cardon's Skate (PlayStation 3) review

Skate manages to dethrone the king.

Since its premiere in 1999 the Tony Hawk series has been the king of the extreme sports genre. Not only did it make skating more mainstream but it helped revolutionize the extreme sports genre which up to that point consisted mainly of snowboarding titles. But as the Tony Hawk series continued with its yearly sequels the franchise lost some of its luster, almost becoming like the Madden series. So it’s a bit of a surprise that Electronic Arts, the king of running franchises into the ground, is responsible for breathing some fresh air into the extreme sports genre and quite possibly dethroning Tony Hawk as the king of the Skate genre.

The one aspect that sets Skate apart from the Tony Hawk series is its control. All tricks are handled via the right analog stick with grabs assigned to the shoulder buttons. While some may scoff at this merely thinking its EA’s continued infatuation with having all their titles utilize the right analog stick, it is probably the closest you’ll get to real skating in a videogame. By flicking the right stick down and then popping it back up again the player will perform an Ollie, and doing a downward arc to the left or right will result in a pop-shuvit. This control scheme makes the game feel more natural and will make the player feel like their actually skating compared to doing a trick that requires you to hold down L1+X+Square. The controls in Skate definitely will take some getting used to but once you nail them you’ll feel instant satisfaction partly because Skate is somewhat of a hard title. Compared to the now arcade style Tony Hawk series Skate has been built as a simulation of skating and it shows. The game is all about finding the perfect line and stringing tricks together instead of trying to get a 250,000 point combo. Tony Hawk veterans may find a hard time adjusting to the title since you can’t go around and button smash with the hope landing tricks due to the sim nature of the game. The right analog trick control works well but at times you need to be very clear in what motions you make with it otherwise you won’t do a proper trick or end up bailing. This can be frustrating in the beginning but once you get the grip of the controls and the flow of the game you’ll be pulling off nollie 540s with no problem.

Perhaps the second best part of Skate is the skating playground of San Vanelona. San Van is of course a fictional city but is based upon San Francisco, Vancouver and Barcelona. The city feels like a living world with people walking the streets, other skaters skating around and traffic on the streets. The city is also quite big with there being unique sections such as The Burbs, Downtown and Oldtown. Unlike the Tony Hawk games the entire world of San Vanelona is open from the start of the game except for special skate parks and compounds. Each part of the city has a unique style and you can clearly see the influence the developers had from the real world cities upon which they’re based off of. But perhaps the best part of the city is how it’s set up for skating. Unlike Tony Hawk not everything in San Van is made out of ramps and rails. So don’t expect a conveniently placed ramp and rail on every corner which perfectly sets up another trick opportunity. Instead in Skate you need to find the best line to pull of tricks and use the environment to your advantage. This is both challenging but fun at the same time since it represents real skating. Throughout the city are various skate parks consisting of large scale ones with multiple rails and ramps to old school ones consisting of just a pool. These skate parks are good places to test out your tricks and some of the game’s competitions take place at these locations too. Skate doesn’t offer a level editor but with the playground of San Vanelona you won’t need one.

For the most part Skate is an enjoyable title but there are a few issues. The first and probably most commented one is the camera. In Skate the camera lies low behind the player as to simulate the look found in some skate videos. While this is a nice touch it does get in the way in terms of game play. The camera at times makes it difficult to know where the end of a ledge is if you need to jump a gap and it also makes avoiding civilians, who are absolutely stupid in terms of their “I’m not getting out of the way” A.I. Skate can also seem a bit slow at times. It takes a couple of tricks to gain some speed if you’re in a pool or a particular ramp set-up. But once again this follows the simulation style that Skate is thriving for. So you could either give credit to the developers to sticking with their guns by making the speed of the game seem slow at times, which mirrors real skating or you could look at this as being excessive since games are supposed to be fun. Skate also takes a long time to get used to. Pulling off different tricks will take you awhile since you need to be precise about your analog stick movements and you need to have perfect timing to successfully grind a rail. At times the precise analog movements take awhile from Skate. Yes, the overall idea of using the right analog stick is good and adds a lot to the game but you’ll probably find yourself pulling off the same tricks for the first half of the game or until you get used to things more. Unlike the past few Tony Hawk games you can’t get off of your board. While this doesn’t hurt the game it does make a feel a bit more constraining since there are times when you’ll be aching to just get off your board to walk up some stairs. The lack of a walk mode is clearly something that will make its way into the next iteration of Skate or perhaps even as a download in the future.

