SKATE Xbox 360 Review
When you think about skate boarding videogames, you think about one name - Tony Hawk. There is no doubting the fact that ever since Neversoft and
Activision teamed up for the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on the PSX back in 99, there has probably only been one name more recognizable in sports
based videogames, and that's Madden NFL. THPS was and is popular because it combined hardcore skate boarding with pick-up and play arcade style
gameplay, and it did it so well and dominated
the genre so much that there was virtually no
point in competing titles at all, and as such none came about that even got close to challenging its crown. That is, until now. EA have decided to enter the
long since emptied out pool that is the skate boarding video gaming genre with SKATE, but with a twist, because while the Tony Hawk series
caters towards the mainstream gamer with its arcade-ish style, SKATE is dictated by the laws of the real world.
Based around the fictional city of San Vanelona, SKATE deploys the expected open-ended nature that has become standard in just about every genre
where it makes sense to be standard. This means, as you skate around the city and its four major areas, you can choose what to do and when to do it, and in a
game design decision I love, just about everywhere in the city is accessible from the start. This is mostly appreciated in the game's 'Career' mode, which is
the primary mode on offer, because it is here
where you will actually be able to do stuff other than just skate around randomly, as you do in the 'Free Skate' mode. It is in the 'Career' mode where you
create your skater from a bevy of customizable options ranging from body and face types to clothes and accessories, and embark on your journey to go from
amateur to pro skater, and from pro skater to legend.
To do this, you must work on your 'coverage', or in other words, work on getting your name out there. As you skate around the streets and parks of San
Vanelona, you will come across certain event types that each have their rewards, such as improving your reputation amongst the skating community and earning
sponsorships from the many included licensed brands, to money rewards so you can buy more gear for your skater. The amount of variation on offer with these
types of events is quite plentiful, ranging
from challenges from pro skaters to pull off specific tricks to following other skaters through tricky paths testing your ability to skate downhill quickly.
There are also other events that are not
related to the game's coverage or money system, such as the "Own The Spot" events, which task you with beating a top score on a particular object
or landmark. Whatever the case, there is always plenty to do in the career mode, and you can what to do, and when to do it.
Advancing the storyline in the career mode is all about reaching the next level of exposure which means photo shoots in magazines, features in videos, and
other achievements of that nature. The game interacts with you via a product placement in the form of a T-Mobile Sidekick, sending you voice recorded
messages when new locations or events of interest become available. This virtual Sidekick device is just one of a few handy features the game has in your
character's 'back pack', which also includes a complete
trick list, a log book featuring a load of stats and information about your current skater, a 'spot bible' detailing all the 'Own The Spot' areas of the
city, the ability to change all your clothing and skating accessories you have already purchased, a map of the entire city allowing you to spawn at any
active event either completed or not, and the ability to access any photos or replays you've created during the course of play. There is also Xbox Live
accessibility within the Sidekick for quick access to playing
online and viewing community created media.
The career mode is definitely where most of the gameplay can be had in SKATE, but there are other modes to keep you busy if developing a skater
isn't your cup of tea. As mentioned already, there is the ability to 'Free Skate' the city but the only difference here besides the lack of career related
events is you are allowed to skate with one of the game's included pro skaters - otherwise the career mode itself is basically just as
open and 'free'. For multiplayer, the game has two modes on offer - the
ability to go on Xbox Live and skate online in either ranked or unranked matches, or the ability to play against friends locally using the 'Party Mode'.
Whatever the mode, the gameplay in SKATE basically remains the same across the board, and it is at the gameplay where SKATE will either turn
you away, or leave you hooked. This is because, as hinted on in the opening paragraph, SKATE has a very heavy emphasis on realism, which is quite a
change from what we've come to know and love in this genre. This heavy emphasis on realism has its positives and negatives, and depending on what type of
gamer you are, you're either going
to love it, or hate it.
Simply put, SKATE is going to be the skate boarding enthusiast's wet dream when it comes to videogames. While series in the past like THPS
have focused on huge air with insane tricks, SKATE is quite the opposite, featuring realistic air, plausible tricks and an bias towards technical
prowess. This is all mainly thanks to the fact the game is played out in a fully featured physics engine with realistic gravity, velocity, momentum,
collision detection etc, creating a very true
to life feel to the game. In other words, things you don't expect to be possible in real life probably won't work in this game either. For example, If your
skateboard nicks some other object in the air during a trick or a grind, then don't expect to land on all four wheels. If you're trying to do a backflip and
you let go of your board before finishing your rotation, expect to eat some asphalt. The physics engine in this game is probably one of the best and most
authentic ever featured in a game regardless
SKATE Xbox 360 Review
To take advantage of the powerful engine,
SKATE utilizes both analog sticks for controlling most aspects of the game. Obviously the left stick is used to move about direction wise, but the
use of the right analog stick is quite unique for this genre, as it takes on the role for ollies - the fundamental building block for most skating tricks and
moves - as well as flip tricks. To execute these flip tricks, you flip the right analog stick according to the trick you're trying to pull off, where the
longer you hold it before launching and the quicker you do launch, the higher you go. To execute other types of moves, such as spins and grabs, the game is a
little simpler - just turn as normal in the air for spins, and use the shoulder triggers to grab with each hand respectively. It is also interesting to note
that grinding in this game (that is, sliding across ledges and rails) is actually far more simplified than we're used to in this genre, as there is no button
to initiate a grind and no mini-game to maintain
a grind - just land on a grind-able object with forward momentum to initiate, and the game basically maintains your balance until you're forward progression
stops, or until you jump out of it.
