Tony Hawk: RIDE is looking to break new ground when it launches next month, thanks to a newly developed controller. We were lucky enough to get our hands and feet on the new game at a recent preview event, and here is what we thought.
Let's start with the controller, after all, that's the novel aspect. Designed to look and feel like a skateboard, the controller is wireless, giving you complete freedom of movement, and packed out with sensors so it knows what you are doing.
The first concern about any controller you stand on would be build quality: it is going to support a fully grown man wobbling around on it? Most certainly yes: it didn't complain or creak underfoot when we started playing, although it has a max load of 21 stone, which hopefully won't be a problem for most.
It isn't just the size and shape of the controller that resembles a skateboard, it has also been finished with grip tape, so it feels like a skateboard too. The bottom has been sculpted to give you the motions you'd expect, with a central ridge allowing left and right tilting of the board like you'd get out of the trucks on a skateboard. You also get raised ends, so moving onto the nose or tail is possible, with the tail playing a fairly large part in proceedings here.
Down the left-hand side of the controller you find your conventional Xbox controller buttons (although stretched out in a line) with the most significant being the large Start button which will reside under the heel of your right foot (if regular) and can easily be kicked with your toes when you want to start a game.
In our session we didn't use the other controls at all, so at this point it isn't clear exactly what they'll be used for, however, some might want them to navigate menus without having to use the regular controller, or the menu motion controls.
That's right, you can navigate the menus using the skateboard too, moving it left and right to move up and down menus, and an "ollie" to select (stepping back onto the tail to raise the board up). It can be a little fiddly at first, but you can easily hop off and do it with one foot, rather than whilst standing on it.
We played through a couple of levels which saw us riding down an LA storm sewer and another through a trick park. There are various game modes available (not all were available for us to play), with the time trial, challenges, free ride and so on. There are also various difficulty settings which makes it much easier to pick-up and play. Some game modes are very much on-rails, with your movements making very little difference to the route you take. In these modes you have to concentrate on tricks and timing.
We found the first few times we played through a level it felt a little unnatural, but you soon get a feel for it and can begin to explore the range of possibilities on offer. Balance stops being an issue pretty quickly, but your physical involvement in the game can see you moving around a fair but - we started off in front of the screen, but over the course of a level drifted off as we moved across the floor.
The controller is equipped with two accelerometers which can detect pitch, roll and yaw, so it knows how you are moving the deck around. This is accompanied by IR sensors on both sides and the top of the nose and the tail.
These IR sensors detect movements around the controller and will detect when you swipe your foot past to push off or gain speed once moving. It will also detect your hands when you move them into range, which is how it knows you want to perform various grabs. Obviously, you can't just stick your arm out, you have to crouch and get your hand into the right place. It feels a little weird, but saves you having to actually grab the deck.
Performing tricks does take some practise and longer than we in our play. One thing is clear though, and that's that you have to be positive in your actions. You will look a little stupid, but once you see the results on-screen no one will be mocking you any more.
Ollies and grinds are easy, especially on the casual skater mode, with a simple lift of the nose of the controller popping you into an ollie. There were plenty of edges to grind around the course we were riding too, so even as a novice you can dive right into some basic tricks. Kick flips are pretty simple too to mix up some of the jumps and dismounts along the way.
There is a fair amount of branding in the game which some like and some dislike, but many of the main controls take place in a T-Mobile Sidekick frame, a decision that might be regretted considering the recent data loss.
It is a real blast and hugely addictive. If you like existing skate games with a handheld controller then Tony Hawk: RIDE takes things to a new level. Yes, you do have to get off the sofa. Yes, there is more to the game than carefully timed button presses. But it makes it completely different to games in the past.
But being different doesn't always mean better. Of course there is a premium to pay for this controller, and at £99 it is double or nearly three times what you might pay for a rival title. It might also price some gamers out, especially when the future of the controller is an unknown. Will there be future titles for the controller? Will it branch into snowboarding too? We have asked Activision these questions and will update if we find anything out.
Is it like skateboarding? No, it isn't. You don't actually have to perform the tricks you start pulling off on-screen, but no doubt there will be some who will try to. The learning curve seemed to be just about right to, with the free ride offering the chance to just skate around and try stuff out. We liked the game during our preview session, but we'll reserve final judgement until we've lived with it for a while.