Electronic Arts and EA Black Box (NHL, Need for Speed) have dared to do what so many have tried in the past, making a skateboarding game to go up against a megastar. After Tony Hawk's Pro Skater exploded onto the scene, everyone and their grandma wanted to make a skate game. Games like Grind Sessions, Thrasher: Skate and Destroy, MTV Sports: Skateboarding and Street Sk8er 2 flew onto the shelves within a year or two of THPS, but nothing came even close in terms of sales and longevity. Now EA has returned with an all-new game and idea to take the virtual skateboard world by storm.
EA's history in skateboarding games goes deeper than what stubborn THPS fans might realize. For better or for worse, the company has actually put out a few skate games alreadyincluding Skate or Die, Skate or Die 2, Street Sk8er 2 and even The Simpson's Skateboarding. Skate takes all of these previous concepts and throws them out of the window. Instead, the game's focus is almost purely on actually skateboarding and the art of riding. If you want to compare this game to Tony Hawk, you can'tthey're just too different.
Skate puts you into the role of a budding skate pro. After a hilarious intro video that's too good to spoil (very well-done live-action clearly directed by skate-video veterans), you create your skater from the face down to the shoes and finally your board. You then take a trip to the local skate park in the suburbs of San Vanelona and start learning how to ride. Along the way, you'll meet pros like Chris Haslam, PJ Ladd and Rob Dyrdek (with Big Black in tow), who will help you grab sponsors and eventually lead you to the Summer X Games.
With such a focus on realism, EA Black Box had to create a control system that resembles skating as closely as possible on a controller. EA seems to try and reinvent the right analog stick with every sports game they release, but this time they have really done some innovating. The game also has no skill upgrades. The idea is to just get better at tricks and skating to tackle the various goals that range from photo shoots to spot sessions.
Diving into a game of Skate, the first thing that a lot of people will say is, Oh yeah, this is not Tony Hawk! Everything you do with your feet is on the right analog stick, except for pushing. To ollie, you pull down first then flick up, just like how you would on a skateboard. To kickflip, you push down, then up and to the right (or left depending on how you're standing). This philosophy translates to almost all of the tricks in the game, even grinding. Pumping is handled by the buttons. To push with the left leg, hit the X button. To push with the right, push the A button. Using your hands in any way is left up to the triggersright trigger for right hand, left trigger for left. This controls your grabs and getting into the cannonball position for bombing hills. With such a simple, but deep control scheme, just doing a basic kickflip is a total blast.
The entire time you skate, you will be viewing the world from a film perspective. This is because you will always have your faithful filming buddy riding right behind you the entire time. You'll even hear him talk to you and other skaters here and there. Since his camera is always on, he's always recording. This is where the video editor comes into play. You can hit start at anytime and pop over to video-editing mode. This will keep track of the last 20 seconds of skating you've done, and you can stitch up your sick run with new camera angles, effects and play speeds. Show your fresh skate vid online by uploading the clip to EA's servers and start bragging about your nollie tre-flip down a 20 stair.
Playing the game and watching the videos is extra fun due to the game's solid visuals. The graphics seem to take a page from NBA Street Homecourt, with a high-contrast look to the colors and shadows. The modeling job is quite solid, and it's very easy to spot potential ledges and rails for grinding or a nice challenging manual pad. Sound-wise, Skate delivers a one-two punch. The soundtrack has an awesome lineup, featuring Band of Horses, David Bowie, N.W.A., Nirvana, Slayer and a ton more. Also great is the sound of the skateboard itself. The cracking of popping and ollieing or the spinning of the wheels while in the air sound so close to the real deal, you'll swear you're at the park while playing.
Besides sharing your video, you'll also get to skate with your buddies around town. Up to six players with be able to shred different modes, like a game of S.K.A.T.E. There are also free skate and party modes available. Free skate allows you to just skate certain sections of the city to hone in your tricks. Party mode dives you right into a game of S.K.A.T.E. with up to four players and allows for some controller-passing fun.
Skate's awesome flow and gameplay come at a small price. Since the video camera-style view is locked into position, you can't really look around to see what's coming. Expect to get hit by many cars or get knocked of your board by wandering citizens. True, such is real life, but trying to complete a specific goal while some random guy is just standing in front of the rail you need to hit is pretty frustrating. Another snag are curbs and not having enough time to ollie on to them. Being able to get off your board to reach certain spots a lot easier like someone would in real-world riding would have been very nice, too.
Small quirks aside, Skate is easily the best game to ever challenge the mighty Tony Hawk series. That being said, they are two very different games and will most likely garner different crowds. With Skate's attention to realism and riding, Electronic Arts and EA Black Box can now stand strong in a genre that was once seemingly impossible to break into. Skaters or non-skaters alike owe their thumbs some time with Skate.