January 26, 2008
Let me start by saying that I have been a fan of the Tony Hawk games since the very first one. I have played all eight of the Tony Hawk games extensively and have fallen in love with the skate boarding genre. Before Skate, Tony Hawk had a monopoly on skateboarding games and was the only place to go for big air and crazy gaps. But Skate aims to change all that by not only challenging the Tony Hawk series, but the very way we think of skating games as well.
Developed by EA's BlackBox and published by Electronic Arts, Skate has been a surprisingly huge success. The two major components of the game are campaign and the online play. Both of these have been put together wonderfully, but each comes with its own little flaws. The campaign starts you off with an entertaining opening cut scene in which you get hit by a dump truck. You are taken away to a hospital and have surgery done by professional skaters featured in the game. Next, you appear at the community center with some skating friends who are teaching you to skate again after your massive injury. In the next few minutes, you will learn all that is needed to know to pull off every trick in the game. With the new "flick it" system every trick you do feels realistic. Instead of the traditional "button combo" to pull off tricks, you must link together many different thumbstick movements to perform a trick. To ollie, you must pull the right stick back towards yourself and then push it quickly forward. This imitates you crouching on a real board moving your feet back and then jumping up and pushing forward. It is a massive departure from skating games of yesteryear and will take veterans of the Tony Hawk series a while to get used to.
Your first real goal after a few tutorials is to make a skate video. You get to start wherever you want and have 30 seconds to do all the required tasks. These tasks are all listed at the right of your screen and usually consist of such things as 'do 5 grinds', 'ollie 10 feet', or 'get X amount of points'. When you get to harder videos there will be goals such as 'nose manual into a grind and flip out into a manual.' These films are what the main story is based around; to show off your skills and become famous. Besides the filming goals there are also a few other types including: competitions, impress a pro, photo shoots, and S.K.A.T.E. (like h-o-r-s-e with basketball but on a skateboard). Most of the goals are fun but will eventually get repetitive.
The ultimate goal in the game is to be on the cover of two different major skate boarding magazines while getting sponsored by four different sponsors along the way. During your path to fame, you will skate alongside such pros as Danny Way, Mark Gonzales, Chris Haslam, and 17 other pros for a total of 20 professional skateboarders in the game. At first the pros will think you are 'weak' and don't have skills, but soon enough you're given a chance to impress them and gain the ability to use their sponsor.
The most creative and original feature (yes, Skate came out before Halo 3) is the replay feature. If you do something that you think is awesome, you can pause the game and then watch your last two minutes of game play from five different angles. From here you can edit the speed, angle, video quality, and length. Once this is done, you can upload it to your own shared footage (much like Halo 3's file share), wherein you can also see the latest lines and accomplishments of your friends. As well as filming video, you can take snapshots of yourself doing that bad-ass trick you have been perfecting for the last week. It also opens up some unique opportunities for achievements and is a welcome addition to the game.
While the campaign is a decent length (15-25 hours depending on skill) it tends to get repetitive after a while. Sometimes you will be asked to do almost the exact same goal with just a little higher score goal or grind length within a few minutes of the previous goal. Also, the control system will seem very clunky when you first start and will take time and practice to get used to. The biggest and most disappointing flaw in the game is the fact that you cannot get off of your skateboard, ever. This makes getting to high places and some lines very challenging and at times down right impossible. From the campaign perspective those are the biggest flaws that may hinder some people's experience.
When you first start up the multiplayer of Skate, you may be overwhelmed by all of the options. There are leader boards, personal stats, ranked games, player games, most viewed footage, and more. Once you navigate your way to play an online game, you will find that you must decide between trick-based games or race-based games. The trick games are Jam, Spot Challenge, S.K.A.T.E., and Best Trick. These are all prevalent in the campaign and are all about doing the better trick or scoring the most points. The race games are Death Race and Spot Race. In Death Races, it is an all out race to the end while passing through gates, the traditional type of race. In Spot Races however, you must perform increasingly challenging tricks at each gate. These vary from doing a simple kick flip, to scoring 1,000 points in the gate. Unfortunately, you cannot pick what level you play on while online as the game randomly puts you in a room with a never-ending cycle of all the maps. It's a shame EA went this route and honestly in this day and age, you expect at least this level of customization in an online game. Once a game is finished, you will gain a certain amount of experience based on how well you placed in the round; if you get first place you will receive 16 experience, 12 for second, 10 for third, 8 for fourth, and so on. Although your experience has nothing to do with who you play with, it will help you earn achievements and climb your way to the top of the leader boards.
