Skateboarding video games have always had one very obvious control quirk that separates them from the real sport: You use your thumbs to control your rider. Activision is looking to fix this disconnect with Tony Hawk Ride, the latest entry in the series and one that completely eschews traditional controls. We had our first chance to check out the proprietary skateboarding peripheral today, and came away with a few scraped knees and a haunting look at a more active future.
You control Tony Hawk very similar to how you would an actual skateboard. The controller looks like the deck of the board, so there are no wheels to worry about, and there are sensors along the side. To move your rider, you kick like you would an actual skateboard and watch your rider take off down the pavement. If you tilt your body, your rider will do the same, letting you steer. If you slowly raise the front of the board and keep it hanging in the air, you'll do a manual, and if you do the same thing quickly, you do an ollie.
Needless to say, if you haven't skateboarded in real life before, the controls take a little while to get used to. The difference between performing an ollie and doing a manual is pretty slim, so it's possible to leap into the air when you just wanted to ride your tail, which can be kind of annoying. Once you're in the air, you can twist the board in various directions, which results in different tricks. This didn't feel precise, but the game didn't ask for any specific moves, so it was fun to just twist and twirl in air with reckless abandon.
There were two different trials on the show floor. The first was an introduction to street riding. There were three different basic challenges to meet to get you used to the controls. The first was holding a manual for 50 feet, which required a lot of balance but was easy enough once we got the hang of it. After that, we had to ollie off of a ramp, which was easy to do and resulted in a slow-motion side shot in which we were able to add a little extra flair on to our jump. After that was the grinding portion, which was simple to do thanks to the stickiness of the rails. If you ollie near them, you will be sucked right down, which makes it possible to do various other tricks while you're grinding a long rail.
After the street portion, we took to the air in a half-pipe session. The subtleties of the ground portion are thrown away here. You rocket back and forth, and simply have to worry about what kind of cool trick you want to pull off when you reach the end. You can grab on to the board by swinging your hands near the side sensors, and it was fun mixing this in with the various flips and spins. It wasn't possible to crash, though, and the most incompetent maneuvering resulted only in a slight reduction in speed. Wipeouts will hopefully be added in the final version.
Aside from the controls, the biggest difference between Ride and its recent predecessors is the structure. The open world has been removed here, replaced with minichallenges and events that keep the focus on riding rather than exploration. All told, Ride is interesting at this point. It feels so different from other skateboarding games that it's a little difficult to get the hang of at first, but it does replicate the feeling of the actual sport better than a handheld controller. Ride is scheduled for release later this year.