Tony Hawk: RIDE

Thin ice.

And so the Battle for All the Money in the World rages on for games publishers. With Sony out of the running following a disastrously bold opening salvo (599 US dollars), Nintendo having let the nice mood cool and Microsoft still trying to convince us it's worth paying 15 quid a month for posh Freeview, here comes Activision Blizzard.

Once again the company appears to be pursuing a policy of exploiting established franchises every year across every platform. But that's just one strategy - others include hiking prices and bundling games with expensive plastic accessories.

Tony Hawk: RIDE must be Activision's idea of a weapon of mass destruction. It's an ancient franchise, it's available for every platform, it costs a hundred quid and it comes with a plastic skateboard. There's just one problem: it's rubbish.

This is not immediately apparent on opening the box. The skateboard is full-size, feels hefty and has a realistic rough surface which provides a firm grip. There are controller buttons along one edge and infrared sensors on each side. The bottom of the board is moulded so it stands flat on the floor but the sloping undersides allow you to tilt the board in different directions. Standing on it and wobbling about feels surprisingly natural, instinctive and realistic.

On booting up the game you're presented with a cut-scene starring Tony Hawk, who attempts to appear excited as he bangs on about "serious electronic wizardry". Calibrating the board is a straightforward process and the settings are stored so you only need to go through it the first time you boot up the game.

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Fact: Tony Hawk appeared in Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol.

There are two single-player modes - Road Trip and Exhibition. The first of these is a basic career mode where you can play as Tony or one of his pro skater mates. Alternatively you can create your own character, choosing from a frightening array of preset avatars and trying to make them look less like paedophiles and strippers by selecting from a range of hideous clothes, faces and haircuts.

Then there are three difficulty modes to choose from. Pick Casual and all you have to worry about is pulling off tricks - the game will automatically steer your character around the courses. It's Tony Hawk on-rails, essentially. You can even see the rails illustrated as big yellow lines running through the environments. Every so often paths fork, as denoted by big yellow arrows, and you can select a direction by tilting the board. But for the most part you can just enjoy pulling off grinds, ollies and other tricks.

And enjoy it you will, for the first half-hour or so. It's fun to see what you can do as you cruise around the courses and it's easy to pull off tricks which look complicated and impressive. Indeed, it's so much fun you could almost ignore the horrendously dated graphics and dreadful presentation.

Almost, but not quite, because it's hard to ignore environments this sparse, ugly and poorly textured. You can't pretend your character's legs haven't just fallen through the scenery, leaving his head to poke through the concrete, the third time it happens. It's impossible not to laugh at the crash animations, which should be publicly exposed on a Channel 5 programme titled When Ragdoll Physics Attack. Characters flail, fall down and collapse pathetically, or go sailing into the air as if stuffed with feathers before crumpling against obstacles like soggy origami.

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