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Tony Hawk: RIDE
Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Robomodo
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 8 (Local Taking Turns); 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Extreme)/ Simulation/ Health and Exercise

Graphics & Sound:
The in-game graphics in Tony Hawk: RIDE have a strange, gritty feel to them, especially in the menus, where it seems that RIDE sought to create its own personal "urban graffiti" style, primarily by overuse of "color burn" filters (for those familiar with Photoshop). The result is a sort of cartoon-ized over saturated video that gets points for style (or at least effort), if not for clarity. The style stays fairly consistent throughout the game. Sadly, the voices' synching with the moving lips of the skaters in their videos as they explain things is anything but. On the rare occasion, the audio for a skater will match their lips in their video. More often, however, the audio and video is not just noticeably off, but laughably so, stirring Kung-Fu movie nostalgia of stolen rice cakes and mouths moving for literally seconds after the audio has stopped. This is sometimes funny; always distracting.

There is a Create-A-Skater Mode in RIDE, and I highly advise making your own skater character to play as, especially if you are playing in a party. We made skaters that looked like each of us and that helped us realize who was supposed to be playing. Often, we would forget what order we were supposed to be skating in and someone ended up skating for someone else, but at least with the custom skaters, we knew (when the turn started) who was supposed to be on deck. I found that the customization variety was a bit limited, since you select from an existing face, rather than tweaking one up from scratch, but I could generally find enough clothing options to approximate each person's wardrobe enough that we could recognize them. One thing that was surprisingly limited was hair styles. When I tried to create a player for Han Chi, I was forced to put a beanie on his head to hide the fact that they don't have a long hair selection. This is strange, since there are pro skaters in the game with long hair. You can unlock items for the Create-A-Skater Mode as you progress, but these seem to be limited to the clothing options and all I've seen so far are variations of existing items, such as different prints for shirts I already had access to. The music is a wide selection of grunge-y, alternative music, with enough beat to keep the game going. This is not my typical music preference, but then, I don't go hang out with the skating types much, either. (Mind you, I do have two skateboards from back in the day, but these days they're not-so-much for Ollies and Nollies and have, instead, become more often used as Dollies. C'est la vie.)

Tony Hawk: RIDE seeks to use a hardware gimmick to make playing a skateboarding game more realistic. Instead of the traditional "Press (X) to Ollie in the game," the game attempts to arrive at a more natural "Ollie to Ollie in the game." There are some issues stemming from the controller itself that limit the success of this approach, but the target market is also worth considering. While I have no doubt that there are a lot of skaters who also play videogames, the prototypical "skater" has a much more athletic physique than the prototypical "gamer," owing to the fact that they, in fact, get exercise - in the form of riding a skateboard, which it should be noted, is actually... exhausting. Now, if we consider the fact that this is a console game that costs upward of $120 USD, about the same price that one can pick up an official Tony Hawk "Birdhouse (CPX1036) Tony Hawk Full Skull Series 7.25-Inch Mini Complete Skateboard" for their kid on Amazon, then it comes down to a matter of whether your child is skating in the streets or the living room. I would imagine that there are a lot of parents out there that would much prefer the safety of their living room to the limitless opportunities to remove layers of skin in a concrete and asphalt jungle, but the "coolness" factor isn't the same. Also, if you consider that the reason that a lot of gamers play skating games in the first place is because the like skateboarding (the scene, the sport, the concept), but aren't fit enough to actually ride a skateboard. Tony Hawk: RIDE raises the "cost of entry" to play a skateboarding videogame from mere hours of practice and possible finger blisters to physical balance, dexterity and flexibility that is somewhat less than needed to actually ride a skateboard... but not much.

