Do grinding axis sound like a symphony from Beethoven to your ears? Do you get chicken flesh from a perfectly landed trick and do you sleep with griptape on your pillow? Then quickly give me two minutes of your previous time and read why you need to get skate. (indeed, without a capital S and with a “.”)
Those who have read my review of Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground know that I was really looking forward to my first playing session with skate… How could it be different: EA’s newest flag ship gets almost nothing but good comments and knew in no time to break the years ongoing haegemonia of the Tony Hawk games. Bizarrely good for a new franchise and therefore it’s really time to check if all that praise is justified.
Thé big difference between skate. and Tony’s profitable hobby is the controls. Instead of button bashing like a madman you need to put feeling in the controls of your character here. For doing a wide variety of tracks the right analog stick is brought to life and this works remarkably refreshing.
The concept is quite simple: the right handle is the visual prolonging of your foot and the movements you make are comparable with the real moves. For an ollie you for instance first need to do a downward move (which equals going through your knees), to then push the stick straight up. With a nollie you do the exact opposite and for a kickflip you finally bring your stick to the right top (left top for the regular skaters). Just like the real deal so to speak.
This “flick it”-controls, as EA calls it, adds a lot to the gameplay experience and almost gives the feeling you’re really on a skateboard. You might wonder why nobody has ever thought of this in all these years as it seems so logical.
The controls may be intuitive, but accessibility is something else. It will take easily a couple of hours before you manage to do some modest combos. Many will probably not be patient enough for this, but in my opinion the developer hits the essence of skateboarding here. The sport is very hard and anyone who has ever stood on those four tiny wheels knows how hard it is to manage even the simplest tricks. The feeling, that doesn’t come free, is well integrated in this game and skate. perfectly balances the border between realism and playability.
To skate with style through the streets of San Vanelona (the virtual recreation of Barcelona) you don’t only need to master the flick-it controls, but also require perfect timing. Jumping at the right moment will need quite some practise and also the corner from which you approach obstacles needs to be correct. This all makes for a very realistic experience and invites, at least the first hours, to leave the missions alone and just skate around a bit while being relaxed.
The first thing that gets noticed is that the environments are very large and feel a bit empty. Compared to the Tony Hawk games, where you’re surrounded by benches, tubes, edges and so on, it might even feel a bit dead in this game. But you’ll quickly realise this is a choice as each piece of road that isn’t completely flat can be felt and an innocent piece of heightened pavement is enough to make you eat dirt. You also need more time to start your tricks and for that it’s good that – certainly at the beginning – you don’t have too many obstacles in front of your wheels. And also, in real life the street image isn’t dominated by halfpipes and other skate friendly obstacles.
The different parts of the city (Suburbs, Downtown, Old Town and The Res) of San Vanelona each have their own character and graphically look good, but it’s mostly the fantastic animations of the skaters that give the devs credit for their work. Also the ultra realistic physics of the skateboard itself are truly to suck your fingers and thumbs off. If you see how the board reacts on all kinds of actions… it’s truly too sick for words.
Still not everything is as sublime. The missions can be fun, but they’re hardly revolutionary. It’s again doing a certain trick at a certain place, luckily often without a time limit. The traffic and many pedestrians that are present in the game could have been left out as well as they’ll often annoy you and after a while this becomes really irritating. Also the camera could use some work here and there, and since your character is shown quite big on the screen, it’s often quite hard to see what’s really coming towards you.
Despite some minor downpoints, skate. has become a great game although I’m not sure everyone will concur with that opinion. EA’s skateboardsim is also a game for those that like finesse, with a heart for the gentle sport. The game is, no matter how cliché it may sound, made by and for skaters and is for me one of the biggest surprises of 2007.