When my friends heard that I was reviewing Electronic Arts next generation skateboarding game, Skate, I was bombarded with one question: Is it better than Tony Hawk? This seemed to be the question on everybody's mind, and for good reason. Activision's Tony Hawk series has been going strong for nearly a decade now and there are a lot of gamers who are starting to feel a bit burned out on the over-the-top tricks and unrealistic environments. But Skate really isn't like Tony Hawk. Oh sure, both games are about the same thing, but it seems pretty clear that one game is a simulator while the other is pure arcade action. Or, to force an analogy, if Tony Hawk is Burnout Revenge, then Skate is Gran Turismo.
Perhaps that's for the best; the world really doesn't need another Tony Hawk rip-off. It's bad enough that we get a new Tony Hawk title every year; we really don't need another company making an extreme skateboarding game. Instead of giving us huge tricks, giant jumps and a cartoon world to skate through, Electronic Arts has delivered a realistic skateboarding game that will no doubt split the audience. I have a hunch that there will be a lot of gamers who really enjoy Skate's brand new take on the genre, while just as many will probably get bored and go back to waiting for Tony Hawk's Proving Ground.
The good news is that Skate is an excellent first stab at the skateboarding genre. Here is a game that manages to feel completely different from the competition and is unique enough to stand on its own. It is by no means a perfect game, but Skate proves that you can do new things with what feels like a tired sport.
In Skate you get to create your own character (who, for whatever reason, has to be a man) and take him out into the mean city streets to prove himself as the best skateboarder around. Although the game starts with a lengthy live-action cinema featuring about two dozen celebrity skaters, there really isn't a whole lot of time spent on the narrative side of Skate. From time to time you'll get text messaged new tasks, such as finding somebody who is looking to take some pictures of local skaters, somebody that wants to race, or somebody that wants to get you a sponsor. Ultimately it's your goal to get on the cover of the biggest skate magazines, earn some much-needed notoriety, and make your way to the X-Games.
Most of the challenges are set up for you to either impress a fellow skater or perform tricks that will land you in the pages of the skate magazines. Your average task will involve you finding a guy with a camera and then doing exactly what he says so that he can line-up the perfect picture. Other events include playing a game of S-K-A-T-E with a fellow pro skater, racing others down hills, and performing monster tricks on city landmarks. Most of these tasks are short, but they may take you several tries because of the way the game controls.
The biggest difference between Skate and the long-running Tony Hawk series is the way you control your character. While the Tony Hawk controls have you using the face buttons to perform tricks (ollies, grabs, etc.), Skate puts all of the controls on the two analog sticks. Your left analog stick is there to control your character, while the right analog stick gives you full control over your tricks. You will still be using the various face buttons and triggers when playing the game, but most of the tricks are done by moving the analog sticks in different directions.
In a lot of ways this control scheme makes sense, there's something exciting about learning how to pull off these moves and having to do something in order to make them work. Skate's trick system requires some skill on your part, so a good deal of this game involves you practicing your repertoire of moves before going into challenges. While there's certainly nothing wrong with simply pushing a button to perform your tricks in the Tony Hawk franchise, there's just something rewarding about pulling off a difficult move by moving around the analog stick.
So here's how it works: When you want to perform an Ollie (a jump) all you need to do is pull back on the right analog stick and then push forward. If you want to add a kickflip or heel kick you will push up and to the right/left. The longer you hold back on the analog stick the higher you'll jump, so it's to your benefit to hold back for the bigger lift offs. Of course, that's a very basic look at the trick system in Skate; the real game offers you dozens of moves all performed by using the analog stick. As you get better you will be rotating the right analog stick around and jamming it into weird angles, most of which works flawlessly.
I say "most" because there are certain moves that are almost impossible to pull off at the right times. The problem with the analog controls is that it's too easy to pull off the wrong move by accident, with so many tricks using similar stick flips you're bound to mess up your trick more than you would like. As you learn the controls you will minimize these problems, but no matter how long you play you'll never get rid of performing the wrong trick by accident 100% of the time. I can only hope that in future iterations Electronic Arts will make the way you pull off tricks a little more diverse so that we won't continue to have this problem.
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