This control and trick system is really something special as it allows for so much control. In a way, SKATE simplifies the whole ollie and
flip/grab/grind system to the point it seems so easy in theory, but the precision and timing required in practice makes it detailed and very powerful. Even
though you can make do basically mashing the right analog stick, those more seriously into the game can go well beyond this into the realm of obsessively
mastering every move and trick around the beautifully crafted city of San Vanelona. Yes, there is absolutely no doubting that SKATE is a technical
master piece and a downright brilliant
representation of the skating art form, but it comes at a price, and this price is sacrificed accessibility and playability.
Don't get me wrong, the gameplay in SKATE can be fun, but it can also be very tedious and terribly repetitive. The problem with such an open and
powerful control system and engine is, while it allows for masters of the game to really flourish, it also allows for less than perfect gamers to really
struggle as there is basically little to no assistance at all - there is no difficulty setting and no attribute points for skaters as everything is down to
your own abilities. Mastering the trick system,
or more specifically the flip trick system, is also extremely hard as it requires so much finesse to be able to execute a flip trick on demand even if you
pause the game and check the trick book, knowing exactly how to do it. This is because the game squishes a large amount of different flip tricks all onto the
right analog stick, so the difference between two or three tricks could be very small and near impossible to replicate on demand in the actual game.
The make matters worse, the slightest error in this game will almost always cause you to fall flat on your face, and I'm not exaggerating here - this game
demands darn near perfection for almost everything you do, so you can expect to fall over a lot. Sometimes it's hard to even line up a grind properly let
alone flip trick to manual on a table top while gapping to another table top, landing in a manual and flip tricking out of it, which is the stuff you will
eventually have to do if you want to
go anywhere in the career mode. It may be slightly embarrassing to admit this, but I literally spent more than one hour trying to finish a Pro Challenge much
like this because the probability someone like me, a relative new comer to the game, could pull a series of moves like this off flawlessly was naturally very low. I can't
say that was the most enjoyable hour of gaming in my life - in fact, it was down right horrible.
But then comes the rush of satisfaction when you pull something like this off in SKATE, allowing you to forget all your woes, until the next one
anyway. When you somehow manage to create a flow of flips and grinds and grabs that you thought you could never do, it's a very sweet feeling. So sweet you
want to keep it on hand to show a friend when they come over and laugh at you face planting an ollie over a 2 inch gutter, which you will do plenty of times,
trust me. Luckily this
can be done easily enough with the game's replay editor, which can not only save replays and photos locally, but also allows you to upload them to the online
SKATE community for others gamers to view. As the game says, "it's fiction until you've got it on film", so the presence of a reasonably
detailed replay and video editor in this game is certainly a nice one.
To coincide with the game's down to earth approach, SKATE features reasonably impressive graphics which itself has a very realistic and gritty
feel. The city of San Vanelona is rendered nicely with a lot of atmosphere and character, as you'd expect from a city riddled with skate culture, but at the
same time you never get the impression the city was modeled exclusively for the skater in mind which adds to the game's creativity. When EA first released
screenshots for this game some time ago
I recall cringing at the presence of a vignetting effect on the screen during gameplay at all times but it actually comes off quite well
when you see it first hand, somehow adding to the game's realistic feel. The only complaint I can muster with the visuals is the game's camera view, which is
mostly fine but its 'low and slightly to the side angle' approach can sometimes make precision landing, such as aiming for skinny rails, quite challenging.
To complete the aesthetics, the sound in this game is also quite
top notch, particularly the sound effects associated with skating on different surfaces, further adding to the game's realistic feel.
SKATE is a very well made and unique game that oozes quality and attention to detail, but at the same time I have to wonder just how appealing this
is to the mainstream gamer, who may not have the patience or passion for skating to not only put up with the game's initial learning curve but also its
general complexity that will take hours and hours to even come close to properly mastering. On one hand you really have to commend EA for a title such as
this as I'm sure there are plenty of
gamers out there who would go giddy for such an awesome representation of skating, but on the other hand there mustn't be but a handful of games ever made
that are more frustrating and demanding when it comes to perfection as SKATE is, and it can really put you off. I dunno, maybe I'm just not cut out
for SKATE like I'm not cut out for real skating, but if this is the case, I doubt I'm alone. You can't blame EA for wanting to take on a niche area of
the skating genre considering the stranglehold
Activision have on pick-up and play arcade fun with the Tony Hawk series, but this ultimately means SKATE won't be for everybody. Still though,
I can't bring myself to giving SKATE an average score because it is really much more than just an average every day game.