There are a few flaws with Skate's multiplayer however. It is very easy to be matched up with someone much better than you, leaving you completely dominated in most cases. The main reason behind this being that Skate is a game that you will improve enormously at as you play more. It would have been nice to have a rank system to keep novices away from the truly hardcore if they wish. Definitely an oversight. Also, every time you play a level it will be the exactly the same and will eventually become tedious. Add to that the fact that when playing trick games it can be extremely boring to wait for other people to take their turns. In Jam and Best Trick this is not a problem, but when playing Spot Challenge and S.K.A.T.E. you must wait for the whole cycle of players to complete before you get to go and who wants to sit around waiting when they could be playing?
If you are looking for good graphics in a skateboarding game then Skate is right for you. Compared to the Tony Hawk games, Skate looks magnificent, although that isn't saying much. Still, Skate sports some graphical trickery that is impressive to find in a skating game. Shadows working well with the objects that cast them, the lighting on moving figures, and the overall feel of the world. You don't notice these things at first as they are fairly standard in this day and age, but Skate actually has the best graphics in a skateboarding game ever. Whilst the number of people and cars is impressively high and perhaps a nice technical feat, you'll often find yourself frustrated as you dodge something and ruin a perfectly good run.
The graphics online are about what you would expect, and aren't noticeably downgraded from the single player portion. However, when you run into someone, instead of colliding you'll go right through them. This is only a real problem when you are racing and just so happen to be inside each other. Falling can provide some pretty humorous events thanks to the rag doll physics, which simply put is pretty much just like if you were to take a doll and toss it down a hill; arms and legs flailing around and landing in odd positions.
The achievements for Skate are fairly generic with some exceptions. Most of the achievements are pretty average and are similar to other games, for example, getting to a certain rank online, winning and playing a certain amount of online games, campaign milestones, and 100% of the game complete. However, there are also a few achievements that are fairly original, such as breaking all your bones a certain amount of times, watching an online session, landing a rocket air, along with several relating to the replay feature. I feel that there is a good balance of online and offline achievements, although there is definitely more offline than online. This is not a game for easy achievements and takes great skill to get a high score.
Due to the lack of multiplayer maps I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some additions via DLC, because as it stands I found myself getting quite bored after playing the same maps over and over again. Another addition via DLC that would be greatly appreciated are flatland tricks. As of now, all you can do on the ground is manuals and nose manuals. If they added even a couple tricks like a casper, a to rail, or some sex change variations, it would really open things up for some variety. These things seem like they would work perfectly for Skate but have been left out for some reason. Although the end of the tunnel does not appear to have a light in it, I am still hoping for some DLC to make the game even better.
The soundtrack for Skate is excellent, featuring over 45 songs. Along with good music comes very realistic sounds effects from your skateboard during play. Sometimes the sounds are a tad bit off, but for the most part are very well done.
The environment looks good in most situations, and your feet work with the board beautifully. The main problem is the occasional on-screen glitches showing something that is not really happening. Most lip-sync seems to be quite off when a character speaks; you'll occasionally bump into a person and they will go into an elaborate dance before falling, then get back up move their mouth strangely without words coming out.
The controls are very challenging and will take time to get used to. It can be a hassle to get around in some instances without getting off your board, but overall the game plays very well after the controls are mastered.
The campaign gets you involved right from the get-go and will have you playing for quite a while. You may get bored of the game in due time, but it's great in the short term.
The achievements are nothing new. They are definitely spread out well and incorporate all parts of the game. The achievements get an 85 instead of 90 due to the extreme difficulty of some of them, and straight up time it takes to do it.
Skate is the first game that can ever stand up to the infamous Tony Hawk series. It is a very fun experience and a must play for any Tony Hawk fans or skaters who want a realistic approach at skating in video games. Although I personally prefer the classic arcade feel to Tony Hawk games, Skate is a great game for you to feel like you are actually skateboarding. I highly recommend Skate to all skateboarding enthusiasts.