When you think about how tiny the competition for Tony Hawk's Pro Skater has been, it comes as a surprise that SKATE is Electronic Arts' first attempt at a modern skateboarding game. An attempt long overdue, in fact. SKATE is EA's first skateboarding game since Skate or Die 20 years ago. With that, the question begs to be answered, is EA competent enough as a relative newcomer to the genre to dethrone the long running Hawk? Ever since its announcement, the buzz around EA's SKATE has been very high and positive. There's a ton of attention to detail behind the game and you quickly begin to appreciate its authenticity. And having played the game many times throughout its development, I'm a little mixed. The concept is extremely good, but there are technical issues that plague the game.
Off the bat, what I absolutely love about SKATE is how awesome the environments are. The skate parks are just so well put together that the game almost looks like an amusement park for skaters. While the area is one seamless world, you aren't forced to skate back and forth to a location, so you can teleport to specific locations via a train station, keeping the tedium of commuting to a minimum. Now while the look of the game is quite realistic, you'll eventually encounter certain skateparks that will demonstrate some fantasy in their design and architecture.
If you've yet to play the demo, the full game will still give you the option of training you as you begin your career. Option being the keyword, as you can skip the lessons if you choose to. The game will explain the usage of the Flickit controls, using the right analog stick to jump and flip your board. Once you complete that, you'll go into learning how to kick/push for speed, how to pull off grabs, twists, grinds, and ollying onto a platform. The exercises are basic, and you may struggle with them initially, due to the drastically different control schemes between SKATE and Tony Hawk.
Basically, the premise of SKATE is to alienate the idea of everything that Tony Hawk has done in the past, and instead emulate the concept of being an up and coming skateboarder who's got a friend tailing him with a camera everywhere he goes. Now because of the game's visual setup, many will find a nit to pick, as the camera can often be disorienting, sometimes leading to nausea. Making turns makes the camera rotate violently, so if you're the type who suffers from motion sickness when playing games with hectic camera speeds, avoid SKATE. Furthermore, because SKATE forces you to play the game without any other camera configurations to choose from, you'll find yourself frequently mis-timing a trick or jump. While I understand that it directly relates to the concept of SKATE, the whole 'camera-guy following your every move' setup, it still employs a careless limitation that no game today should have.
If you can overlook some of the more glaring flaws of SKATE and give it some time, you'll quickly realize that it may very well be the most ideal skateboarding experience to date. The realism in its gameplay sets it apart from anything out there, and to those who have grown tired of the same old Tony Hawk routine will find solace in SKATE's unparalleled fluidity. To understand SKATE, you have to have some understanding of skateboarding in general. Essentially, the game is physics based; so you may never perform a 1080 in SKATE from a standard sized half-pipe or ramp, you'll need something much more momentous.
You can't grind for 15 minutes either, so forget all of that. Skating will consist of you using the X or Square button to kick/push (each button controls a different leg). Tricks are performed using the right analog stick and the trigger buttons. Want to ollie? Flick the stick down and up; aim an ollie as you're approaching a rail, and you'll perform a grind. Moreover, if in mid-air you're angling your skater forward, the grind will be a lip-grind and if you angle him sideways, the grind will become a frontside boardslide. So as you can see, physics will be what you rely on in order to pull off certain types of moves. When you're in mid-air, you can use the shoulder buttons to perform a grab, and the left analog stick to twist or flip.
Part of SKATE's appeal is that completing a trick really feels satisfying. It's a great feeling, just as it is in real life, because SKATE requires you to put some effort into each trick. There's a thought process involved, where you'll find yourself thinking "okay, how much jumping distance do I need in order to land that rail". It's the first extreme sports game that doesn't hold you by the hand and fixes everyone of your mistakes, and I think fans will really love it. Even in the Freeskate mode you'll find yourself just aimlessly skating around, throwing around tricks and such, despite not being awarded anything for them. Challenges in the career mode will involve various objectives such as following a professional skater around parks, mimicking his moves, or asked to complete an obstacle of some sort. The challenges are fairly standard stuff, nothing you haven't seen before.
Now, what confuses me greatly is the framerate. When playing the demo, the framerate seems perfectly fine. No stuttering and no hiccups. But the final game doesn't seem to benefit from that same feature. The PlayStation 3 version of SKATE has some serious framerate issues around various parts of the game. And when you couple choppiness with the camera issues, your face will find its way on a one way trip to the toilet. It's especially disheartening because the game actually installs 3GB worth of data into your PS3's HDD in order to run smoother. I can't imagine how poorly it'd run if the HDD option wasn't there.
