Tony Hawk has sat upon his throne for many years now, in fact his successes in the gaming industry have lived on well past his retirement in 1999. There have been many pretenders to the throne and none have come close to equalling the series. Now many of you out there will have a favourite Tony Hawk game (mine was THPS3) and there will be titles that you haven't liked. Each year a new version of the game has been spewed out with improved graphics and a few new features. Now don't get me wrong I am a fan of the series but the game has strayed from its skating roots, the tricks pulled off in the game are a million miles away from the tricks in real life.
Skate is different to other skateboarding games. In fact it is much closer to a simulation of the sport than any other that has come before it. Tricks are controlled using the right analogue stick. To perform an ollie you are required to pull the stick back and then jam it forward. A kickflips/heelflips are performed by pulling the stick back and then jamming the stick diagonally upwards. Pushing the stick in differing directions performs different tricks. Some of the more advanced tricks require remarkable accuracy with the stick. Grabs are carried out by holding in either trigger and then can be tweaked with the right stick. Manuals are performed by slightly pulling back or pushing forward the right stick. Grinds are performed by ollieing onto any rail or ledge, though your accuracy must be perfect.
The control system works exceptionally well, due to the games physics. Unlike other game you get a sense that all the movement is real. Wheels turn individually, if your board catches a ledge you will grind it in exactly the manner you would expect a real board to do. In fact the games physics are some of the most realistic I've seen in a game. This can be quite frustrating at times especially for those who are used to the Tony Hawk series. In Tony Hawk games you merely hit a button to grind, in fact if you feel you are about to bail after a big trick line a grind can save your ass. In Skate a grind is something that must be lined up and timed to perfection. Whilst this is frustrating it means that when you land a trick the sense of achievement is massive. The games physics generally limit you to real life parameters, gravity takes a hold very quickly and so you can't do multiple back flips, nor do you maintain massive amounts of speed having just done a ridiculous number of grinds. The game is about simple lines and well executed tricks.
The game differs from Tony Hawk in its spirit as well as control system. Most of the game is open from the start. If you want you can just cruise round finding areas to skate and just enjoy yourself. In fact if you just cruise around you will see other skaters, follow them and you may just find a sweet place to trick. There are of course some area to unlock such as the X-Games and a mega skate park along with some other basic skate parks.
The career element of the game follows your skater from an amateur (who has just had a collision with a vehicle) through to an X-Games finalist. This is done by progression through two different magazines. You are given a number of challenges for each magazine, complete enough of these challenges and you will be invited to partake in a photo shoot where your photo will end up in the relevant magazine. As you progress you will get closer to the front of the magazine with the ultimate goal being a spot on the front page. Challenges take several forms, some are basic photo shoots where you are required to do a specific challenge in a specific area, such as 'grind the rail and score 500 points'. Jams require you to beat your opponents in a skating competition with the highest cumulative score, Best tricks pits you against opponents to score the best single trick, SKATE is a copycat game, death races are a race to the finish line and there are also videos. Videos have a list of criteria such as points, number of grinds and number of grabs, but can be carried out anywhere in the game. Part of the skill with these challenges is finding the right spot to attempt them.
In addition to the magazines there are also pro challenges, these are difficult challenges that unlock videos, clothing and sponsors. Sponsors are important as they provide additional cash, Sponsorship is available for board, trucks, shoes and wheels. If you complete a challenge whilst sporting your sponsors gear you will get additional cash.
Graphically the game is quite impressive. The city has a real feeling of a living city, areas are detailed and well thought out. Character models show a lot of detail and there is a massive range of clothing available to try out.
The game has all the sounds you would expect and not just the sounds of the board and the ambience. Finally EA seem to have put together a decent soundtrack for a game. Rather than sticking to one genre there is a full range of tracks available for you to listen to.
The game has a full video editor. This allows you to record your finest moments and then choose various camera angles and effects to put together a video clip. These clips can then be uploaded to a website and rated by your friends. In fact they can also be converted from the website and moved to your mobile device to show off to anyone is interested.
Whilst I have praised the game so far there are some points that I am unhappy with. Firstly the trick book is very poorly put together. It doesn't explain a lot of the tricks very well at all. One task called 'Technical Benchmark' requires you to perform two specific grinds on one bench. Unfortunately the trick book doesn't explain how to do the trick, in fact if you follow the trick book you will do a completely different trick. Staying on the subject of tricks there is a distinct absence of flatland tricks and stalls.
When you bail in the game you a placed back exactly where you fell. This may not seem like a major problem, but in fact it is. Obstacles such as curbs require a run up before you can get over them. When you bail you are but right close to the curb and so are unable to get over them without skating away and coming back for another attempt. This while frustrating some of the time is made even worse when you are in a death race, especially when your opponents seem to spawn just past the obstacles.
The open game world is something I generally applaud, though at times it feels like you are given a bit too much freedom. I would like to have been introduced to the city a little slower. In the game there are no stats, so it's possible to pull off the same tricks at the start of the game as at the end. I would have liked a slightly more conventional approach as enjoy character building.
The games video challenges often encourage you to go against the grain and revert to Tony Hawk tactics. Many of the videos are done by finding a long downhill ledge (such as a curb) and grinding down doing various tricks as you go. These are quite unsatisfying and the 5000 point lines that can be achieved are far less satisfying than many of the photo challenges that only net 500 points.
The games online portion is disappointing due to some unacceptable lag. Most of the online play I have tried has stuttered terribly. When your opponents take their turn it looks more like a slide show than a flowing game.
A lot of the games shortcomings are probably due to the game being released to a very tight timetable. It is clear that EA wanted to be the first skateboarding game on the market this year and so sacrifices have been made. The game clearly deserves a sequel which will achieve its true potential. Let's just hope EA don't follow normal procedure and run to a timetable that restricts the game.
The game is worth buying if you are a skating fan. It definitely brings something new and challenging and has its own distinct feel. I will never view a Tony Hawk game in the same light again, in fact Skate may have put me off the Tony Hawk series completely.