The sub-genre of sports games devoted to skateboarding has changed drastically since its debut. Originally, titles such as Thrasher and Skate Or Die portrayed skateboarding as a cliché-ridden MTV-friendly adventure where one could just as likely be killed by bees as grind a rail.
Then came Tony Hawk and his eponymous series of skating titles. While Tony’s games elevated the state of virtual skateboarding — and sold an assload of copies — they reflected the traditions of gaming more than the revered and decades old traditions of skateboarding — so while the titles were fun, they were still simply arcade games with a famous spokesperson and a dope soundtrack.
A few days ago, Electronic Arts dropped skate. on the gaming community in an effort to dethrone the empire Mr. Hawk and Neversoft had created for Activision. How did they do?
Hit the jump to find out.
For those of you with attention spans rivalling that of the tiny Tsetse fly, the condensed version of what I’m about to say goes like this: skate. Is the new king of skateboarding games. It improves on every aspect of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, and drops all of the unncessary, unrealistic wackiness that Neversoft added merely for levity. If you’ve ever enjoyed skateboarding or the video game equivalent of such, you will love skate.
skate. prides itself on its realism. From the control scheme that remains closer to Street Fighter-style half-circle Hadoukens than THPS’ Tekken-esque button mashing combos, to the series of young, yet popular pro skaters you interact with, everything in skate. has a feel of authenticity that has been quickly abandoned with greater and greater zeal in each successive iteration of the THPS titles. Some might worry that this realism will turn off those who merely enjoy virtual skating and have no interest in spending three hours drinking beers at the Burnside Skate Park, but the entire game is presented so intuitively and with such great attention to detail that gamers will adhere to the learning curve like a Pennywise sticker to the bottom of your fourteen year old brother’s Zoo York deck.
The presentation of skate. is at once utterly slick and gritty as the faux Southern California city the game takes place in. The graphics, while not equal to those in BioShock or Forza 2, are still above average for a new-gen title and when combined with the (occasionally overzealous) physics engine and stylistic cues in the game, the presentation gives off the same sort of vibe you see in skater rags like Thrasher magazine. I also have to give special attention to the soundtrack. Without any hyperbole, I can say that this is the finest real-world soundtrack ever included in a video game. It runs the gamut from metal to hip-hop to indie rock, and by including music from The Exploding Hearts, Mike Skinner and Band of Horses, EA automatically won the affection of everyone who lives in Portland, Oregon.
In every skating game since the beginning of time, the focus is on the gravity-defying stunts you can manage to twist your body/board combination into. While THPS relies on a combo system that shattered phalanges with its intense number of high-speed button presses and digital contortions that would give a Capuchan arthritis, skate. uses a system of joystick manipulations to launch you into the air, turn your body and flip your board about. Grinding is merely a matter of landing properly on a ledge, and when combined with manuals that are as simple as leaning the stick forward or back, you have your arsenal of tricks. Of course, on their own these techniques dont add up to much, but by filling your multiplier meter, and doing tricks often enough to ensure it stays lit, you can carve amazing lines that lack the surreal, cartoonish glee of THPS, but more than make up for it in realism and the inherent sex appeal of the sport itself.
That control scheme may also lead to one of the titles greatest challenges. THPS succeeded so handily due to its pick-up-and-play nature that appealed to everyone, but skate. has a definite learning curve. It’s almost preferable to play this game before breaking your hymen on Tony’s title, as trying to ween yourself off of the THPS fundamentals will take more time than picking up skate.’s gameplay basics from the well-crafted tutorials. The control scheme — while more complex — also offers much more satisfaction once it has been mastered, and the focus becomes one of technical excellence instead of scores in the hundreds of thousands as a result.
Topping off this already delicious counterculture muffin is the video and photo capture system built in. A similar idea was demonstrated recently in Forza 2, but it wasn’t nearly as robust as the one found here. The system allows you to save both photos and videos, edit them in-game then upload them directly to EA’s servers. Once live on the Internet, you can e-mail them to friends, co-workers and that ex-girlfriend of yours who left you for Mike Vallely. The ability to show off your finest lines, tricks and crashes has been a favorite activity in real skating since its inception and emulating this so well in virtual form was a stroke of genius.
The game isn’t without flaws, however. It loses points based on the fact that its multiplayer is basically just that found in THPS, and while that means it’s rather robust, in a title with so much innovation over what came before I was expecting more. Also, while load times are quite manageable and rarely overlong, they occasionally occur often enough to cause annoyance. Both of these issues though, are relatively minor when compared to everything else this title offers.
In the end, skate. is the finest skateboarding title available. It’s the sort of game where the world is so completely open-ended and well-designed that while the “main quest” might take thirty hours, many people are going to be coming back to this title for months to come. EA did an amazing job with this title and the THPS boys are going to have to pull out some amazing work to top this one.
Destructoid Final Verdict:
Verdict: Buy it!