Reviewed: November 16, 2007
Released: September 13, 2007
Until now, the Tony Hawk franchise has held a firm grip on the genre of skateboarding games, perhaps making it the only skating title in the gaming world. But Electronic Art’s aptly named "skate" for the Xbox 360 is out to change all that, and perhaps knock the mighty Tony Hawk franchise off its throne.
Its almost impossible at this point to not draw comparisons between skate and the various games of the Tony Hawk franchise, and that is why skate tries from the very start, to be everything that Tony Hawk is not. You see, skate is not so much the arcade style skating game we’ve all become accustomed to, but is instead more along the lines of a skating simulator. This puts a bigger emphasis on actual skating skill as opposed to performing wacky stunts or bonus objectives.
skate puts you in charge of managing your own skating career from top to bottom. This goes from making videos, winning contests, to attracting sponsors and so on. This is in essence the story, your story. All of this takes place in the lovely west coast city of sunny San Vanelona, which serves as your free roaming backdrop throughout the game. skate also has the almost mandatory pro skater appearances scattered throughout the story, who naturally help you out from time to time.
None of this seems particularly innovative at this point, but part of this is due to the nine, count them, games that the Tony Hawk franchise has spewed out over the years and has already done most of what you could want, or expect from a skating game. But skate might just have the fresh new trick that helps breathe new life into the proverbial kick flip of the skating genre.
It becomes pretty apparent from the outset of skate that it is trying to bring a lot of style to the table that EA thought that Tony Hawk was apparently lacking. Most of the features in skate have a very similar but different feel about them, which helps the game feel new but familiar at the same time. It isn’t really until you get into the game’s mechanics, that skate really begins to set itself apart.
The game starts you off by allowing you to build a virtual representation of yourself, which is essentially the “create-a-skater” feature from the Tony Hawk series, but slightly dumbed down. Because while you can alter the physical features of your character to your hearts content, beyond that you feel somewhat limited in how you can customize your character.
One of the bigger standout differences between skate and the Tony Hawk series is the absence of stats from the skaters. All of the skaters in the game perform essentially the same, and while you can eventually play as all of the pro skaters featured in the game, nobody is really faster or jumps higher than you. There are also no power ups or ways to improve yourself other than practicing (kind of like real skating) and this is something that skate really tries to emphasize.
The biggest thing that makes skate stand out from its counterparts is its control scheme. As opposed to having a button that makes you ollie or a button that makes you grind, skate’s control scheme tries to mimic the movements you would make while actually skating. The left analog stick controls your body and the right stick more or less controls your board with the X and A buttons allowing you to push with your left or right foot.
This whole control scheme is quite innovative and makes the whole experience seem more realistic, but the Xbox controller doesn’t really provide the precision that skate needed to pull this off. While the controls are fairly responsive, there are just far too many tricks to be stuffed into two analog sticks, as you will often find yourself attempting kick flips but getting ollies instead, which can be utterly infuriating at times.
Most of the goals in skate are made to help you learn new tricks, which ties into the “practice makes perfect” mentality of the game. This can range from repeating combos that pro skaters teach you, or playing games of S.K.A.T.E., which is essentially horse with skateboards. All of these goals help prepare you for the more challenging goals in the game like skating tournaments and filming your own skate videos, which help to make the backbone of the game.
The skating video aspect us what helps compose the majority of skate’s goals and works heavily with the sandbox aspect of the game. Every video you make requires certain criteria to be met within a certain time frame, like doing a 21-foot jump or scoring a certain number of points. The kicker of these videos however is that you can do them anywhere you want, so it’s up to you to find out where you can perform a 21 foot jump.
Finding the right place to film these videos is perhaps the hardest part of the game and requires a great deal of exploration on the part of the player, which is harder to do than you might think as your skater is always on their board and hitting so much as a curb or wall the wrong way causes you to bail. Thankfully there aren’t many loading screens you have to deal with, and the ones you do encounter are fairly brief, which is good because you will be reloading…a lot.
skate is a difficult game, especially for someone like myself who is used to the relatively easy controls of the Tony Hawk series. Some of the goals you are presented with in skate feel close to impossible sometimes, whereas others feel relatively easy, but when you tie difficult goals in with a control scheme that’s just a little too difficult to use, things get frustrating really fast.
Maybe its just because it’s a skating game, or maybe its because EA made it, but skate is stuffed to the hilt with endorsements, in fact, it is the primary driving force of the story and the ultimate goal of your skater, to get endorsed by everyone and their cousin. All of the shirts, boards, shoes, you name is endorsed by some kind of real world label and skate doesn’t hesitate to slap you in the face with these brand names, time and again.
skate is a very stylized game, and carries a very grainy, homemade skate video aesthetic with it. The default camera angle for skate is placed at something of a peculiar angle and is meant to mimic the angle used in skating videos with a “fish-eye” lens. While this does look pretty cool, it feels a little awkward at times. Everything looks like it was shot with a mini-DV camera with everything in the distance out of focus and slowly coming into view as you get closer, this is how skate handles the huge environment that it has to render, which looks amazing, and does feel like a real west coast city.
skate, is a good looking game, no question about it, the animations are smooth and textures look fantastic, the one problem I had was the rag doll physics that kick in every time your skater bites the curb. While these animations usually do look fairly realistic and painful, the engine sometimes overcompensates and will cause your skater to leap through the air if he has a minor wipeout. However, when you are actually doing good, skate is a very pretty game to look at.
Everything in skate sounds as close to real life as you can get without actually putting your own kicks on the grip tape. All of the jumps, landings, grinds, and bails are rendered with the appropriate level of character and really give all the tricks in the game a really substantial feel. There is a fair amount of voice acting in the game, and thankfully all of the pro skaters were able to voice themselves and show an appropriate level of enthusiasm in the game so nothing sounds like it was phoned in.
EA has apparently done it again and put down the big bucks for another licensed soundtrack. There are also a fair amount of original tracks in the game in addition to the typical licensed fare. The soundtrack features and eclectic mix of hip-hop, rock, and alternative from both classical and more contemporary albums. Bottom line is that odds are there will be at least one track you can stand listening to while playing this game and there is the feature that allows you to customize your own play list, just in case the soundtrack doesn’t appeal to you.
To actually uncover and complete everything there is to do in skate is quite a feat unto it’s own. The free form nature of the game gives you almost limitless possibilities so long as you are willing to still play the game. There are plenty of secret spots to uncover and unlockable merchandise to acquire, long after you’ve beaten all of the single player goals.
There is also a sizable amount of online content in skate to keep you playing. Players can upload their own videos that they’ve recorded and look at online leader boards and compare scores. There is also online multiplayer for up to six people, and while this does extend the playability of the game, it is something of a mixed bag.
The online portion does have the tournament and S.K.A.T.E. modes featured in the single player portion of the game, as well as downhill racing and a few other game modes. However, the catch is that because it is an online feature, there is always lag, and lag in a game that is really all about timing makes things fall apart pretty fast. Also the tournament maps are really too small to support all six players, as it usually turns into a bunch of people running into each other.
skate could best be described as a game that is perhaps too unique for it’s own good and tried too bite off a little more than it could chew. skate is a game designed to appeal to people who play skating games, but has a hard time drawing in people who enjoy this particular genre. There aren’t many flaws to point out with, the control scheme is innovative, but unfamiliar, it looks good and sound great, but most of it’s other features feel as though they’ve already been done.
All in all, skate is just too different and will have a rough time converting even the most rabid fan of skating games.