Think ‘skateboarding videogames’ and for years there’s only really been one title that comes to mind; the ‘Tony Hawk’ series published by Activision. Now there’s another and it’s hard to accept that they’re both modelled on the same activity – the two games couldn’t be more different. The new skid on the block, named skate is a ‘back to the drawing board’ look at how to bring a really fun skateboarding game to the masses.
With this fundamental approach, EA Big Box have nailed a number of interesting challenges. First, they’ve chucked a good deal of mud in the eyes of their perennial critics, who claim that EA have no interest in innovation. skate is innovation with bells, whistles and knobs on and the ‘Flickit’ control mechanicÂ alone makes the Tony Hawk system seem veryÂ simplistic in comparison. Even the simplest Ollie takes a couple of gos to get the hang of and, with all the variations open to the player, hours and hours to master. As with several other of their sports games, EA are working out how to use the buttons and sticks on the controllers to provide more intuitive control mechanics, more closely reflecting how a player would control his stick, club or ball, in real life. With skate it makes perfect, intuitive, sense.
Second, EA has made a far more demanding simulation of skateboarding. Gone is the familiar ‘motorised skateboard’ that chugs along without input from the player, which removes the principal challenge of skateboarding from the very start. Gone too are the arcade-like tasks and the emphasis on combo strings and crazy-high scoring. Sure, it’s a lot harder when you’re starting out, and you have to put in a lot of effort to get good, but skate perfectly conveys the feeling of actually riding the board around under your own power.
Thirdly, the multiplayer element shares the imaginative and creative approach of the single player game, while remaining rooted in the newfound skateboarding realism. Credible activities resemble those the real-life guys do and take the shape of ‘owning’ lines and areas, impressing fellow skaters with what you’ve found, or done, and so on, rather than the ageing ‘score loads of points’ objective. But it’s the online component that really captures the spirit of skate, and thanks to an in-game video replay editor, you can record the highs and lows of your skating and then post them via Xbox Live for everyone to see. Already, there’s a vibrant online community with a real sense of camaraderie building online around this game.
skate makes you acquire your mad skillz the hard way, which may not seem like much fun at first. But the payoff, when you first nail a long rail grind or leap over a set of stairs, hit a board trick in mid-air and then land the long drop, is hugely satisfying and there’s a tangible sense of achievementÂ because you did that, not the game, not anyone else, but you.
skate clearly demonstrates that someone important somewhere at EA understands not just the small pool of devoted skaters who’ll pick up this game but a much, much larger group of gamers who like their digital entertainment to be active, involving and challenging. As such, skate is a superb alternative approach to a skateboarding game. Whether you know your way around a skatepark or not, skate is sublime, and worth every cent.