Following in the path of the Tony Hawk series and other sports titles you can make your own skater. Skate uses the same customization engine as the other EA titles which aren’t as deep as one may want. However there are a good selection of clothing from brands like DC, Adidas and Alienware as well as a wide selection of boards, trucks and wheels to add that personal touch to your skateboard. As you build up your rep as a skater you’ll be able to join several competitions to boost your rep and to open more competitions. These range from playing a simple game of S.K.A.T.E, entering a trick competition or passing a video/photo challenge. During the game you’ll face challenges by pros like Paul Rodriguez, Jason Dill and Rob Dydrek. In the beginning these challenges are pretty simple and at times serve as a tutorial. But as you progress you’ll face more difficult challenges, some of which border on the insane side. Passing challenges also unlock new skate parks with the ultimate goal being to get to Danny Way’s skate park compound. Once you beat these pro challenges you’ll able to play as the pro’s in the free skate mode. Also when you beat certain challenges you earn more rep which results in sponsorships and getting on magazine covers. It would’ve been nice if there was a bit more of a deeper system in terms of the sponsors you have and the whole magazine cover aspect but for a first attempt EA did a solid job. There’s also a nice challenge called “Own the Spot” in which you need to beat a score on a certain environmental area. An example of this is pulling off a long grind on a stair case which leads to the street or reaching 600 points in a pool. The one thing about these challenges is that they aren’t listed on the map and only appear when you skate by them. This was a nice game design decision since it in a way encourages the player to explore San Van to find all 20 spots.

Technically Skate is a solid title. The art design of San Vanelona is nice, the modeling of the various pro skaters and civilians are good and the overall look of the game is probably the best EA has produced this gen so far. Sadly there are quite a few moments of frame rate drops and pop-up. The small occasions of pop-up aren’t that bad or noticeable but the frame rate drops are quite frequent and at times are unexplainable*. Typically a game suffers frame drops when there is a lot happening at once (see Lair as an example of this) but with Skate it’ll happen when you’re pulling off tricks in a skate pool. The frame drops never really hurt the experience you have with the game but it just may bug you as to why this is happening on a powerhouse console like the PS3.

Skate also has a pretty deep online experience which spans beyond the standard multiplayer fare. Skate has options to join ranked or unranked matches so you can meet up with some friends if you want. There are also online leader boards to see who the top skater is. But the core of Skate’s online mode is the Skate Reel. In this players can edit videos of them from the single-player mode and put them online. You can watch these user videos directly from the game or from the Skate website. And if you were impressed with someone’s skill in a particular video you can even rate videos. This aspect of the game is really fun since you can see the skill level of other people and it fits the skating culture of producing skate videos.

As always EA brings a nice selection of bands for the soundtrack. You can expect bands like Nirvana, Black Flag and more during your Skate experience. You can of course edit your play list if you grow tired of hearing Nirvana for the 10th time, but who would ever grow tired of Nirvana? The one problem with the audio in Skate is that your skater is a mute. So during the small cutscenes in the game in which you meet a fellow Pro Skater or enter a tournament you can expect the GTA 3 treatment from your skater. Instead you have a fellow skater who “follows” you and serves as your cinematographer. So while you’re skating and pull off a slick move or bail out you can expect some comments from him instead of hearing yourself say something. This trend of not having a voice option for created characters has been in quite a few EA games and really doesn’t make sense. Why not have a few selections of voices for the player to choose to further add that personal touch? Aside from the lack of voice acting for your character the acting provided for the secondary characters and the pro skaters are quite good and feel natural.

So does Skate dethrone Tony Hawk? I would say yes. While there are some minor issues with the game Skate presents a more realistic view of skating and in a way pays more respect to skating than the recent Tony Hawk games have. Skate feels fresh both in the control and the layout of San Vanelona. Hopefully EA will address the minor issues as Skate will become the premier skating game for extreme sports fans.

*there are also frame rate drops in the 360 version of the game
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