For many years, the market on skateboarding video games has been sewn up by one name; the one synonymous with those visually acute birds of prey. After many iterations of the Tony Hawk franchise (some even feel a few too many), skateboarding gamers began to long for a change. That very desire has inspired Electronic Arts to bring the first serious competitor to the gaming table, and that offering comes in the form of Skate, a new boarding title with an innovative stick trick system. Can Skate’s new approach and fresh design unseat the Hawk from its perch? Let’s find outů
After spending a short while with Skate, gamers will realize that the whole title has been designed to be as far away from its competition as it possibly can be. This very same methodology was also brought to Fight Night a while back, with the majority of all controls being placed on the thumbsticks and triggers. With Skate, the left stick moves the skater while various combinations on the right stick unleash all the tricks one is likely to attempt on a skateboard. It is a new, refreshing approach with a slight learning curve, especially for those who are big fans of the Tony Hawk series and cannot seem to break old habits. The left and right triggers are used for grabs (they control the left and right hands of the skater), and special types of grabs can be achieved by using trigger and stick combinations.
There are no moves to unlock, no skill sets to achieve and everything is available to the player from the outset. The entire game’s hitch is based on the skill and pinpoint timing of the player, rather than an objective and reward system. What can be unlocked throughout the course of playing the game is different city areas and indoor arenas in which to show off your rad trix! It is also possible to take your skater online and compete in skating and trick competitions with a bunch of other players. The performance of the online system at the time of this review was a bit spotty, and lag issues made the whole experience an afternoon of “no fun at all.” This was attempted on 2 different consoles on two different ISPs with the same result. Hopefully this is an issue that will be ironed out soon.
Graphically, the game is quite impressive, sporting a “Ledge Butta” smooth framerate regardless of how fast and wild you skate. The environments and character models are well shaped and designed, and the remarkable physics engine brings the ragdoll-style falls to life with bone crunching realism. This also leads to a feature that could have been left out, and that is the “bones broken” report the game delivers to rub how poorly you have performed in your face. It’s enough to make some people weak in the knees and a little nauseous.
The entire graphical prowess comes at a bit of a price, however, as Skate is plagued with some of the most awful load times and painfully unskippable sequences ever. This becomes particularly irritating when you are repeating an attempt at a goal (the entire game’s nature is trial and error) and you have to sit through the same load screens time after time. Players can take pictures and record clips of their skating performance and post them online, so certain players may be inclined to forgive some of the title’s shortcomings when they are being praised for being just so damned rad.
The audio design is very well done, even if some of the music choices are puzzling. The developers opted for the realistic “Reservoir Dogs” style of music presentation (Mr. Blonde walks out of the warehouse and the radio grows fainter with each step), meaning that you will only hear the music if you are close to an in-game group of people, as if they had a boombox with them. The further away you skate from said group, the fainter and more ambient the music becomes. It's very realistic, and for those who want a little less realism in their soundtracks, this feature can be turned off in favor of basic music presentations. The sounds effects are excellent, a little too excellent at times (*crack*), and there is even a slightly funny commentary from a bystander on your skating chops.
All in all, Skate is poised to be the top competitor for the Tony Hawk crown. It does have some drawbacks inherent in the design, but what it does right it does really well. If you are a fan of the genre and have been hoping for something new and fresh, this will suit you quite nicely. The developers will hone the details of this title in future sequels, and if they don’t “bail” EA will have yet another hit franchise on their hands. If you are a skating fan, it will be a game worthy of your cash. Even if you are not a fan, you just might find yourself having a blast ollieing all over the joint with a rental.