If you can, somehow, get past the varying framerate issues, you'll find one solid looking game in SKATE. SKATE is easily the best looking skateboarding game, to date. Everything about it is stupendous and frivolously detailed. No two locations resemble one another, yet at the same time, the game still manages to smoothly blend in each setting into another. The textures really come to life with the game's superb use of lighting effects. For a world this vast, the amount of mediocre texture detail you'll find isn't nearly as much as you'd imagine it to be. Moreover, unlike Tony Hawk's cartoon-like character details, the skaters in SKATE look more realistic and that helps lend to the game's aim of realism. While while we're on the topic of realism, animations are also yet another facet that you can expect meticulous detail out of. Skaters react to situations and impacts very well, and more importantly, the tricks and transitions between tricks look splendid. You won't find any choppiness here, unless the framerate coughs, of course.
SKATE is an impressive looking game when you consider that when its first screens were revealed, people were quick to write them off as concept renders. There's no doubt in my mind that EA is hard at work on another SKATE entry, and I can only hope that they fix the framerate issues in the second one. The game's target is a mere 30 frames per second, and it's not like the game runs at a crazy resolution or anything. There shouldn't be any excuses for subpar framerate performance when you have the engine rendering at 720p. Lastly, yes, the picture clarity is as smooth as it looks in the screenshots. There's a lot of anti-aliasing being used, so the amount of jagged edges you'll see is fairly limited.
The audio consists of a soundtrack that mixes rock and hip-hop The full list is as follows:
Agent Orange - No Such Thing
Airbourne - Let's Ride
Bad Brains - I Against I
Band Of Horses - The Funeral
Beat Beat Beat - Sinking Slow
Black Flag - Six Pack
Booker T & The MG's - Green Onions
Challenger - Input The Output
Cheap Trick - Surrender
Children Of Bodom - Hate Crew Deathroll
David Bowie - Queen B****
Dead Prez - Hip Hop
Devo - Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy
Eddie Rap Life - Push Your Wood
Eric B & Rakim - Juice (Know The Ledge)
Escalera - Go It Alone
Filthy Thieving Bastards- ...Lords Of The Avenues
Gang Starr - Now You're Mine
H.I.T. - Drama
Mac Mall - Perfect Poison
Motorhead - We Are Motorhead
Nirvana - Lounge Act
N.W.A. - Express Yourself
Renee Renee - Stand Up Talk Easy
Rick James - Give It To Me Baby
Rick Ross - Hustlin'
River City Tanlines - Black Knight
S.T.R.E.E.T.S. - Georgia St.
Sicker Than Others - Face Away
Sister Nancy - Bam Bam
Slayer - Raining Blood
The Briefs - Poor And Weird
The Coup - Ride The Fence
The Dwarves - Massacre
The Exploding Hearts - Your Shadow
The Falcon - Blackout
The Mag Seven - D*** Cemetery
The Ramones - Psycho Therapy
The Returnables - Teenage Imposters
The Sex Pistols - Pretty Vacant
The Stars Misplaced - Prophets And Kings
The White Stripes - Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine
Trouble Andrew - Chase Money
Valient Thorr - Man Behind The Curtain
ZZ Top - Just Got Paid
It's definitely a great soundtrack, but it's a shame that a custom soundtrack couldn't be offered; SKATE seems almost ideal for the feature. Voice acting is contributed by all of the skaters who appear in the game, and it's exchanged quite well. Your camera-guy will act as sort of like your commentator, so you'll frequently hear him in the background. Civilians will yell at you as you pass by them, and of course various sound effects will fill in the noise to complete the package.
SKATE is definitely a step in the right direction for the skateboarding genre and we hope that Tony Hawk follows suit. EA has released an innovative product that both fans of skateboarding games and actual skateboarders will enjoy quite a bit. But I can't really recommend the PlayStation 3 version as an all-out purchase, largely thanks to its framerate issues. If you have an Xbox 360, run out and get a copy of SKATE for it. If you don't (and I assume because you're reading this, you don't), rent SKATE and see if you tolerate its framerate in some of the game's locations. The control scheme works much better than I could've ever imagined it would, and it is visually the type of skateboarding game I prefer looking at. SKATE is a solid first entry for EA, and I can only imagine how much better its sequel will be.
10/17/2007 Arnold Katayev