There’s always something exciting about a new game arriving in your chosen field of… whatever it is you love. In my case, I love skateboarding, and so I was super excited at the prospect of a new Tony Hawk game this year. Despite the fact I feel Neversoft have lost their way, the list of new features (most importantly for me, the Video Editor
) and the new approach to freeform skating have me more than keen to see how she rolls. But even more exciting this year was to see how the forthcoming skate. from EA would hold up (yep, that’s how they want us to write it). It’s yet another example of the two third-party giants slogging it out genre for genre, title for title, for the number one spot. The good thing about this though, is both of EA’s new entrants into Activision’s dominant fields (Rock Band for music, skate. for, well… skate) have set out to not only derail Acti’s prize franchises, but reinvent their respective genres as well. Now while the jury is still most definitely out on Rock Band, having decked it out over the last week with skate. I can honestly say Black Box Games and EA have done a bang-up job reinventing the skating formula, and while they do fall short in many of the categories Tony Hawk still reins supreme, the one category they don’t fall short of is capturing the pure feel
Obviously the most talked about and touted difference between skate. and the Hawk games is a brand new way in which to control your skater. With EA’s skateboarding opus you’re no longer left to simply input buttons to make tricks work flawlessly every time, now you actually need some finesse and a fine sense of control as each analogue stick has been brought into play, and most specifically the right analogue - which now essentially acts entirely as your feet - is the foundation for almost everything you do – from a trick sense - through skate.’s incredibly
believable game-world. To this end (and beyond the reinvented controls), the environment also becomes an important factor, and in this department skate. is in an entirely separate world to not only the Tony Hawk franchise, but almost ever other sandbox game ever crafted. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's roll from the beginning of the game where you're introduced to the chaotic and dangerous world of skateboarding, head-on.
The first thing skate. does is impress. And not just from a revolutionary gameplay standpoint, either. The game’s intro not only serves as a great way to introduce you to the world (and give you good reason to re-‘learn’ to skate), but it also shows just how
on the ball both EA and Black Box Games are with the culture of skateboarding. The entire intro is shot in HD video and features every pro in the game; whether it’s Danny Way posing as a paramedic, Paul Rodriguez as an ambulance driver, Ryan Smith as a petty crim, PJ Ladd as an Employee of the Month
poster, or Mark Gonzales as a surgeon, skate.’s intro not only reiterates the development team’s understanding of the world of skateboarding, but it also reeks of fun and vigour. skate. may indeed be facing an uphill battle in the running against the well-established Tony Hawk franchise, but it doesn’t mean EA, Black Box and all the pros involved haven’t had fun in the process.
The game is set in San Vanelona, a made-up city based on a few real-life places. You begin at the top of the map at the San Vanelona skatepark, and from here learn all the basics of the game’s revamped controls, how the challenge system works and how to interact with both the environment and its myriad of skating denizens.
Initially you’re going to find it incredibly difficult to get to grips with how the game plays. You don’t hold down an ollie button to move because there is no ollie button. The A button (on 360, X
on PS3) is how you push, beyond that, ollieing is actually a function of the right analogue stick; pull back on it to crouch, poised for the pop, then push forward and watch your skater ollie. However, simple as this sounds, the intricacies of the system immediately present themselves when you understand just how incremental your approach to the trick can be. So, if you want to do a massive popped ollie, pull the stick all the way down then aggressively push forward, but to perform a small pop, to say, ollie up a gutter, it’s a simple matter of pulling down then up in a quick yet gentle motion. From this foundation almost every other trick in the game is preformed. So, ollieing and then resting the right analogue halfway up or down before you land means you’ll land in a manual, then depending on your speed and how long you can hold the stick’s position will determine how long your skater holds the manual. But wait, there’s more. From the initial pop of an ollie, flicking
the stick off to the right then sharply down means you’ll perform a kickflip, do it the opposite way and you’ll nail a heelflip. Push up and around the top of the stick’s bed then back to the bottom will see you doing a shuvit and so on.
