skate. is EA's attempt to unseat the THPS series. I think it has established a new standard for fans of this genre.
Shub-Niggurath wrote this review on .
First off, this game was received incredibly well by the gaming community when the demo was dropped on the 360 through Xbox Live. Everyone waited for this game with baited breath and, unfortunately, EA failed to deliver a suitable number of copies to stores for its opening weekend (which was also delayed). This proved to be a very inauspicious start to the game’s run on store shelves. This, in and of itself, was a low point in the game because we would have expected a much smoother, and larger scale release from an Electronic Arts title. They are, after all, one of the largest video game studios in the world.
The opening of the game is a little lengthy and cannot be skipped. It starts with your character, clad in black clothes with a black hoodie, hood up so you can’t see his face. After jumping down a stair set he’s plowed by a bus. Your character is then rushed to the hospital where you receive reconstructive surgery. This leads into the game’s Create-Your-Skater interface which involves the use of their now standard four axis sliders to model and mold your player’s face. There are also some initial clothing options available and a few generic, not totally pleasing, hair styles to use. I think now is as good a time as any to point out that you cannot create a female skater. This wouldn’t be a big gripe for me if the game did not feature other female skater characters running around. But since you can see female skaters in the game and not get to create one, it’s a bit of a turn off.
Once you get into skate. you can immediately appreciate the depth of skill involved in playing this game. The control scheme can take literally hours to master, and even then you still have to feel out every individual piece of the environment because nothing ever plays the same way twice. Even the slightest indiscretion in your timing can trigger a bail, or at the very least, a missed trick which can ruin certain runs such as video challenges.
EA dubbed their new control scheme “flick it”. The two sticks are utilized in a very unique manner. The left stick controls your skater’s body. This is used for turning while riding, spinning in the air, and even pumping in and out of transitions on half-pipes and other similar structures. The right stick controls the board, holding the right stick down and then “flicking it” up causes your skater to Ollie. Varying angles of both the initial hold and “flick” will lead to various flip tricks. Rolling it left or right instead of flicking causes “shuv-its”. Grinding is automatic, accomplished only by the proper aim and timing when near a grindable edge. There are slight "flick it" movements do achieve some of the more advanced grinds like Blunt Slides. Wall rides and various transition transfers are also accomplished in this fashion, asking only for proper aiming or timing. This can be a short coming at times because occasionally after a grind combo or other feat your character will sometimes want to roll back the way you came rather than continue the way you wanted to go. Also, some since timing is so unbelievably sensitive a slight miss on a rail or grindable edge can also result in a bail. Your skater will try to wall ride the object instead of grinding thus resulting in a face plant. Also, since it is no longer a “Dial-A-Trick” system, the small size of the right stick can make “flicking” a daunting task. Since it is almost exclusively dependent upon which way you “flick” and so many of the tricks require control movements which are too similar. You will find yourself trying to do one trick, and then doing another. This is another low point in the game and no matter how good you get with the controls you will still find yourself making what feels like a rookie mistake from time to time.
Your character has to roll through a massive fictional city called San Vanelona. This is a very well constructed city with a nice metropolitan downtown, an old city not unlike some of the classic cities in Europe, a suburban element with a community center skate park, and a ritzy sort of upscale area complete with a nice art museum with some fun, skateable pieces in and around it. There are many great places to skate with good lines of obstacles strung together just waiting for you to find them. Couple this with the challenging play control scheme and most of the lines you find and successfully ride feel very good. This game had the potential to be something great.
On top of all of this the game has an active replay function running all the time. You can review, edit and then upload footage to either your hard drive or the skate. Reel community website so that other people can see, rate, and comment on your footage. The community is still in its Beta phase so it acts up from time to time, but when it works correctly it is a very nice touch to the game. You can even pause the replay and take a photo, which can be saved and uploaded the same way as the replays. The only fly in the proverbial ointment here is that you can only upload 3 replays and 6 pictures. You can save 8 replays and 12 pics on the hard drive, but that's still a little scant simply because every successful line or big trick feels so good you want to save it. This means there may be some over-writting or compromises in what you do and don't save and/or upload to the website. Also, the website is still really acting up as of this review. Once the video us uploaded you can log in to their website and edit attributes such as title, search tags, and even add a short description. Sadly, the beta website has major issues saving tags and descriptions.
