Box has crafted Skate and Skate 2. With new, realistic physics and a unique control scheme Proving Ground looked rather… unnecessary in comparison. When they took last year off I thought that the Tony Hawk franchise may have been dropped completely, understandably putting all of their concentration into the billion dollar Guitar Hero franchise.
Yet just recently, a new trailer and website has been leaked here. GameTrailers TV has interviewed some of the production team behind it too, giving a small but valuable peek at the new reboot. I highly recommend watching here.
So if you haven’t guessed from the image above, the big deal about Tony Hawk: Ride is the usage of a board peripheral. Rather like the balance board used in Shaun White Snowboarding, it’s been designed from the ground up to hopefully recreate every action a skateboarder would want. All of the normal Xbox 360 buttons can be found down the side and the indentations on each rail are presumably for grab actions (?!). It’s a bold move, one that I can see the reasoning behind with the success of Shaun White and Guitar Hero. After seeing the birdman himself and some of the other pro’s give it a demo, I’ll give a few pointers that I noticed.
Although it has a new board, this will still be an arcade styled game. I actually think this is a positive. Skate 2 has the realistic portion of the market cornered, so it would be ridiculous to try and take it back. I believe an arcade action sports game can still be commercially successful, as proven by SSX and Jet Set Radio. In the GameTrailers interview they mentioned that over the top spectacles will return, such as a grind-able giant squid in New York’s Central Park. Believing in their current loyal fan base, I think this is actually a good idea.
Seeing the board in action brought a number of questions. Tricks seemed to be performed by either transferring weight or leaning back/forward on the nose/tail. For manualling this looked very satisfying, but flip tricks were left unanswered. How on earth are you going to determine different flip tricks without kicking the board halfway across the room? It’s in no way strapped to your feet. Similarly you don’t have to literally grab the board on the floor for grab tricks, but lean into them. How will the board know which grab you want to perform?! Activision is boasting that unlike Shaun White Snowboarding, you won’t need a controller in your hand at all. This will literally be a boarding experience.
Tony Hawk, Ryan Sheckler and other pro’s also played the game with the board parallel to the TV, rather than head on. Perhaps this was in order to see the TV better, but they also kept showing them physically spinning with the board to do 180 Ollies. How are you going to see if you’re then facing the wrong way? The board will have various levels of difficulty, ranging from novice to expert. Presumably the board will be more forgiving and require you to do less on the lower settings.
The visuals really stood out for me. Not because they were brilliant, but because they were actually rather plain and flat. Skate 2 is by no means a gorgeous beast, but the in game footage looked a bit lacklustre for my liking. This will be fine on the Nintendo Wii, but I really hope that the “artistic realism” that they coined is improved drastically for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. My only other major complaint was the exclusion of local multiplayer. Peripheral controllers work best with friends around, as proven by the hugely successful Rock Band. Activision explained that play testing showed multiple boards in one room to be dangerous, but even so… will it therefore just be online play only?
I’m glad to see Tony Hawk return to the game market. Even a publisher like EA has the potential to make Skate stale, so bringing in competition and fresh ideas is always positive. I have many doubts over this game, but a new direction is exactly what the Tony Hawk franchise needs. As long as the price point isn’t ridiculous, I’ll wait with baited breath.