For some time now there has only been one skateboard game franchise available in the video game arena. EA has seen this seemingly large uncontested hole, and decided that time was nigh for some competition. Enter Skate. First off, Skate is much more of a ‘sim’ type game than its competition, so the onus isn’t on doing massive impossible tricks, but rather perfecting the tricks and linking them together for a ‘line’ to score big point bonuses.
However we are getting ahead of ourselves; before you can do tricks, you need to know the basics. For anybody who has done any skateboarding the controls are surprisingly similar to the real thing: pull back on the right stick, then as your skater is at full compression, push forward on the stick and there you have an ollie. By combining a bit of angle when pushing the stick forward, you will either perform a heel or kick flip (depending on the thumbstick's left or right lean and your skater's stance). If you add some right stick rotation in the mix, and depending where the rotation sits, you will do a pop-shuvit, or a 360 pop-shuvit - and there you have it: the basic ‘flickit’ controls of Skate.
Once you have the flickit controls mastered, it’s now just a matter of using the shoulder buttons to grab the board with either your left or right hand. By using the flickit controls and grabs, it becomes very easy to start earning points. But as we said earlier, the trick is to link them together to form a ‘line’. This can be done in two main ways: either by performing a manual (a wheelie on the rear wheels) by pulling the right stick part way back, or by grinding (sliding down a hand rail, etc.). This encompasses both grinds on the board's trucks, or on the rails (or more accurately the deck as no self-respecting skater would use deck rails now). So, for example, a way to score a good line is to: perform a manual, then kick flip on to a handrail and rail slide down, 360 pop-shuvit off the hand rail, land in a nose manual, nollie (an ollie, but off the front wheels, so reverse the ollie procedure above) on to a planter and grind the planter and heel flip off. At this point you could keep on going ad infinitum, if you could keep up the momentum. Doing a line like the above is very similar to what you will see the pro’s doing in any video down at the local skate shop.
The similarities to skate videos doesn’t end there. When the game is first loaded up you are treated to an opening movie, not too dissimilar to skate videos. It shows a skater skating through a school environment, ollieing stairs, rail sliding hand rails, and so on. All this is filmed in the obligatory fisheye lens... only for the skater to get hit by a bus! Here the opening credits roll, and in true skate video fashion, you are introduced to the pro skaters in the game portraying different roles during the ambulance ride back to A&E.
Once the skater arrives at A&E, you are presented with the skater setup screen where you decide what your skater looks like. There is a number of options for setting up your doppelganger including build, muscle-to-fat ratio, skin colour, hair colour/style, and clothing. However, you can’t seem to make your skater insanely overweight. You start with a small amount of money, so you can buy a few upgrades from the standard kit such as decks, trucks, wheels, etc. When you have decided on your skater, the opening movie kicks in, and the ‘doctor’ starts to pull out the more arcane tools used by the hospital to give your skater his look.
The gameplay itself is very simple to pick up: you skate around the environment and look for a marker (a large coloured scribble) showing your challenges. When you get to the area of the challenge you will be given an option to accept; when you do you, you watch a short sequence of the skater who has offered the challenge. He then explains what the challenge entails. These challenges could involve a game called S.K.A.T.E in which, if you don’t land the trick, you get a letter highlighted or conversely get the NPC to get letters against his name. Or Own the Spot, whereby you need to beat a certain score by performing at a certain skate spot within a limited area. Best Trick, Photo and Film are all self-explanatory, and Jam involves a time-allocated event in which you need to score the highest total points. Deathrace is a downhill race challenge, where you need to make your way down a long downhill run through streets and parks and you need to go through gates on the way down; miss three gates and you’re out.
During the course of the game, the idea is to get photos taken and into magazines. Soon enough you’ll get on the cover. As you gain notoriety, you will get access to challenges with pro skaters, which then opens up the possibility of pro sponsorship, meaning you can earn money allowing you to buy different boards, trucks, wheels, clothes, shoes, and accessories, etc.
There is also an online mode that can be played. Online play supports four players and the games we have had have been relatively lag-free. All the options we have come to expect are there, such as quick match and custom match. When competing in ranked matches at the end of the event (deathrace, spot race, spot battle, jam, best trick, and S.K.A.T.E), you gain experience points, which raise your online profile. If competing online isn’t your thing, you can also start up party play, where you invite your friends and have a social game. During the career mode you will unlock areas and skaters that can be played in party play. It is here in online mode that you can look at photos and films uploaded by other players.
The graphics, whilst good, aren’t great. For example, when skating through a dark area (a carpark building, for example), no matter which direction you face, light (which might be non-existent) will always shine on the same side of your body, making one very bright side, and one dark side. We also noticed a bit of texture pop-up on certain walls. The city itself looks very real, aside from the large number of large blank walls which we can’t help thinking will be sold as advertising space for the inevitable sequel.
Three other gripes we found are relatively minor, but do detract from the experience. The first is that there is no way to change direction. If you come to a complete stop against a wall or kerb, you can't turn around to skate away from the obstruction. The second is that if you want to run up a set of stairs, you can’t dismount the board and run - the only time you do dismount is if you slam. In our real-world experience, running up a set of stairs to get to a sweet handrail isn't uncommon. Why can’t we do it in a game? There also isn’t a quick switch button to change from your normal stance, or back again.
On the whole, Skate is an excellent game, and it is easy to spend a lot of time playing even in just the career mode. For a first time in this genre, the competition needs to take notice of EA right now.