Activision invited us to check out a handful of upcoming titles last night in midtown New York City. Among all of the titles we had hands-on time with, Tony Hawk: Ride certainly stood out. Not only was it fun to play, but the fact that Mr. Tony Hawk himself sat in to tell us about the game added another dimension to the experience.
I thought I had heard someone say "Tony Hawk is here" as Scott and I entered the Activision demo, but I just brushed that off as "Oh, the new Tony Hawk game is here." Sure enough, the legend himself walked into our private game demo room and explained to us the process in which Tony Hawk: Ride came to be.
Hawk was honest, saying the franchise had run its course with a conventional controller. Now that game peripherals are becoming much more commonplace, it was clear that a skateboard controller needed to be introduced as an obvious evolutionary step.
After hopping on the board for the first time I was immediately transported back to 1994 when I had a brief stint with the sport. The accessory itself is simply a skateboard deck without trucks or wheels. It feels solid, though it may take a minute or two to find your balance.
The board is an impressive piece of hardware that's loaded up with motion sensing technology and four infrared sensors. When your hand breaks one of the IR beams coming out from the board, the game interprets that as a grab. When you've stopped, a drag of the foot on either side will get you moving again. The motion sensing comes into play when you want to do spins in the air to increase trick points.
The demo level we played through didn't involve turning--instead we skated on a sort of on-rails line that had us concentrating more on performing jumps, grinds, and grab tricks. A regular jump (ollie) is made by kicking the front of the board up by slamming on the heel. From here you can spin around or do a grab. It took a few ollies to get the hang of things, but by the end of the line I was successfully able to perform a few grabs.
Fans of the other games in the franchise are in for a surprise--Ride is completely different in almost every way. Those who have been used to just using their thumbs will certainly get a workout.
When Activision invited us over to the Flatotel to play Tony Hawk: Ride, we knew we were going to get a chance to play around with the company's new wireless skateboard peripheral. What we didn't know was that Mr. Hawk himself would be lurking around the premises. As we entered the room we spied him, and because we hadn't been alerted, we were thrown off our game a little. Or at least I was. I wasn't sure whether to make eye contact with Tony or his board. Thankfully, someone else was showing off his skills during this moment to defuse the awkwardness. He was doing incredible things: setting the board on fire, flying through the air, grinding. I felt intimidated.
The first thing that struck me about the game part of Ride is that it's got a more cartoony, cell-shaded look. Also, the tracks we saw were more of a lengthy course-run type than open skate parks. The board itself was nicely made, and smaller than I'd expected. It's the size and shape of a real skateboard, minus the wheels. Or at least I think so--I've never ridden a skateboard before.
Tony Hawk asked, as I was getting on and clearly apprehensive, if I was regular or "goofy footed." I had no idea what he was talking about. Then he asked if I surfed or snowboarded. The answer to those was no. Clearly I was failing the sports test. I was also afraid, stepping on, that I'd break something. The board was comfy, but it did wobble to simulate left-to-right movement. A complex series of accelerometers and IR sensors on all four sides worked to indicate board tricks. I got my skating going by sliding my foot on the carpet, a neat trick. Next I was asked to press back to start a board-grab, which threw off my balance. I felt like I was going to fall backward. The end result was that I succeeded, but I stumbled forward afterward, resulting in my skater avatar slowly approaching a half pipe and half-collapsing over it like a drunkard. My real-life and virtual selves were both hopeless athletes.
Ride is meant to be played by sharing a board, passing it back and forth for friends to play. This is wiser than having multiple boards, which would surely result in some sort of horrible living room accident. The controls are smooth, the board does seem to have neat tricks, but this is a peripheral you're only going to use for skateboarding. Will this be the Guitar Hero of Tony Hawks? Time will tell, but it's certainly a more physical experience than Guitar Hero.