Whilst it would be nice to avoid comparing games to others, when reviewing a skateboarding title it is difficult to avoid comparisons to the Tony Hawks franchise. For years the Tony Hawks series has reigned supreme with little in the way to challenge its top spot. EA has decided to take up the challenge and instead of simply emulating the Tony Hawks series they have taken a risk and gone for something new.
Jumping right into the career mode option you will be introduced into the world of Skate by a realistic film cutscene featuring famous faces (especially skaters) who supply the cast to a short skit about reassembling your face after a nasty car accident, which took place whilst filming a skate scene. This provides an interesting, yet slightly strange, twist on the typical character creation idea featured in most games.
The character customisation system is rather deep allowing you to create a skater that resembles yourself easily and fast. However the clothes on offer (even the unlockable ones) look very generic and can best be described as “one size fits all” as they are often simply different prints on the same, oversized, shirt.
Finally arriving into the world of Skate it quickly becomes apparent that the unique introduction was little more than that, an introduction. Now that the game has officially begun it is clear that Skate follows the typical climb-yourself-to-the-top style storyline featured in most games of this nature. To do this you must impress the locals and sponsors by completing a long list of goals and events that range from performing tricks whilst being filmed, competing against other skaters such as for a highscore or a downhill race, performing a list of objectives at cue or the most interesting, perform specified tricks at the location of your choice. As the story progresses you will also be unlocking interior events, such as the popular X-Games. Along with the new locations (indoors and out) you will unlock new clothes, skating accessories, sponsors and a few secret extras. Whilst this is nothing more than you would expect, it matters little because Skate does not have a large emphasis on completing tasks and quickly progressing through the game. You will find simply skateboarding around the city and enjoying the lines that you discover is worthwhile on its own.
Typically this could get boring in the average skateboarding environments of old; thankfully in Skate the skateboarding “world” is simply massive. It is also a single environment, meaning that you can go from one end to the other without a single loading sequence; however expect to spend at least 5 minutes skateboarding in a straight line to achieve this. Rest assured that the environment is not simply one massive barren landscape, it is highly detailed and looks absolutely stunning thanks to high resolution, great lighting and bloom effects.
The controls that you use throughout the game are innovative and used as the selling point of Skate. The main aspect of this control system is a trick control method titled “Flickit”. In Skate the control of your skateboard relies completely on the two analogue sticks, one of which controls your characters general movement and the other your feet on the board. Speed is increased by keeping your finger on A to push off the floor. For example a simple jump is done by gaining speed, bringing the right analogue stick down then flicking it upwards. Whilst this may sound extremely simple the system can become rather complex when considering the large range of kickflips, grabs and grinds at your fingertips.
The bonus of the analogue stick control system is that simply riding around on Skate performing the smallest of tricks feels like an achievement. Unfortunately at the other end of the spectrum the controls can easily frustrate and many gamers will be unable to even grasp the concept, let alone the harder challenges requiring long strings of tricks. This results in a control system that is not only difficult to learn but extremely difficult to master. The decision if this is a good or bad thing is completely dependent on the type of gamer.
Skate is also more realistic in the way that it represents skating and more importantly gravity; expect to be hitting the concrete often and hard. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Skate is grinding, which feels realistic and is often far more enjoyable than simply pressing a button at the right time. Grinding on a rail requires that you ollie up using the analogue controls and simply land on top of the rail at the specific angle desired. You can technically do any grind that can be achieved on the base of the board (or trucks for that matter). When you begin to land realistic lines without messing up it becomes apparent that this new style of control is far more rewarding that the typical “I can grind for 5miles” approach.
One of the most welcome features of skate is the deep video and photo editing. At any time you can pause the game and edit the last minute of skating that you have done. This includes changing the speed, colour, starting point, ending point and camera angle. Once you have finished editing your own masterpiece it can either be saved to your hard drive or quickly uploaded to the ‘Skate.Reel’, an online network of Skate videos for gamers to share. If you happen to prefer getting the perfect picture of a skateboarding moment, then you can also take that right out of any video and once again upload it to the EA servers. A feature to this extent and quality has endless possibilities and we can only imagine some of the fantastic footage that players will upload to the ‘Skate.Reel’.
The entire presentation of Skate is fantastic. Graphically the game is superb, providing not only highly detailed environments as mentioned previously but everything from the character animation to the skateboard control looks spot on. Each trick looks fluid and the feet will be positioned on the board correctly to represent each trick beautifully. Even the sound is of a fantastic quality making audio interesting; often you will purposely try to get the metal trucks to grind or the wheels to spin loose. You can also find some great music tracks in the game, from artists ranging from Nirvana to David Bowie.
Other than the career portion of the game there is also ‘Freeskate’, a mode where you can skate around the city with the character of your choice and no objectives or time limit. Another is ‘Party Play’, a single console multiplayer component that supports up to two players in a choice of two game modes. Lastly and more importantly however is the section dedicated to online play over Xbox Live.
Skate has a rather remarkably large online feature with four trick and two racing game modes to choose from, whilst providing ranked scoreboards for each. If you simply want to enjoy the community you can view, rate and download other players videos and pictures from ‘Skate.Reel’, watch players live on ‘Skate.TV’ or simply customise your own personal profile for sharing your own masterpieces. All in all the features offered are outstanding and results in a small online network on the 360, unfortunately whilst it is all looks fantastic and is designed beautifully, the entire system is plagued with lag (Ed – Lag on the EA servers, never!). Even worse the game struggles to handle lag sensibly and instead of trying to ignore it and continue the game, the frame rate drops to try and catch up resulting in a complete unplayable experience.
Overall Skate provides a high quality piece of gaming, any gamer that has enjoyed previous skateboarding titles or simply enjoys a challenge will easily be entertained. Whilst the game is not revolutionary in storyline progression and the issues with online play leave more to be desired, the game does provide a fantastic single console experience that is long lasting, unique and most importantly a thrill to play.