Face-Off: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5

Digital Foundry digs deeper into the nightmarish release.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 should have been a triumphant send-off for the beloved, highly popular franchise. Instead, what has been delivered is an experience that feels unfinished, unpolished and in no fit state for release. Filled with multiple bugs and lacking optimisation, the birdman's latest - and most likely final - game suffers from numerous issues ranging from characters clipping through scenery, stuttering music and cinematics, along with noticeable texture streaming issues. With the Tony Hawk license due to run out at the end of this year it seems likely that developer Robomodo had to work to an extremely tight deadline to get the game out on time, resulting in a product that really needed a few more months of development before it was ready for release.

Unsurprisingly, there is a hefty 6GB patch available to download at launch, in addition to the 7.8GB of data directly installed directly from the disc itself. There have been reports that the main missions remain locked until this patch has been installed, but we found that this is not the case: the core missions, along with the 'create a park' and tutorial modes are all available right off the disc without having our consoles hooked up to an Internet connection. The day one patch is something of a necessity though, particularly on PS4, as it improves the stuttering opening logo cinematics, the slow streaming of textures and smoothes out the frame-rate to a certain degree during gameplay. Meanwhile, on Xbox One, the update adds an opening video consisting of skateboarding clips present on the pre-patched PS4 version. However, beyond this we see hardly any difference in other areas before and after the update is applied.

To illustrate, it takes between 15-30 seconds for high resolution assets to load on Xbox One, with blurry areas easily visible across parts the ground, walls, and half pipes - something the patch doesn't seem to fix. Matters are improved on PS4 - all assets usually resolve on-screen within a few seconds once the patch is installed. The way the game deals with streaming assets after a location is loaded also appears to have a noticeable impact in performance on Xbox One too. Frame-rates are more severely affected while blurry artwork is on-screen, and we suspect that streaming in assets during gameplay is causing a noticeable performance bottleneck.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 targets at 60fps update, but the game often has trouble maintaining a stable level of fluidity without dropping frames or introducing screen tearing. Alpha effects are usually the cause, but performance is also impacted on the Create-A-Park stages before they have been populated with objects.

Performance-wise, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 initially kicks off running at 60fps, though the game isn't able to keep up that level of stability for too long. That said, less demanding missions do seem able to run with some level of consistency. Take one of the less demanding levels in the Berrics location. Here, the player performs tricks and gravity-defying stunts across a range of half-pipes, walls, and rails. Both platforms adhere to the desired 60fps for extended periods of time, allowing for consistent levels of response from the controls. Small dips do crop up during play, but nothing that unduly compromises the experience.

However, when faced with more bombastic challenges, the appearance of particles and alpha effects cause heavy deviations in frame-rate, with larger explosions - such as those caused by the popping of beach balls on an early mission - greatly impacting the stability of the gameplay. Drops ranging from the mid-40s to between 50-60fps are commonplace here, along with the addition of noticeable screen-tear, leading to pockets of jerky movement that are hard to ignore. On-the-fly texture streaming also tends to lead to heavier drops in fluidity, particularly on Xbox One, where the issue is noticeably more prominent. Retrying the mission once all high quality assets have loaded dramatically improves the frame-rate, and while performance drops aren't completely eliminated, the amount of stuttering is noticeably reduced.

Performance issues can also appear in environments where there is little going on. The bare locations in the create-a-park mode tend to suffer from frequent bouts of stuttering on Xbox One before we have even populated the stage. Here, even modest 5-10fps frame drops have a notable impact on smoothness. A look at frame-times reveals exactly what is going on: during these drops we see a quick succession of duplicate frames delivered one after the other in small pockets in addition to repeated tearing on many occasions, causing visible stutter in the action. Frames are delivered in anything between 16-80ms gaps when performance is impacted, causing both judder along with a momentary reduction in controller response that can easily throw off the timing when performing complex trick combinations.

PlayStation 4Xbox One
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 hands in a native 1080p visual package on both PS4 and Xbox One that appears crisp and clear. However, the lack of anti-aliasing leads to jaggies and shimmering on distant scenery on a regular basis.
PlayStation 4Xbox One
The Xbox One game operates using a low level of anisotropic filtering that preserves some distance texture detail. By comparison the PS4 version uses a lower quality trilinear solution which leads to blurring of texture from oblique angles and far distances.
PlayStation 4Xbox One
After the day one update is applied, streaming is much improved on PS4, with high quality textures loading up within a few seconds. Sadly, the experience on the Xbox One is noticeably worse - low resolution art is frequently visible long after the player is free to roam the environment.
PlayStation 4Xbox One
After the day one update is applied, streaming is much improved on PS4, with high quality textures loading up within a few seconds. Sadly, the experience on the Xbox One is noticeably worse - low resolution art is frequently visible long after the player is free to roam the environment.
PlayStation 4Xbox One
Effects work is deployed identically across both PS4 and Xbox One. Here's a look at how flat alpha sprites are used to create splashes of water as Tony Hawk skates through the puddle on the ground.
PlayStation 4Xbox One
Motion blur makes its way into Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5. The effect is a match on both consoles, and is used to enhance the game's sense of velocity when moving at speed.
PlayStation 4Xbox One
Shadows appear well-defined across all formats, with these elements featuring smooth edges across PS4 and Xbox One.

From a general technical perspective, developer Robomodo delivers a native 1080p presentation on both consoles, while omitting the use of anti-aliasing (a post-process solution could conceivably kill the cel-shaded effect). This results in pleasingly crisp imagery and texture work that isn't smoothed over by any post-process blurring, but the lack of AA also means that jaggies and shimmering are visible across distant scenery, lending the game an almost last-gen feel. This feeling extends to other areas of the title's graphical make-up: lighting often appears flat, while surfaces lack the use of physically-based materials that is quickly becoming a standard for PS4 and Xbox One titles. In that respect, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 feels more like a low budget production as opposed to a full-price, boxed release.

On the plus side, graphical quality is mostly a match between both platforms, with shadows, alpha effects and motion blur appearing identical. That said, the Xbox One game features one solitary benefit over the PlayStation 4 release in the form of anisotropic filtering, which allows for better resolved texture detail at steep angles and when viewed a distance. By contrast, PS4 uses a lower quality trilinear approach, resulting in blurrier artwork.

Clearly, Robomodo has a long way to go before Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 can be considered a worthwhile swansong for the long-running franchise. The dated visuals could be overlooked if the core gameplay was up to scratch, but the odd collision detection problems, randomly unreliable physics, and glitches that cause missions markers to become unselectable ruin the fun. Both Activision and the developers have said that they will be working to fix the variety of bugs and flaws throughout the game. How much the finished product improves remains to be seen at this point, with the game's problems extending beyond the technical realm - the core single-player experience lacks focus and direction, manifesting as a mishmash of old ideas culled from the franchise, though behind all the issues lurks a potentially sound, old-school gameplay experience.

Hopefully the existing bugs are cleared up via future updates to provide a stable, glitch-free experience, but until then it's impossible to recommend Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 on either platform in its current state. However, for those still looking to take the plunge, it's the PS4 version that offers up the better experience at this time: aside from the poorer quality texture filtering, frame-rate drops are slightly less frequent and texture streaming is less of an annoyance.

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David Bierton

David Bierton



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