Review: Skate (Xbox 360)
EA plays horse with Activision.
The ten years of utter dominance of the skateboarding genre by Activision’s ‘Tony Hawk Pro Skater’ series has been something that the ‘Playstation’ generation have come to accept. A few pretenders to the throne have attempted to challenge Tony’s grip but MTV Skateboarding, Grind Session and various other forgettable Tony clones have all failed. Mainly because they’ve not had the vision or courage to say ‘hang on…. the triangle to grind, x to ollie controls AREN’T SET IN STONE!’. They stick to THPS’ control method but can’t compete with the big endorsements, occasionally brilliant level design and overall and eventually find their balls wrapped around Tony’s big, slippery rail.
However, ten years after the seminal Tony Hawk debut, the formula has gotten stale, rotted away, evolved into a new species which smells of burning hair and death and has recently discovered a passion for lottery scratch cards and Beyonce CDs. If I have to sit through another contrived ‘make a skate video with all the gnarly pros and make a stack of cash to buy back a fucking park which has ramps made out of Bam Margera’s dad’s arse’ story I’ll give Activision a fucking nollie. A tuppenny one.. up the bracket! I don’t even know what that means. That’s how much I hate them right now.
So Skate, from serial evil-doers EA, seemed destined to bail at the first attempt like all the other skateboarding titles. The thing is, this is EA. EA tend to do whatever it takes to destroy their rivals. Then they destroy people who look like their rivals just in case they get any ideas above their station. Sometimes they fail (Fifa) but other times their combination of ruthlessness and money just about pays off.
That’s enough history. What’s Skate like then? Well the first thing worth noticing is that the control method that we’re all used to for every skating, snowboarding and futuristic hoverboard game is gone. Forget about holding X, letting go and tapping the other buttons like you’re playing Hypersports. As with all of EA’s recent sports games the focus here is, predictably, on those analogue sticks. The left stick steers your skater, the right controls the tricks.
It’s an intuitive system though with a quick down-to-up motion giving you an ollie and downs-to-lefts-or-rights giving you your basic flips. Harder moves require more effort and precision with certain combinations often reducing experienced Hawkers (look it’s that or Hawksters) to tears. Still, in this age of quicksaves and regenero-pods a bit of a challenge is what we need and Skate is nothing if not rewarding.
Probably the best testiment to the effectiveness of the analogue controls is that you can find yourself obsessing over interesting spots in a game whilst trying out ideas that you’d maybe have in real life (if you could be arsed to go to all the trouble of actually learning to skate that is).
This game is a great antidote to the Tony Hawks games, their insane combos and unrealistic moves are replaced with a more refined control system using both analogue sticks. The â€œflickitâ€ control system is easy to get the hang of, but takes some time to truly master. You won’t be pulling off 50,000,000 point combos and flying off ramps doing 1020 sausage monkey flips. You will instead spend a fair bit of time trying to get the hang of doing more mundane grinds and flips. Therein lies the pleasure of this game, getting a clean line with a nice combo multiplier is very satisfying.
Once you’ve got to grips with the controls, you are then for the most part left to your own devices. You have video challenges that you can do wherever you want, but finding the best place to complete them is a challenge. There are also the photo challenges, where you have to do a certain trick at a certain area. These challenges are just that, challenging. It can take a long time to complete a challenge, but its satisfying to complete them and they are never unfair.
As well as the single player game the on-line play is fun, with a good selection of areas to play in and a varied selection of game types. These range from free skate where you just skate around with people and have a good chat. This is rather relaxing and makes a nice change of pace from the usual fast paced shooters riddled with ADD effected teenagers. This game isn’t without its faults though, the control system could do with a bit of refining, its all to easy to pull off a pop shuvit instead of the actual trick you were attempting. The character creation section is good, but could be better with a wider selection of haircuts and facial hair.
Overall this is solid, fun game. Roll on Skate 2 which will hopefully remedy some of the problems with the game and add more variety to the moves.
Secondary Score: 8/10
If you see two rails nicely lined up, you’ll often find yourself there twenty minutes later just trying bridge them with a nollie laser-flip or something else equally preposterous. This is amplified a hundredfold by the, frankly brilliant, EA Skate Reel which lets you upload your favourite replays to EA’s, frankly not-so-brilliant, website.
Nail a particularly sexy gap and you can cut, faff with and upload the footage to the Internet. That is genius and far, far too diverting for someone who is meant to be reviewing the game. Still, you can also upload photos as well. Kind of handy for a reviewer…
Of course there is an equivalent to THPS’ career mode and this sees you skating around a huge, streaming area completing challenges that range from ‘identify your cat in this line up of peas’ to ‘punch God in the spine’ levels of difficulty. The learning curve isn’t too friendly, especially as we’re all starting from scratch here, but the satisfaction you get from beating them is considerable.
As ever, this mode involves meeting different pros (who all appear to have learning difficulties) and then agreeing to do a trick for them. It lacks imagination but luckily lacks Bam Margera or indeed Tony ‘the Steve Davis of skating’ Hawk so I’m happy overall.
Add to this a solid multiplayer mode, which unfortunately ties a third of the games achievements into ranked matches, which features all manner of locations and events to participate in as well as a very chilled freeskate mode where you and some friends can hang out whilst… well… trying to land stupid flips from whatever bit of street furniture catches your eye.
Graphically the game is crisp and clear with decent animation and a draw distance that facilitates the idea that you are always on the look out for new spots. It is a little functional but is clearly a step ahead of the recent Tony Hawk titles and the character models don’t have that scary ‘waxworks’ look to them that EA seem to love so much. Even the soundtrack isn’t too obnoxious which is a miracle for any recent extreme sports (or EA) game.
Hopefully Skate will concentrate on it’s strengths rather than tacking on horrible new additions every year just for the sake of it. Of course, this is EA and they love nothing better than driving a good series into the ground so my hopes for this series aren’t exactly high but if they can produce a sequel as good as THPS2 (and avoid any wacky, predictable storylines) we could be looking at the best skating series of all time.