Tony Hawk: Ride Review

By Michael Thomsen - Posted Nov 18, 2009

Tony Hawk: Ride is a brave attempt to refresh the series with realistic motion controls and a pricey new peripheral. Sadly, the motion controls are awkward and laggy, while the core design is just as focused on the combo-centric gameplay of the older games. It's got its heart in the right place but doesn't quite have the brains to match.

The Pros
  • Peripheral is solid and durable
  • Manuals feel great
The Cons
  • Motion controls for tricks don't work
  • Steering is a nightmare
  • Gameplay gets repetitive and mechanical
  • Controls have noticeable lag

Editor’s Note: In the interest of delivering you the timeliest of reviews, Tony Hawk: RIDE was reviewed at a launch event, which Activision offered us and other media outlets as an opportunity to review the game prior to its launch.  Mr. Thomsen was able to complete the game in that time frame.

Tony Hawk: Ride is a brave attempt to refresh the series with realistic motion controls and a pricey new peripheral. Sadly, the motion controls are awkward and laggy, while the core design is just as focused on the combo-centric gameplay of the older games. It’s got its heart in the right place but doesn’t quite have the brains to match.

Tony Hawk: Ride

You Can’t Be Careful on a Skateboard, Mister

After a decade of annual releases, it seemed like there was nothing left to do with the Tony Hawk franchise. Through three console generations and more than a dozen different platforms, Tony Hawk has been thoroughly put through his paces. With series creator Neversoft having moved on to Guitar Hero, Activision passed development duties to Robomodo--an upstart formed by former EA Chicago veterans with credits on the Fight Night series and Def Jam: Icon. The result is Tony Hawk: Ride, an attempt to completely reinvent the skating genre with a motion sensing skateboard peripheral.

The board is a solidly constructed skateboard deck that has a great sense of wobbling lean to the left and right. The nose and tail are also terrifically sturdy and leaning backwards and forwards on them for manuals feels almost identical to the real thing. The board has two accelerometers inside that detect single gestures (like a Motion Plus-less Wii remote), which are translated into different kinds of tricks and grinds. The board has small infrared cameras on the front, back, left, and right, which are used to trigger grabs. You can bend all the way over to trigger these, but a directional hand wave around knee-level will have the same effect.

There are three difficulty levels to choose from, with the easiest using auto-steering, which allows the player to focus on timing ollies and pulling off tricks. The middle difficulty unlocks steering, but is still forgiving when it comes to lining up grinds and landing jumps. The most difficult setting requires full balance and exact precision when setting up lines and landing tricks. Ride ditches the more elaborate story structure of the later Tony Hawk games and focuses on three core gameplay modes spread out across six cities, with each city offering two to four separate areas.

In terms of the gameplay modes, there’s a race mode where you race through levels collecting green icons to zap seconds off your time while avoiding red icons that add time penalties. There’s a trick mode where you’re given a few minutes to score as many points as you can, unlocking new benchmarks as you go. The third mode has a pre-designed line set up and requires you to hit all the right tricks in the right order as you go down the track.

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Ground Control to Major Waggle

The attempt to refresh Tony Hawk is welcome, but the execution in Ride is bungled from the start. Most critical for me was the decision to emphasize tricks over steering. Stringing together tricks in absurd multi-million point combos was one of the most stale elements of the older games. The trick variety and frequency in Ride are dialed down, but the basic approach is identical. To get the highest scores you’ll need to keep your multiplier active with manuals in between ollies, flips, and grinds. Using foot control instead of button presses changes the intensity of the experience, but it still feels like rote trick-spamming after a few rounds. The emphasis isn’t on the thrill of landing a trick or the speedy vertigo of approaching a big jump, but instead focuses on keeping your multiplier alive, like an abstract version of hot potato.

Pulling off tricks is also an incongruous experience. You’ll start everything by leaning back on the tail to ollie and then you can lean left or right, or pivot to pull off various tricks. It’s a realistic approximation of the first half of pulling off tricks, but the fact that the board stays in the same relative spot on the floor makes it feel awkward. It reminded me of what Wii Sports baseball would feel like if there was some giant barrier that stopped your swing at the halfway point every time. It’s a workable system, but I felt constantly reminded of the plastic fakery of it all.

Tony Hawk: Ride

Using IR cameras to trigger grabs is another half measure. In real life you can manipulate the board around your center of gravity to pull off grabs, but with the board’s position constant, grabs always throw off your center of gravity and make landing especially tricky on higher difficulties. The IR cameras also pick up lots of ancillary movement, so I found grabs would happen at random.

Steering is another major problem area. Games like Wii Fit, We Ski, and Shaun White Snowboarding have used the motion controls to great effect, but the accelerometers in the Ride peripheral aren’t as sensitive. The wobbly nature of the design makes using the board a joyless process of near-constant overcorrection. You can change the trucks’ tightness, but adjusting the sensitivity didn’t alleviate any of my issues. There’s also a small, but disastrous, lag between when you lean and when your character actually starts to move, which only exacerbates the issue. I’ve spent hours and hours playing the ski and snowboard slalom in Wii Fit. The simple feeling of constant responsiveness and the vicarious sensation of movement make for wonderful entertainment. Robomodo made a core design choice to focus on tricking instead of movement and, to me, it’s a choice that plays away from the strengths of their peripheral.

Tony Hawk: Ride

Do or Do Not, There Is No Try

Tony Hawk: Ride is a tragic misfire. Its aim to recast the oxidizing skate genre in the exotic mold of motion control is a great concept, but the execution is incomplete and, in a couple of key areas, wrong-headed. Younger players may cotton to the simple pleasure of pivoting and slamming around on the board, but I found myself increasingly frustrated. I had thought the game might be more fun once I had made it through the learning curve, but after the grand finale in Tokyo, I felt worse about the game than when I started. Learning how to pull off tricks consistently and managing the wobbly steering took me further out of the experience. I felt like I was just button-mashing with my hips and feet and, for all of the effort to make something new and special, I wound up playing with the same monotonous tunnel vision of old Tony Hawk games.