Too Real to be Fun, a Final nail in Tony Hawk’s Coffin

Posted in The Industry by Michael Pica on the December 14th, 2009

I’ve been a fan and avid player of the Tony Hawk series since the series started. That’s not entirely true, it’s been more an on again off again relationship but I think now it’s safe to say it’s over…

I was introduced to the franchise in college when a friend of mine scored a pirate pre-release beta copy of THPS2  several months before the game was due to be released. I was instantly hooked, I got most of the way through the game then bought the official copy for Dreamcast once that was released. I played the shit out of it, that is to say I not only beat every last challenge in every last area, I also completed 100% of the gap list and essentially drained every possible once of gaming possible out of it. Once I was done with that I went and bought the original Pro Skater and did the same with that. I missed Pro-Skater 3 simply because they didn’t release a version for the Dreamcast and I didn’t own a Sony console at the time, but I bought Pro-Skater 4  and I conqued that with the same vigor that I had the first 2.

I consider THPS4 to be the peak of the series, by THPS3 they had streamlined the game mechanics to a fine science and begun to give the game some intelectual depth. Not a skater myself or even really interested in skating at all I learned all kind of information about different proskaters though the game, what they were known for, who invented what, and I even got a small sense of their personalities through thir in-game avatars.

Things then went down-hill with Underground and Underground 2. with these games they had basically decided that doing tricks similar to and learning about real life skaters was boring so they took inspiration from Jackass and Bam Margera with a nod to Saturday morning cartoons and totally trashed any respectability the series had built up to that point. I put up with Underground 1, it was bad but bearable and the only thing that caused me to pre-order Underground 2 was the fact that it was going to have online multiplayer. I was excited about the prospect of seeing how well I stacked up against players around the world. Unfortunately when I brought it home and found out that they had dropped that feature from the Xbox 1 version, and the immature “storyline” was worse than the first Underground game, I promptly returned it to the store the very same day I picked it up.

The next game in the series, American Wasteland didn’t really interest me, but I had just purchased an Xbox 360 and there were very few games, the game was supposidly “returning to it’s roots” and offered a single large open world to skate in. Any release in a franchise that claims to be “returningto it’s roots” is usually too far past jumping the shark to be redeamed. I did enjoy American Wasteland though. I was somewhat annoyed by the bad writing and even worse plot line, but it was bearable, the world was interesting and fun to play around in, and I enjoyed it enough to fully conquer the game the way I had the older entries in the franchise.

This got me excited for Project 8, the new graphics engine another fun and interesting looking world, and a storyline more similar to THPS4 than the the later games.

I was let down again, not by the story, or the world,  but by the core fundamentals that made the previous Tony Hawk games so fun to play. They screwed up the game mechanics, in all their graphic updates and engine re-writes they lost their way. I first thought maybe I was rusty, but after dusting off my lauded copy of THPS4 I found that it was no I who had changed… but the game itself. I finished the main story. Not only that but the difficulty of the challenges were by far the most difficult of any Tony Hawk game I had ever played. The broken mechanics with the added diffuclty made the game feel more like a job than the fun and challenging pasttime I had enjoyed in the past.

I held off on buying Proving ground, waiting for the reviews to come in, only to find out it was a lot like Project 8 but with the difficulty turned up even higher, I didn’t buy it until I foud the game on a discount rack some time well after its release… I still haven’t played it.

Now we arrive at RIDE, a new developer, a new gimmic, and a new release that sees even less interest in the series than the previous titles. Its interesting, I remember long before I even knew who Tony Hawk was I would play Sega’s TopSkate in the arcade, I loved that game and I always thought to myself “I wish someone would make this for a home console!” Alas it is here but strangely I’m not at all interested in playing it.

I guess the Wii made me realize that simulation games at home just aren’t that fun for a gamer like me. I do enjoy playing DDR and the various sit-down racers in the arcade, among other physically engaging activities, but when I sit down at home to play I’m trying to relax. the prospect of standing in front of the screen trying to balance myself on a hunk of plastic isn’t nearly as appealing as crashing on the couch after a long day for something that is more mentally stimulating than physically. If I want to spend the energy doing an exciting activity, I’ll do it in the real world as opposed to in front of my TV.

Tony Hawk is apparently bitter that people don’t like his new game and not giving it a “fair shake”. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but from my persective it is simply no longer the type of game I wish to play. It’s like falling in love with a certain model car, and buying a new model every few years, they make some changes here and there, some for the better some for the worse, and then all of a sudden they’re not making cars anymore and they want you to buy a motorcycle…. Well I just don’t want to ride a motorcycle, I have no interest in test driving one, nor does it matter how fast or well handled it is, so I guess I’ll buy my cars some place else.

At first I thought it’s me who’s changed, maybe my tastes are different now, but then again, the game is selling and reviewing like garabage, and the sales figures of most of the Tony Hawk games have seemed to reflect my own feelings on the series up to this point… so maybe it’s not me after all.

I think really this is a failing in the industry as a whole. The Wii brought the simulator home in a way that had never really been accomplished before, and even years later it’s still selling like crazy, the *music* Hero games have done the same in turn, but I think what the industry fails to realize is that the people buying these games aren’t the same who grew up on Mario, Grand Theft Auto and Halo, it’s a new group made up of soccer moms and single dads who wouldn’t otherwise buy video games before the Wii and <instrument>Hero. These kind of people might like playing pretend golf, and pseudo-classic-rock-star, but they’re not the kind of people interested in becoming a pro-skater.

I think the market of people who are interested in playing a realistic skateboard game, are out side practising on an actual board, if nothing else because it’s cheaper than buying the game, and probably more engaging too.

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