The game itself features six cities from around the world, with multiple areas in each city, with one or three types of gameplay in each area. Most areas feature three game types: Speed Run, Trick and Challenge. Speed Run is a race to the finish, where you can shave seconds off your score by hitting certain green clock icons and will have seconds added to your time if you fail to avoid red clock icons. Trick is also timed, but during your available time, you are attempting to earn as many points as possible by performing tricks. Challenge is just that, small challenges containing two or three tricks to pull off at certain parts of a small run. Pull off all of the tricks, and you've completed that challenge. Miss one (even if it's the first one) and you'll still ride through the rest of the challenge, but you've already lost this go 'round and will have to try again on the next pass. This wait can be extremely frustrating, especially when there's that one trick you can't seem to pull off correctly. Perhaps having the game keep track of your successes and giving it to you when you've managed to accomplish all of the task items across several attempts would have made the game too easy, but handling it this way simply causes frustration.

Some of the areas aren't normal skate courses, but are, instead, "Vert" locations, i.e., half pipes. For these, you are instructed to turn the skateboard sideways, parallel to the television, instead of pointing toward it. These areas are specifically for tricks, but of the Vert variety. There are no "Speed Run" or "Challenge" options in a Vert location.

In addition to the normal game types in each area, there is also "Free Skate," which allows you to practice things and scope out the area without worrying about points and scores. However, if you're playing on Casual difficulty, you will still be ushered toward the end of the level, as if you were playing the "Speed Run" game type. No, I don't have any idea why.

There are different modes of gameplay available: there is Single Player, Party Mode and Online Modes. Single Player offers two game modes: Road Trip, which is essentially Career Mode, and Exhibition, which allows you to just free skate in any of the cities that you've unlocked on any difficulty level. (This is only true of Exhibition; in Road Trip Mode, unlocked cities are only available in the difficulty level in which they were unlocked.) These cities include Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Frankfurt, Barcelona and Toledo.

Online Modes include Quick Match, Custom Match and Create Session, but as the game was not yet released, I was not able to test the Online functionality as of this writing.

Skateboarding is an interesting sport. One where the easiest of entry levels (simply riding) doesn't take a whole lot of finesse, just good balance and some lower body strength, mainly. However, to do it really fast or to pull off complex maneuvers (or both) takes a great deal more skill, focus, balance, strength, endurance, dexterity and, well, let's face it, armor class. Tony Hawk: RIDE is not merely looking to let you ride (slowly) around an area; you are, in fact, supposed to do so quickly and/or while doing tricks. And, since there is a board controller involved, this can be physically taxing. No, not as much as actually skating, but much more than playing, say Tekken 6 or even some of the Wii titles. If you are competitive, you're going to sweat. Count on it. Due to this, the difficulty of even playing the game will be high for those who don't have very good balance and should be considered on the list of things that you might want to ask your doctor before attempting, right next to skydiving and riding that ride that your friends want to go on at that theme park you're going to next month.

That being said, there are three difficulty levels in RIDE, and they are vastly different. Casual is the easiest of the three, and in this one, you are pulled along the course, much like a pull toy or a water-skier. You can do tricks and speed yourself up by pushing off, but you don't tend to slow down naturally. Confident expects that you're familiar with the game and you don't need to be lead along so much, while Hardcore, the most difficult, leaves you mostly to your own devices and has much more sensitive controls, making turning in a controlled manner much more difficult, while making turning in a tight circle much more easy, yet rarely desired.

In Career Mode, you select your character and then select your difficulty level. Mind you, unlocking a city in a given difficulty level doesn't not grant access to that city in other difficulty settings, so if you decide to switch difficulty levels, you're looking at starting your career over again at that difficulty. You can, however, advance in all three difficulty levels separately of each other and your progress is stored separately for all three, so trying out Hardcore, for example, will not wipe out your progress in Casual; you'll simply start Hardcore at the beginning and be allowed, when you desire, to return to where you left off in Casual.

