Tony Hawk Ride Hands-On Impressions

The training wheels come off in our last preview before this game hits stores.

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After lying dormant for the past two years, the Tony Hawk franchise will soon be reintroduced to the public courtesy of Robomodo. This Chicago-based developer is the team behind the upcoming Tony Hawk Ride, a series reboot built around a brand-new control scheme that's less "Press X to ollie" and more "Hope you did some stretches this morning." Yes, as you've likely heard by now, the game uses a full-size skateboard controller that's designed to register all manner of turns, tilts, and hand movements to provide what Robomodo is hoping will become the most realistic representation of the sport on a video game console.

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I've seen Ride in various stages since it was first unveiled earlier this year. Early on, I was shown a number of very focused game modes like downhill speed runs or halfpipe events. When combined with the casual difficulty that takes care of all your steering for you, these modes provide an easy introduction to the controller by keeping your attention focused on the next trick you're planning to attempt. This time around, I decided to take off the proverbial training wheels and boost the difficulty to "Confident" (Ride's version of normal difficulty) and take to the Venice Beach level in free skate.

I'll admit, this wasn't a purely scientific pursuit. I've always been more of a fan of the freedom that free skate offers over the other challenge-based modes. But the first thing I noticed wasn't a result of going to free skate--it was a result of changing the difficulty level. When you jump up from casual to confident, you'll have to handle all the turning and steering on your own. I started off by making good friends with a number of trees, brick walls, and metal fences before I settled into a groove and got a better sense for steering the board around. I still wasn't great at steering, mind you, but I was noticeably better.

But once I got that taken care of, I did pretty well, all things considered. This was basically my first attempt at the game under real-world living-room conditions, having first played Ride in the rushed chaos of E3 and later in a swelteringly hot demo room in Cologne. Here I was able to pick up on a lot of tricks right away, rolling up to handrails and kickflipping into a 50-50 grind with ease, twisting the board sideways to tweak the grind for added points, and stringing moves together by leaning back into a manual. The Venice level also has a nice bowl, which gave me a chance to learn how to pull handplants and get a pretty good sense of how the infared sensors turn your hand gestures into grab tricks.

After I proved just how great of a pretend skateboarder I am during that time in free skate, Robomodo president Josh Tsui took me on a tour of some of the game's other features. There's a fairly decent character creator that lets you make a custom skater to center the career mode around (the pro skaters are there to offer you guidance along the way). While there aren't any sliders or skin color palettes, there is a lot of licensed clothing to choose from. Also, you can give your character dreadlocks and a handlebar mustache, and that's perfectly OK with me.

Pro skaters also offer you tips in career mode through live-action videos.
Pro skaters also offer you tips in career mode through live-action videos.

Tsui also showed what players can expect from the game's later stages, which get increasingly more elaborate and ridiculous. It all culminates in a final stage that answers the question "What has Tony Hawk been up to these past two years?" The answer--at least for the video game version of Tony Hawk--is that he has been building the ultimate skate park, in Japan, designed after that country's greatest gift to the rest of the world: the wacky game show. At certain points on this course, you'll go from skating past giant mosquitoes to feeling like Godzilla smashing through a city. It's crazy.

The takeaway from what I played is that the tricks themselves are intuitive and rewarding, but the act of setting up for a trick--moving into position, steering toward an obstacle, kicking for speed--is still quite tricky. I think that how much fun you have with the game will depend a lot on how quickly you can adjust to this aspect of the game. It won't take long to find out--Tony Hawk Ride is due out for release next Tuesday, November 17.

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