Tony Hawk Ride Updated Impressions

The Tony Hawk series returns to its exotic roots as we skate our way through a pair of new levels set in Spanish castles and a German airport.

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The Tony Hawk series took a year off in 2008, and in that time, the venerable skating franchise has undergone a dramatic makeover in more ways than one. Not only has new developer Robomodo introduced a brighter aesthetic and more arcade-inspired physics, but more importantly, it has also come up with a new way to control the game by using a skateboard-shaped peripheral. Rather than guiding the game's roster of professional skaters using buttons and analog sticks, you'll be setting foot on a brand-new controller designed to mimic the feel of riding a board in real life. We got our fist opportunity to test out this board at E3 2009 back in June, and with GamesCom 2009 underway here in Cologne, we recently had the chance to give it another go at the Activision press area.

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What's New: This was our first opportunity to check out a pair of new environments: Toledo, Spain and Frankfurt, Germany. In the Toledo level, we tried out the Speed Run mode, which focuses more on getting from point A to point B in as little time as possible rather than doing big airs and amazing tricks. The level had a very old-world European look to it, with the skater cruising through brick castles, medieval plazas and open markets. And while the look was rooted in real-life Toledo, the design was a bit more outrageous, with big jumps and bigger drops appearing as a frequent theme in the level. We played on the lowest difficulty level, which places your skater on a predetermined path that removes the worry of guiding yourself left and right and focuses your efforts on jumping over obstacles and hitting speed-boosting power-ups at the right moment.

The next level we played was a retro vert-skating competition set in a halfpipe sandwiched between two airplanes at the Frankfurt airport. The vert skating competitions couldn't feel any more different from the speed runs because here it's all about the tricks. You start at the top of the ramp and then swipe your foot by the side of the board to tell the game you want to push yourself down into the ramp. After that, it's a matter of pulling off tricks with the skateboard controller as soon as your character hits the top of each side of the ramp. You can do combinations of popping the nose or tail and tilting the board to do flip tricks or reach down and put your hand in front of the controller's four infrared sensors to register various grabs. To get really technical, you can do stalls at the top of the ramp by being a bit more subtle with your board movements. If you do well enough, you'll build up your signature moments gauge, which you can activate to collect more points. It also turns on special visual effects, such as colorful tracers following your characters every movement.

What's Different: Nothing has really changed since we saw Ride at E3. If anything, we've grown more accustomed to using the skateboard peripheral. The first time we set foot on it, the device took some getting used to, but with more opportunities to play Ride, we've come to feel much more comfortable on the skateboard. On the vert ramp, we managed to get a good feel for how to steer by leaning from side to side when you're not in the air because if you avoid steering altogether, you'll simply hit the curved slope used to drop into the ramp and launch out of the entire thing rather than go straight up into the air as usual. Beyond that, we got a better feel for how the game recognizes the difference between different fliptricks depending on how much pop you give the board when first doing an Ollie and the like.

What's the Same: Tony Hawk Ride is still the same bright, colorful, and arcade-inspired take on the skateboarding genre it was when we last saw the game. It's certainly no simulation of the sport in the way it handles real-world physics. However, with a variety of difficulty levels that dramatically alter the way you control the game, players should settle into their own groove without much hassle.

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What Impression the Game Made This Time: The most important part of Tony Hawk Ride's success will be determined by how well players take to the new skateboard peripheral. For our part, we've managed to enjoy using the controller more every time we've set foot on it. That's certainly not a bad sign.

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