Obviously from this, once in the air, your left analogue stick becomes spin, while your right and left triggers become your right and left hands – for grabs – respectively. It’s an incredibly simple approach to control in a game of this nature, the only difficult thing about it is learning to unlearn
what you’ve been doing in the Hawk franchise all these years. It’s not all awesome though. This approach works perfectly for street skating, but using this on a vert portion of the game becomes one of the most awkward things ever. You have to physically pump your skater along the transition, which, once your actually getting some air, makes things awkward for spins and grabs. So much so, in fact, that I gave up on the vert stuff altogether (which sucks because vert is my favourite part of skating).
With that being said, it’s all about the street skating portion of skate. and in this area the game delivers in spades. Performing grinds, like everything else, is an organic and natural movement based on physical skating as opposed to the push of a button. In fact there is no button for grinding at all. Instead it’s all dependent on your approach to the rail, ledge or coping and from there how you decide to land into it. Ollieing onto a rail head on and doing nothing else will land you in a 50-50 grind, while pushing to the right or left (depending on your stance) will land you in a board slide, nose or tail slide. You can perform every single kind of grind (aside from maybe crazy stuff like darkslides) based purely on the way you hit the grind and changing them up in variation is a simple matter of ollieing into another position from your initial grind. What comes from all of this is a desire to truly
understand how the trick system works so you’re eventually doing crazy (more life-like) tricks like a 180 hardflip to boardslide to 180 boardslide to a 360 kickflip off (and if you’re really good into a manual). Nailing stuff like this after you’ve found a spot in the game-world you feel is right for it is unbelievably satisfying, just as it would be in real-life (though if I could do the former trick, I’m sure I wouldn’t be writing game reviews, I’d be jetting off to skateboard comps around the world, but I digress).
Speaking of the “game-world”, San Vanelona is one of the most impressive videogame cities I’ve ever laid eyes upon. So often in sandbox games you get the sensation your playing with GI Joes in a toy world, but here, everything feels incredibly life-like. Much of this could be attributed to the game ‘camera’ which has actually been designed as a skater filming you from behind in a pseudo fish-eye frame not at all dissimilar to real-life skate vids. It works in heightening the sensation of actually skating and really brings everything to life. Moreover, unlike the Hawk games which, for the last batch of series entrants, have felt like one big square to skate in, San Vanelona feels realistic. There are massive hills (where physics do apply to the point you get speed wobbles), huge artistic structures outside business centres, skateparks, back alleys, drains, industrial parks, car parks, suburban areas, main roads, museums, churches, galleries and more. It’s easily one of the most realised game-worlds ever made, and given it has been created for skaters to enjoy, the number of spots you can hit are too many to think about, let alone stop and count.
Again, while this is awesome, it still isn’t without detriment. For one thing, you can be rolling super fast down a big hill only to slightly clip the smallest of raised surfaces to be sent flying to a frustrating stack. Secondly, said stacks are the most lifeless aspect of the game. For 99% of skate. the motion-capture and animation trees are near flawless, but as soon as you come off your board it really, really, really sucks (no better word for it really). Other frustrating elements come in the form of pedestrians who can knock you flying even when you’re standing still and they’re just casually walking, or the annoyance of getting up on top of higher surfaces given you’re always on your board and you really need some speed to perform the right ollie to get there. From an aesthetic view also, the video-editor here is really very bare-bones (and I’ve spent quite a while with the Hawk video editor which rules), it’s great the feature is even here, but it feels a little tacked on for my tastes. Also, with skater customisation, there aren’t really too many options to grab hold of, but what is there is enough to keep it mildly interesting.
The actual gameplay structure for skate. sees you attempting to get sponsored by bigger and better skate companies through magazine and video exposure as well as your overall popularity and status among the other skaters in the game. You can enter various comps and jam sessions which can be fun, but if you lose them you can just try them again which seems a bit redundant in the face of all the other realism Black Box spent so much time getting right.
As a game to just roll around in and skate wherever and however you want though, there really is nothing better than this. The reinvention of the controls is the first great thing skate. has done, but the added scale and realism of the game-world and the freedom you have to use it in any way you see fit just brings this baby home. It is geared far more heavily to a crowd who have even a small understanding of skateboarding and its culture (thank god there are no fetch quests and the like here), but in my view, that’s a good thing and also suggests there is room for both Tony Hawk and skate. to co-exist. But as it stands right now, aesthetics and the vert stuff aside, skate. represents a much-needed shift in this genre’s future, and hopefully we’ll see more games of this nature geared in this direction from now on.