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Skate Review

Developer: EA Canada Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 11, 2007 Also On: PS3 and Xbox 360

One could immediately jump into a critique of Skate and jump back and forth between it and the Tony Hawk series, but I am going to refrain from doing that. The legendary Hawk series deserves its fame and fortune for invigorating an otherwise dead video game genre, but Skate takes a path of its own and does something completely different, something fresh and worth a good look.

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Single and multiplayer options are incredibly entertaining, so Skate will keep anyone playing for a large chunk of time. Challenging pros, playing rounds of S.K.A.T.E., tricking and owning the best skating spots, recording footage, and taking photos are all in a day’s work for the Skate gamer. The ultimate goal is to impress pros (Chris Cole, Mark Gonzalez), sponsors (Adidas, Plan B), and eventually the people in charge of Thrasher and Skateboarding Magazine. Getting on the covers of each rag is one of your final goals, as well as earning gold medals in the X-Games competitions. On top of the structured career challenges, the skating world of San Vanelona is absolutely massive and lends a lot of fun places to Skate The best part of skate. is that the more the gamer explores and jumps into the game, the more the game offers. On the multiplayer front, same-screen games can be enjoyed but Xbox LIVE online play is a blast, and possibly the star of the show. Trick and Race modes offer a few different challenges to keep every round interesting. Gamers can earn experience points and boast about their Amateur, Pro, or Icon status as well as upload footage from their best lines or photos of their craziest stunts for everyone to see. The online community is large and inviting, not to mention interesting, for anyone who plays Skate.

The controls have been heavily advertised, and rightfully so. They are the selling point of the game. Tony Hawk standardized an incredibly simple system that was copied for years, so EA Black Box wanted to come up with something different but also natural and fun to use. The result couldn’t have been much better. I already went into great detail about the controls in my hands-on preview a few months ago, so I won’t provide an extensive breakdown. The left analog stick primarily controls movement while the right one controls tricks, and when you combine the right stick movement with a pull of the left or right trigger, you’ll perform grab tricks in the air. For the first time in my memory of gaming, you’ll have to actually push your skater and keep him moving with the X or A buttons. The controls go even deeper. As I said, the more you dive, the more you get and things like pumping (press up on the analog stick to lean into a quarter pipe or ramp) come into play, where you can keep yourself moving quickly in a pool or half pipe to get the biggest air possible.

The trick book is gigantic. Simple tricks can be done by moving the stick slightly from the down-up combination required to perform an Ollie; tilting slightly to the left or right results in Heelflips and Kickflips. Performing a 180-degree rotation of the stick does a Shove-it. Combining these motions (as well as the flip-flop Nollie/Fakie versions of each trick) is all it takes to perform any flip trick in the game. For example, the motion for a Varial Heelflip or Varial Kickflip resembles a check mark symbol, and a Nollie Varial Heel/Kickflip would be that same shape upside down. Grabs are a bit trickier, since you’ll sometimes have to perform a shifty by holding left or right on the right analog stick, followed by the trigger and normal right stick combination. Learning all of the tricks is rewarding, though, since you’ll tackle the point-based challenges and online competitors with ease. Grinding a rail in this game requires a lot of precision and timing, from the setup of the approach to the rail to the Ollie onto and off of the rail, the type of grind being performed, and any optional tricks in between. You won’t automatically snap onto rails since there is no grind button; if a rail is to your 3 o’clock you will have to adjust to it accordingly as you ride up next to it to perform a clean grind.

There are a few gameplay-related issues that definitely caused a headache as I played through the career. The first complaint is that the difficulty can be quite unforgiving, and some of the spot challenges and pro challenges are not introduced in a very helpful way. Sometimes A.I.-controlled pedestrians and skaters (and especially cars) get in the way of your respawn points, resulting in an automatic and uncontrollable fall, altogether ending in a loading screen and retrial of the challenge. Sometimes just a slight terrain bump or jutting lip will result in an annoying and ugly bail, or a completely different jumping angle than you expected. These gripes occur somewhat often, so it is clear that a few more edges will need to be smoothed for the next Skate.

San Vanelona is quite a beautiful place. Whether you are in the Spanish-influenced Old Town tearing down tight, hilly side streets or finding your way into a suburban swimming pool, you will want to take in the sights. The downtown area is particularly beautiful, as towering buildings are constructed of marble and other beautiful stone designs, sparkling fountains dot almost every city block, and a big-name business atmosphere surrounds every spot. You will dodge security guards that guard some of the prettiest structures in the game. More impressive are the animations; there just isn’t much that could be said against how smoothly the game looks. Every motion looks intensely real, from the bending down to prepare for a trick to the wheel spinning and board balance while grinding a rail or manualing down the street. The skate.Reel replays are obviously a beauty to behold, especially with a well-done editing job. Equally impressive are the sound effects; the music is nonexistent in almost all but the best skating areas so that the sounds of skateboarding are the primary focus (this is done by default, and can be changed).

There are only a few more things I wouldd like to mention before wrapping up my critique of Skate. Firstly, the only big visual gripe comes from the total lack of reaction when your skater bails and flops around, ragdoll-style. This looks incredibly unrealistic and takes the gamer out of the mindset that EA Black Box worked hard to achieve. I would like to see, in Skate 2, my skater reach out to try and catch himself on his unfortunate path to the concrete. I would like to see the skater jump off of the board and land on his feet when the possibility is there, not crumple to the ground like a mannequin.

When it’s all said and done, I have to review Skate. based not on my personal love for it, but the overall aesthetics and various qualities of the game. As such, I can’t give it the score that accurately reflects my feelings. This is one of my favorite video games, as it so accurately portrays skateboarding and not only the difficulty of doing so, but also the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. There is nothing like finally landing that perfect Nollie 360 flip to nose bluntslide down that 10-set handrail that you had been trying to land smoothly for ten minutes. If you didn’t understand any of the terminology I just used, you might avoid Skate. or play it just to learn more about skateboarding and skate culture. If you do, you will definitely want to pick this up. It is my choice for the best sports game of the year so far, and definitely a strong competitor for more. I was incredibly happy to see EA’s original project turn out so well, and with the recent announcement of another original IP, Dead Space, it seems the publisher might have more fresh quality on the way. So until Skate 2 materializes, I’ll be tearing up the streets of San Vanelona.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 9.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.5
Written by Cliff Review Guide