Games reviews: Tony Hawk disappoints, but you can build your own jail in Prison Architect

The skateboarding franchise takes a tumble but you can indulge your inner control freak with a penitentiary sim

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 October, 2015, 8:18am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 October, 2015, 8:18am

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5


Who expected this? It's been a good decade and a bit away from consoles, so we were expecting a lot out of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5. But it's almost as if developer Activision went out of its way to thwart everything great about the series, delivering an entry so without worth that you almost want to kick-flip it straight out your window.

Available for the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, Pro Skater 5 has been endlessly hyped for its nitty-gritty approach, taking the Tony Hawk series back to the basics of just you, a board and a huge number of ramps, rails and curbs to trick on. No jumping off, no exploring worlds, not even that much customisation.

Great, right? But hop on board and things are wholly different. There are the glitches most obviously, a bizarre range of unintentionally hilarious, physics-defying errors that seem more out of a '80s horror flick. One minute, you're skating along, minding your own tricky business in some random park. The next, you're morphing Cronenberg-like into the very ramp, only to reappear as a spineless, deflated mess halfway across the screen.

A bit of a shocker, but that's cool as they're few and far between, and at least they entertain as you restart the game. No, what we can't stand is the lack of soul.

Tony Hawk has long been known for its incredibly well-crafted levels, each unique and distinctive in design. That's far from the case here. Whether you're at the beach, on a rooftop or in the middle of school, it all feels incredibly monotonous, as if the designers figured the only thing separating them all was the background.

Pro Skater 5 is also the first entry to fully focus on the online world, and it's only a little ironic the offline mode plays slightly better. Adding online players to your little world might seem fun, but it doesn't seem to do much else except, well, add players to your little world. There's no real interaction or reward scheme, and the mechanics of going online feel like from a decade ago, where loading times were ridiculous. We're disappointed, Tony, to say the least.

Prison Architect

Introversion Software

Empires, cities, hospitals, football teams, sure. But prisons that hold in the world's most violent and sordid? Maybe simulating America's privatised prison system makes us more aware of its inherent problems?

Not really, because Prison Architect's first and foremost purpose is to entertain. Available for the PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS, it's a bit of a "shock" game, similar to such bizarre recent sims as the horrific Surgeon Simulator, the monotonous European Bus Simulator and, of course, the now-classic Goat Simulator. But one of the main ways the game stands out from the pack is through its surprising complexity.

Unlike the majority, Prison Architect isn't just for a quick laugh. It's a mostly serious and remarkably difficult simulator that takes heavy cues from sandbox adventures to put full control within your hands. Everything can be customised from the get-go, from designing your prison building structure to working out cell sizes, setting up security patrols and installing CCTV cameras.

Your natural inclination might be one of compassion and benevolence, giving your inmates TVs, sofas, weight benches and possibly even pool tables. They in turn, might consider you to be a decent sort and react favourably. Or your prisoners might feel otherwise and start a riot.

It's a fine balance, and when it leans towards the latter, things turn appropriately disastrous, with riot squads, fires and other mishaps causing your finances to quickly spiral out of control.

Because that's the key: boosting your boss' bank account. Not dishing out happiness or building a smooth system. Prison Architect has no qualms about placing you firmly in the reality of our capitalist system, and the greenbacks at the end of the tunnel take precedence over any kind of humanitarian ambitions.

The main reason to play Prison Architect is to put yourself firmly in the mindset of the modern penal system. It's fun first here, but there's always the possibility that you'll learn something.