When we played RIDE during a party, the quirkiness of the controller added two new "positions" in addition to "skater." First, was "Grab Man." Your grab man is that friend who is sitting or on all fours next to you as you stand on the board, trying to stay out of your clearance room until you say "Now!" at which time, he sweeps in and puts his hand in the way of the appropriate sensor to execute a "Grab" (hence the name). The fun part of watching a "Grab Man" is the Twister-esque moves he must pull off to avoid tripping the other sensors in the process of executing his duties. The second ad hoc title to come out of this game was "Handler." Your Handler is the guy that keeps the game going for you without requiring that you jump down off the board, find the controller and press a button or make a selection, then run back to the board. Without a designated Handler, this can be quite annoying, but with a good Handler or two on call, you aren't even sure if it's happening or not. Did a Handler just select Continue for you, or did the board accept your input that time? Like the Ninja, the best Handlers remain silent and undetected, striking quickly at the exact moment needed, then evading detection.

Game Mechanics:
One thing that is annoyingly inconsistent in Tony Hawk: RIDE is in controlling menus with the skateboard controller. The skateboard controller can only be used "during a skate session." However, there are menus inside of skate sessions that you can navigate up and down through menus by tilting the board left (to move up an option) and right (to move down an option) and then Ollie (pop a wheelie) to select the current option. This isn't the easiest control scheme to pull off, but with some practice it works. However, if you, in the process of selecting your next endeavor, happen to "step back out of the session," then you are greeted with a menu that looks much like the session menus, but won't let you interact with it via the controller. This doesn't make a lick of sense. This means that you have to get off of the board, go pick up the controller and select your next event (we're talking about a couple of seconds, at most) and then return to the board to continue playing. This really "rips you out of the game" for no apparent reason. Furthermore, this transition from using the gamepad to using the board controller again is marked by being told to push the Start button on the board controller. This button is a relatively large button on the side of the board, that can (technically) be pushed with your foot while standing on the board with your other foot. While this is technically possible, it's not necessarily easy to do, especially if you're wearing shoes. The toe of my shoe was big enough that I had to catch the button just right to press the Start button while standing on the board. This frustration can lead to using the gamepad to click Start here, instead (yes, you can), stepping off of the controller and giving it a (gentle... well, gentle-ish) kick in the Start button or even having your "Grab Guy" or "Handler" take care of this task for you. To further irritate, occasionally, the board controller isn't recognized for menu navigation in the session menus. This may correspond to when you've opened a new city, as this was what occurred the last time I noticed the issue, but it is quite annoying when the screen is telling you to Ollie to continue and the board won't advance the menu. This, at least sometimes, appears to be caused if you do some 180s or 360s and literally turn the board around during play; the game seems to flip directions sometimes to compensate and, when this happens, it expects you to Nollie to select an option, rather than Ollie. (That is, it is expecting you to pop a wheelie from the other end of the board.)

Personally, I see myself coming back to this game over and over again. Despite its multitudinous issues, it's a skateboarding simulator and I'm, quite frankly, a bit scared of the skating community around my neighborhood, so synthetic skateboarding is, well, my best option. Additionally, it's quite a workout and, as a game reviewer and computer programmer, exercise is something I don't get enough of. RIDE is frustrating, but it can be fun (or at least challenging) despite its flaws.

Sadly, in the end, Tony Hawk: RIDE is one of those heart-breaking cases of what might have been. The locations are limiting and cramped, compared to the vast skatescapes of previous Tony Hawk games. The controller is novel, but there are definite issues that detract from gameplay, while the high physicality makes RIDE less approachable to less physical gamers (say, half of us). And, although I have had the game in-house for a shorter-than-usual testing period, I expect that over the long term, standing on (well, any) board and grinding it (literally) into the carpet is going to have a negative impact to the longevity of the carpet... but just in this one area. Mind you, I could do the same thing by simply doing the twist in the same spot for hours on end, but I don't have a videogame that awards me points for that. (Not yet, I suppose that will be a Natal game.) If you're athletic enough to be a skater, but you're allergic to the sun or if you have $120 and nothing else to do with it or if you are planning on replacing your carpets and want to "get your money's worth out of this old one" before your throw it out, you might consider picking up Tony Hawk: RIDE. For most people, however, there will be at least one aspect that limits their enjoyment of this title enough to decide that their $120 is best spent on something else... such as, perhaps, DJ Hero.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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