We remember when our younger brother first got his Playstation 1 - up till then, the only games we'd really played were the odd Discworld point and click and a couple of Tomb Raider games. At the time, our idea of a multiplayer game was playing Doom together, with one player moving and one shooting anything that had the misfortune to stroll past us - so the Playstation 1's Crash Team Racing, Crash Bash mini-game collection and, of course, Worms: World Party literally blew our minds. And so began a long-running string of second places for yours truly, repeatedly beaten by a boy who was seven years her junior. But there was one game the tables were turned, thanks to the sheer amount of time we spent playing through the single player. The game? Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, an extreme sports game we picked up for cheap one day on a whim, that went on to be one of our most played games on the console. And after a long time in the shadows, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 takes the series back to its roots. Kind of.
For the uninitiated, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is a pick-up-and-play take on the extreme sport, letting you ollie, kickflip and grind your way to skating stardom with a few uncomplicated button presses. Pressing a button and holding the analogue stick in a certain direction is all it takes to perform a trick - and the more tricks you manage to string together in outrageous combos, the higher your score. But points are only one part of Tony Hawk's. Along with the obstacles, half pipes and railings that litter each level, there's plenty of collectibles littered around too, the letters "SKATE" to collect, a DVD joining the hidden VHS for you to hunt out, and a fair amount of bonus objectives to complete. In fact, it's a game that sticks fairly closely to the tried and tested formula - even to the point where several of it's levels are obviously 'inspired' by the previous instalments, from the Hanger-esque Bunker to School III. The only real issue is, there are a few… illogical design decisions.
For starters, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 is obsessed with the idea of you playing it online. Having sacrilegiously shunned it's traditional local two-friends-on-a-sofa multiplayer (there's now no option at all for split-screen play) for the more 'modern' online multiplayer, you can now take on Pro Skater 5's challenges with up to twenty folks online, if that's what floats your boat. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, it just makes for a rather awkward game, as online play has been shoehorned into so much of the game. In fact, when you go to start a level, pressing X to 'Start', the pretty much universal 'yes' button of the Playstation since the beginning of time, tries to force you into an online game. Pressing triangle fortunately lets you play on your lonesome, but it definitely feels like a bit of an afterthought, what with the game's prompting you to do each mission in multiplayer, abundance of countdown timers, and online leaderboards that your offline scores don't seem to contribute to.
Still - once you manage to find your way into the single player, things start feeling a lot more familiar. Each level has the letters S-K-A-T-E and C-O-M-B-O scattered around for you to collect, with the latter having to be collected all in one single trick, while a hidden VHS (and a more modern DVD) lie out of the way somewhere, ready for you to find. But for reasons we're not entirely sure of, the bulk of each level's objectives are hidden in a totally separate menu, with the only hint at their being something more to this whole skating lark being the giant blue markers on the floor. Before you start each level, you will be given a list of the missions you can have a go at (score over a certain amount, grind a certain distance, etc), but in order to actually attempt them, you first have to skate over to one of these blue markers - should you score over the point limit, for example, without officially beginning the mission, the game won't count it. Even launching the mission is trickier than it should be - skating over to a marker doesn't actually start the mission straight away, but instead asks if you want to play it in single player or co-op, and then gives you a countdown timer regardless. It's not quite as user-friendly as the old 'here's a list of missions, you have two minutes, go wild' of past games, but still.
The missions themselves are the usual mix of increasingly high score challenges, ring races and trick point targets to the slightly wackier - a target shoot mini-game where kick-flipping fires a trio of fireworks from your skateboard, an ice-cream dash from building to pool and back again, where the more you carry, the more your head inflates and slows you down, and a game of 'Tony Says', where you must only perform the tricks the skateboarder asks you for, Simon Says style. Depending on how well you complete said tasks, you'll be rewarded with one to three stars - amass fifteen over all the missions in an area and you'll unlock the next locale.
The missions are all well and good, offering a fairly varied set of things to do, with many being easy enough to pass but a fair challenge to master - but they're made all the more difficult by one of the biggest new additions for Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 - the new 'Slam' move. As the name suggests, this infuriating trick sees your skater slamming themselves into the ground like a tonne of bricks, which, in a game that's mostly about getting as much air time to squeeze as many moves into as possible, is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. And that's before you factor in the amount of times we find ourselves 'slamming' out of combos at the worst possible moment and ruining the whole thing - it's especially prevalent when you're attempting long grinds with multiple tricks linked together for a high score.
Another issue is that Tony Hawk's has a tendency to hang for 10-15 seconds when completing missions or hidden bonus objectives - and if you happen to fulfil the latter while going for the former, then kiss your chances of getting that elusive high score goodbye, as the timer keeps ticking while your skater's left sticking. That being said, the stuff you unlock from finishing the hidden bonus objectives is pretty swish, whether it's a new outfit, skateboard or character design. Of which one of the unlockables is everyone's favourite noodle-limbed father figure, Octodad - just sayin'.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 does have it's problems - an over-reliance on online, an irritating slam move and a few technical difficulties to say the least - but on the whole, it's not a terrible game. It still captures the skateboarding fun of it's predecessors, thanks to it's easy-to-pick-up-and-play controls and wide range of wacky missions, but those expecting anything drastically different or new will be disappointed. Temper your expectations somewhat, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 can be a fairly fun blast from the past.