The challenges are the true low point of this game, often hindering the intuitive control scheme. There are only a few types available. These are simply – Competitions, which (until the XGames street comp) are nothing more than mishmash best trick contests which put all 4 competitors on the same obstacle at the same time; Photos, which are like one man best trick contests with a predestined spot and a set score to beat; “Death Races”, which should be self explanatory, downhill runs with 3 other skaters, first to the bottom wins; and Video Challenges, where you have a set series of goals (grind distance, total grind distance, air time, powerslide, and so on) and/or a score to beat within 30 seconds. There is also S.K.A.T.E., a mode in which you and a pro skater play a game similar to basketball’s H.O.R.S.E. and one of you does a trick which the other has to match. Completing these tasks usually results in coverage in either Thrasher or Skateboard Magazine. With the coverage, your goal is to earn better coverage in each magazine, moving from the smaller afterthought sections in the back to, ultimately, a cover shot on both magazines. Coverage in each comes from separate events so you can progress all the way to the cover of one and do nothing in the other. The game culminates in an XGames Mega Ramp event after the Street Contest. Each of these modes has shortcomings which can be frustrating at times.
With the competitions being done in a Jam type format (everyone on the obstacle at once) this can lead to a lot of frustrating run-ins with the AI when they obviously believe they can ride the obstacle no matter who got there first. You will find yourself being wiped out by another skater. Bowl jams put all the participants in a bowl, pool, or half-pipe at once but the score is cumulative and you don’t have to rely on landing one best trick to win. The first round of the XGames street contest works the same way, letting you utilize the entire course instead of one piece.
Photo Challenges do feel a lot like solo best trick runs. The photographer picks the obstacle and usually just gives you a score goal. Some of them do call for slightly more specific things like “do a flip trick” but the real challenge usually comes from tricking the spot successfully. The photographers usually pick large gaps and interesting spots like that to do your stunt. These can take several minutes to complete successfully and then some can be burned in a single shot.
Death races are challenging but the AI doesn’t seem to utilize any real short-cuts most of the time. There is a time limit and you have to pass through set gates (ala slalom) to earn more time. Provided you don’t give yourself a concrete facial or kiss too many cars during these runs you should do alright.
Video Challenges may not be insanely unique but they are done in an original way. They give you the goals (as mentioned before) and a 30 second time limit, but you can perform them anywhere you want. If you think a video could best be performed in a pool or half-pipe you can go there and then start filming. They give you the “what” and you provide the “where”. Don’t let this fool you, the footage challenges are, by far, the hardest things in the game. By the time you get near the end of the films list score goals become almost impossible, demanding as much as 5,000 points be scored in 30 seconds. And you cannot fall. Falling counts as an automatic failure on your part. The worst part is that some of them aren’t as liberal on the “where” as they’d like you to think. Some require you to remain in “no skate zones” for the duration of the video. These zones always have a security guard on patrol who will tackle you if he catches you, thus again ending your footage. Also, with the mechanics of grinding and similar acts being so sensitive to timing, accomplishing most of the later ones in the time allotted feels more like sheer dumb luck than a demonstration of skill. I often found myself in a certain area where I knew I could accomplish the goals and then my run is ruined because I missed my timing on a rail by a split second so instead of grinding a good chunk of a required total he doesn’t even attempt to grind it or bails for seemingly no reason. The touchy nature of the physics makes some of the videos a matter of chance rather than ability.
There are also “Own the Spot” challenges you discover along the way. Completing these doesn’t add to coverage with either magazine but once you get sponsors it does pay cash. You have to discover these spots, usually by accident though the “Spot Bible” feature with your map can help to give you some vague hints as to where to find these spots. Once you activate one (by finding it, duh) it is written to your map and you can now “Own” the spot. This is another type of best trick deal which requires you to score a set number of points on the obstacle. However, this event is not timed and can be performed at your leisure. Once you own the spot you can go back and do it again, the goal being to beat your previously posted best. Scores can be uploaded to the skate. community thus adding more replay value to this title. This feature can also be used online or even in a turn based game on one console. It’s a nice touch; I just wish they could have used it towards helping magazine coverage. I also noticed (after more intense playing) that some of the spots have issues with actually detecting that you did the trick. There is one called "Curvature" which is a decorative marble structure resembling a quarter pipe. The best way to win this one is to grind the back of it. The problem is that sometimes, even after grinding most of the structure (if not the whole thing) it doesn't actually count your score.
