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razerangel avatar 1:55 PM on 05.12.2008  (server time)
If you love it, change it: skate.

For many years we skateboard loving gamers amused ourselves with the great-yet-arcadey antics in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. Sure they were fun, really fun, but the skateboarding itself and the physics just felt...wrong. There was definitely something missing from the experience that annoyed me, it probably affected me worse than most non-skateboarding gamers because of the amount of time I used to pour into the sport. Then the Tony Hawk’s games took a turn for the worse and transformed into the hideous beasts of Tony Hawk’s Underground 1, 2 and Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. These games offended me so much that I didn’t even bother to buy them. Sure they sold well but that was due to the fact that no other half decent skateboarding games around at that time. Neversoft seemed to realise their vile mistakes and aborted the American Wasteland series in favour of the back-to-basics Project 8. I picked this one up and liked it quite a bit, it wasn’t as good as the original games but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Then one warm day in spring I saw a post on the internet about EA’s new skateboarding game...

I was intrigued it has to be said, I’m not the biggest EA fan out there but their subsidiaries tend to put out interesting new IPs from time to time, so I thought I would read a bit more about it. I had just finished Project 8 so I thought this could tide me over till the next TH game. It seemed like a solid concept, an open world to skate about in and more realistic physics looked to be a great combination for a great realistic skateboarding game. The one thing that worried me actually was the new control scheme, they pegged it as revolutionary but I had serious doubts about it. When I read about it, it seemed nothing short of awkward and clunky compared to the precision of the THPS scheme. Then the game came out and I bought it, I fell in love. It was the closest that a game has ever came to re-creating the realism of skateboarding. The physics were incredible; the tricks were realistic but most importantly of all the control scheme I had worried about so much was simply amazing.

However this month’s “Monthly Musings” theme isn’t “Talk about how your favourite game is amazing” it is “If you love it, change it”, so I will now point out the flaws that this most brilliant of games unfortunately has. First of all the game was extremely buggy, to the point of annoyance. I think this flaw existed because skate was the first game by EA Black Box on the “next-gen” consoles. They did a great job with the mechanics, design and art but ultimately it has been the only game to ever freeze my PS3. One of my friends had the 360 version and it froze his console too, so I think it was bugs in the engine and not specific to the difficult coding environment of the PS3. It wasn’t just the game freezing, sometimes the textures themselves would pop up and the cars would sometimes appear out of nowhere. There were times were I got stuck in walls as well which really annoyed me.

The game is technically a sandbox game and has inherited the flaws of the genre, most prevalent of all the jumps in the difficulty curve that happens due to not having a linear path for the missions. Some of the missions would be ridicolously easy and at the same point in time you could have a stupidly hard mission to do. In fact there is still 1 or 2 of the video missions I haven’t completed because I got so frustrated at their difficulty and/or my incompetence. There were times where the instructions themselves were unclear and it was a case of trial and error to find out exactly what parameters needed to be met before you could complete the task. There was one particular mission where you had to nollie 360 flip over a stair set but it was worded so badly it took me 5 tries before i figured out what to aim for and suffice to say that was not my idea of fun.

Although a minor gripe, I felt that the game’s storyline itself was a bit on the short side. It could be run through in about 6-8 hours. Generally in sandbox games the storyline is at least 15 hours long and opens up the world as you complete various missions but skate had the entire city of San Vanelona open from the very beginning which took away the sense of linearity that sandbox games have and in some ways the feeling of accomplishment that accompanies this progression. The game could have used some more interesting challenges to buff up the story line, although this would probably end up with either a lot of repetitive challenges (see pro skate missions) or the horrible route of Jackass-esque challenges that the Tony Hawk’s games took.

The traffic was apparently super dangerous in this game as if you even brushed a car you would bail (fall over) and the car would be unscathed. I wouldn’t have been annoyed by this if it only happened when you hit the cars at speed but it happened each and every time, mostly in the middle of a very high scoring combo. The cars also had no damage which would have been a nice touch to add to the realism of the world, but then again not every racing game has damage (see Gran Turismo and Mario Kart). Somehow hitting a car at speed on your board and leaving a person sized dent in the bumper would have made this game so much more satisfying but that is probably the sadistic murder-training game player in me getting out.

The final flaw I found with this game is the “skate.reel” function that the game used. EA made a huge deal of this pre- and post-launch but I could never seem to get it to work. The idea behind it was do an amazing trick in game, edit the replay, upload it to the skate.reel servers and view it online at any point in time. However in practise I have not once got this to work, I can upload it fine but as soon as I go to look for the video on their website it goes through the same three pages, asks me to register or login then back to the original page and it annoys me because I uploaded some impressive and just plain cool tricks. If the service had been a bit simpler then I would have enjoyed using it but it got me so frustrated that I just gave up on it.

As you can see although I love this game there are many things about it which I would have wanted changed before it was released. Hopefully EA Black Box has seen the problems that people had with this game and fix it before the inevitable annual update. If they do fix the problems then I think they will have created the best skateboarding game ever which will then cause a rip in the space time continuum as a game will have to actually get 11/10 and reviewers will be sucked off into the black abyss.

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