Reviewed: November 2, 2010
Released: October 26, 2010
I will have to admit, I was more than a little bit nervous when I was assigned to cover Tony Hawk: Shred the follow-up release to last year’s Tony Hawk RIDE – the motion-controlled skateboarding game that single-handedly polarized the gaming community into rival factions; RIDE lovers vs. RIDE haters. There are few games in history that garnered such unbalanced review scores as RIDE – with scores ranging from 1’s to 9’s (or the equivalent) on any given day, I would not fault some of the folks at developer Robomodo if they were driven to manic depression over the inconsistent feedback they were receiving from the media.|
I myself was one of those reviewers covering the RIDE release, and I must admit that of all of the reviews I have done over the years, RIDE was one of the more difficult titles for me to get my arms around completely and deliver a good solid recommendation, and it ended up being the review I have received the most heat over (personal and professional) in my entire career of writing.
You see, RIDE – for all of its technical inadequacies – was a game that was chock-full of heart. Having spent time with the folks at Robomodo, Activision, and even Mr. Hawk himself – I went into the review knowing undoubtedly that RIDE was not just another attempt to cash in on the motion-control gaming bandwagon. These people were 100%, all-in, devout fans of the old-school THPS series, and the mission was to restore honor to the franchise that Neversoft built.
Over the course of my interviews, I would ask the same questions to multiple people in different ways to verify that I was being told the truth (a trick from my day job as a Quality Engineer), and I was pleased to find that there were very few questions that could not be answered immediately; I learned how the boards were designed, developed, and built, I learned about all of the pro skaters who were shipped in to Robomodo’s Chicago studio for testing and motion capture, I learned about the time spent mapping skate parks and developing new tricks. I saw the gleams in their eyes, and I knew RIDE was a labor of love.
I found myself willing to overlook some of the game’s technical issues, especially when I saw how much fun people – children especially – were having while they played RIDE. In fact, even a full year later RIDE is still the preferred game when my children have friends visit (thankfully usurping Rock Band and saving my ears from another round of 9yr olds singing Eye Of The Tiger), and just the fact that we have had SHRED in the house for over a week has brought more than one family over to visit.
Here were the facts:
So let’s talk SHRED, eh? At the outset it might not appear that SHRED is all that different than RIDE – but it doesn’t take long before the improvements start to shine. The core motion-based mechanics of the game are basically unchanged other than the fact that the game seems a bit more responsive to the board movements. There is no indication that the skateboard control peripheral has been updated from last year’s model (other than a colorful facelift), so the improved control seems to be the result of software rather than hardware. I checked to see if the SHRED board was backwards compatible with RIDE, and it checked out fine. This means that RIDE owners can simply buy the SHRED software-only release, and any SHRED newcomers can pick up a used copy of RIDE and double their fun.
Thankfully, a number of the annoyances that plagued RIDE have been addressed as well, most noticeably the menu system has been cleaned-up and reorganized so gamers no longer have to constantly back out of menus just to change sessions or locations. Thankfully, gamers no longer have to choose their footing by flipping the board and pressing the “Start” button before every run, and they can end a run without having to use system controller to enter their initials. I am not really sure why Robomodo has disabled the “backside” sensor, but it is hardly noticed given the new over-the-top nature of the level design and new game modes.
While RIDE was really trying to deliver an experience that balanced reality and fantasy, SHRED is all-on fantasy with its fantastical multi-tiered levels, outrageous SSX-style trickery, and spectacular visual effects. SHRED’s skating action takes place in such worldly locations such as New Orleans, Morocco, Greece, Hawaii, and Melbourne, and even the fictitious Huck Jam Park. This time around, the levels are all downhill-style events, including the skate parks and halfpipes that were so disorienting in RIDE. SHRED features four levels of control as opposed to RIDE’s three – adding the “casual-plus” mode that lies between the on-rails control of “casual” and the self-correcting “competent” resulting in a bordered pathway that allows skaters freedom to hit multiple trick lines without getting turned around.
Oh, and did I mention that SHRED offers snowboarding? Given the record from the last generation of consoles, you would think that that we would have already seen dozens of snowboarding games after five years of the current machines – but other than the Shaun White franchise, a single Amped release on the Xbox 360, and the Wii Fit minigames, there really has not been anything substantial. And I must say, SHRED’s snowboarding is actually pretty darn fun – almost more so than the skating in fact. It’s almost like the motion-control board is more suited to snowboarding than it is for skating. Really the only shame is that there are only really three locations for snowboarding; slope runs at Whistler and the French Alps, and big-air and halfpipe runs in Beijing. I am hoping that this is only a taste of future snowboarding titles using Robomodo’s skateboard peripheral – can I put a vote in for an SSX title, guys?
The Tony Hawk games have always been known for their excellent soundtracks, and although SHRED is probably the weakest in the lot, it still features some excellent tunes by classic p-rockers The Stooges, Devo, and well as a whole bevy of titles ranging from country, to soul and beyond. As for the graphics, Robomodo has taken the mildly toon-shaded visual appearance of RIDE and gone all-in on cel-shaded design with SHRED. Pretty much everything onscreen is bordered in thick-black outlines, and the textures and shading give everything a graffiti-like appearance not unlike the gaming classics XIII, and Jet Set Radio. The look is cool, but it did seem to throw the kids for a bit of a loop as they thought it came across too cartoony for its own good.
Oddly, the Wii version has its own graphical style that is a bit more on the realistic side – this seems like an odd dichotomy considering the specs of the various machines – but it was enough to have the kids saying that the Wii version was actually better looking than the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions. As a critical reviewer I would argue that, but they are the target audience, so I guess they get to have their say.
RIDE’s oversaturated FMV cutscenes have been replaced by straight, unadulterated videos of the Birdman and crew giving instructions and directions. These “helper” movies can easily be turned off in the game menu once you have had enough of Lyn-Z Hawkins directing you to the “tricktionary” (air-quotes included). You still get stuck with the goofy post-game overlays in the menus, Tony Hawk looking through his thesaurus (seriously) looking up the words to tell you how good you are, or any number of skaters telling you how you rock. In fact, now that I mention it – I can’t think of a time I ever heard a negative comment or trash talk of any kind – this must be for the new kid-based approach to the game.
And that’s precisely where SHRED is not going to make much of a wave with the older folks – it is clearly geared at a younger target audience, as well it should be. Many people complained that RIDE was too easy at times, but they were not really into mastering the game. SHRED is much better at letting gamers have a bit more control over their tricks, and as so it really adds a sense of reward that some gamers missed in RIDE. In fact, it is almost as if SHRED’s slightly smaller difficulty curve is the perfect training ground for gamers wishing to go back and conquer some of the more challenging aspects of the previous release.
As for the board itself – it is just as rugged as last year’s model, and between a 300lb adult, and a half-dozen kids ranging 12 to 5, it has successfully taking a beating over the past two weeks without a single hitch. There was a bit of difficulty getting the board to calibrate at first, but we had to get it in an area all by itself without a lot of obstructions to interfere with the infrared before it would synch up.
SHRED is not going to click with all gamers, but I think Robomodo is doing well by focusing on the younger set this time around. Personally, I am quite impressed with the improvements and I would love to see a standalone snowboarding franchise pop up to really make use of this excellent peripheral. And to all the parents out there - after two weeks, my kids are still racing home to get on the board and within an hour they are hobbling around sore and sweating– a pretty good indication to me that this is one peripheral that actually delivers a good deal of exercise. SHRED is an excellent candidate for this year’s “family gift”.