S.K.A.T.E. contests are another nice little diversion which pay your skater cash but don’t help his coverage, because the “flick it” system has so many similar moves this contest becomes very difficult and another function of pure dumb luck. The real problem with this is that the contests only count flip tricks accomplished with the “flick it” system and any accompanying spin. Grinds don’t count and neither do even tweaked grabs, ruling the latter merely as an Ollie with any encompassed spin you may have done. And with the “flick it” system’s previously mentioned sensitivity, these contests become increasingly difficult, both to match pro tricks and do your own without repeating anything.
Last, but not least, comes the Mega Ramp event. This is where some of the game’s oddest features come to pass. You begin with a brisk run down the massive roll in ramp and then a launch over the gap. However, you also have to do something as cool in the ending quarter pipe as you did over the massive gap. If you push off too hard to drop in you miss the ramp, coming back into contact with it somewhere near the transition, however you go faster doing that than if you roll down the ramp the whole time. Then hitting the ramp itself is about timing your flick. Flick too soon you will probably bail right there. If you don’t hit it in time you will just bail when you hit the flat atop the landing ramp. Then, while in the air, the control scheme shows its most sensitive aspect. With all of the speed you amass in the run you have to land with almost laser guided precision. The slightest deviation from a straight landing will end your run prematurely. Even the left stick is sensitive, the slightest tweak to the left of right will start your character on a slow spin which can help take you off center when you land. Also, when you spin it responds a bit like the “flick it” system would. Letting off the left stick doesn’t make you stop, you just slow down and over rotate a bit, which often adds to the levels of frustration. Sadly, since you get a much greater launch here than anywhere else in the game they give you enough rope to hang yourself. Often you will think you can land a greater spin than is actually possile.
Also, failure of any of these goals results in an obnoxious stylized video to bring the “CHALLENGE FAILED” menu on screen. It may not seem too annoying the first couple of times you see it, but this game hinders as much on trial and error as the Stuntman games (if not more so) and after you see that animation 20 or 30 times in a row when you keep failing at something you know you can do it gets grating and tiresome.
On top of this the camera is a real weak spot. It is filmed like someone is following you on their own board holding the camera a little above knee high. This is the traditional angle of skate videos and is cool to watch…but it’s a real burden to gameplay. More often than not the camera puts you directly between it and your intended obstacle thus ruining your timing. And, as discussed earlier, this ruins the root of successful tricking. It should usually remain off center but during downhill runs it gets behind you, thus blocking your view of any traffic or obstacle which could, potentially, keep you out of first place. During the mega ramp it inexplicably rotates to the side of your character both when you air off the ramp and when you hit the massive quarter pipe at the end. This makes noticing a slight rotation on your part or a less than perfect landing incredibly difficult to detect. All of this helps to needlessly complicate a game that already came out of the gate with its own unique challenges and complications.
On top of it's lofty online support for single player achievements the game also has some excellent online play. There are multiple race events and trick events online. These usually just take single player modes and make them online competitions. I spend most of my time in Spot Battle which is a version of Own the Spot where players go in turn and everyone gets 3 turns. Best trick wins. Spot jam and Best trick comps are not my cup of tea if only because you can have too many people shoved into spots. Winning (or even scoring) in race or trick events scores experience points which helps to determine a player's over-all rank online as much as simply winning a few runs. Most of your fellow players online have been pretty cool, laid back, and void of trash talk. Often there are at least moderate cheers of support when you do something cool and own the spot. This is a nice bonus point to the online mode simply because most of my last experiences with online play have involved acres of trash talk, insults, ridiculous blame casting, and other obnoxious traits. This doesn't really affect my over all scores too much but it ensures that 9 times out of 10 I don't really invest much time in most games' multiplayer modes.
This game had some lofty ambitions. It had some very unique control ideas, and some beautiful elements to the game that made it truly unique and at times enjoyable. However, the limited challenge variety, coupled with the occasionally terribly sensitive “flick it” system, this game fell short of the mark and I believe has failed to make the boys at Neversoft sweat about its release too much. I only hope for a sequel, because taken at face value this game can’t earn the coveted 10/10 score (or even very close to it). But, as a starting point, it shows some real potential for a great series…provided the masterminds at EA Black Box stay the course and merely improve this game for the next installment. Kudos to them for a dynamite first effort.