Skate Review (Xbox 360)

For years, skateboarding enthusiasts around the world have had one title to choose from—Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The gang at Neversoft has always delivered a nice arcade brand of skateboarding that appeases the button-masher in all of us. Personally, I tired of the THPS formula by about the third game. I skated for years when I was younger…fourteen, to be exact. I had the amateur sponsorships and made the local contest routes, and saw some of my session-buddies go pro years down the road. It was odd opening up a Trans-World Skateboarding magazine a few years back and seeing guys I used to hit a ramp with in a spread leaping over a ten-foot gap. Such is life. The closest I got to the feel of skating now that I’m older has been THPS. That’s all changed now, and for the better.

Skate is EA Blackbox’s first entry into the skateboarding genre, and what an entry it is. Everything about the game gives you the feel of skating. Whether it’s finding a curb to session repeatedly, or skating from one location to another and looking for backyard pools and ramps, all of it just feels like skating. If you are intrigued by skateboarding games, but have tired of the THPS formula, then Skate may be just the game for you. It’s easy to pick up and play, but extremely tough to really master. I’ve gotten my character all the way to X-Games Gold and I still have a tough time really nailing what I want to do every time, exactly like a real skater would. You don’t drill your line every time in real skating, and you don’t do it in Skate. What you can do is set yourself up for the proper line with the proper speed and try to stick it. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to have that “feel” from a game.

The first thing you’ll do upon booting up Skate is to create your skater. This is somewhat limited, quite honestly, because you’re given a handful of skin shades and hair styles. You can tweak the facial details, but for the most part, you’re going to see a lot of skaters that look identical. Thankfully, a bald guy with a goatee is always available in character creation, so I’m pretty easy to recreate. You can also make your skater muscular or a weakling, heavy or thin, or any mix in between with a handy slider. You can spend a bit of time tweaking him until you get just the right look, but females are out of luck. There are no female create-a-skaters this year. Sorry.

Once you get your character looking like you want, it’s time to spend some starting cash. You can deck him out in any mixture of licensed tops, bottoms, hats, watches, glasses, and shoes, and the selection seems pretty impressive at first. You’ll find Etnies and DC shoes, all kinds of licensed shirts and hats from both skateboard manufacturers and current bands in the music industry, but strangely a very limited selection of shorts to choose from. All of the bottoms seem to be generic, and you’ll really only find a few pairs of shorts…consequently, when you hop online, you’ll frequently find entire rooms sporting the same khaki pair of cargo shorts. It’s not a big deal, but with so much attention paid to licensing, it’s odd that they couldn’t license some more bottoms. What they did choose to license is a pretty impressive list, however, and you can almost always find a T-shirt, baggy tee, hoodie, or long-sleeve T-shirt to suit your style (no tank tops, sorry…but you can go shirtless). And why you can’t wear your hat in any way other than straight-forward on the very top of your head makes no sense to me. I’d never wear my hat like the guys in the game do, with a perfectly straight bill and having it rest so high on the head that a slight breeze would probably blow it off. I guess that’s just showing my age…give me a curved bill, a little lower please. Better yet, let me flip it around backwards. The clothing customization is nice, but it still feels limited in some areas.

By the time you finish blowing your cash on clothes, you realize you can still customize your deck, trucks, and wheels. My first attempt at creating a skater had me running with the generic starter deck because I hadn’t saved enough money to really create my own personalized board. It’s not a big deal at all, since you won’t get stat upgrades or anything from changing decks. There’s no magic “ollie better” deck that you’ll find, no “instant revert” wheels you can purchase. Everything that you can do twenty hours into the game, youcould do twenty minutes into the game, with no unlockables. The catch is that actually learning to do these maneuvers takes some serious practice, but more on that later. You’ll find a large selection of decks to choose from, like Plan-B, Zero, Girl, and others, as well as prominent old-school truck company Independent, as well as “newer-old-school” ones like Venture and Thunder, as well as ones that I haven’t heard of like Silver (I know, I’m dating myself here and how long ago I quit following the skate scene). Wheels also have a large selection of available brand names, and at first a lot of players don’t realize they can scroll the manufacturer list down for a lot more brands. Don’t say I didn’t inform you…

So you’ve spent the first fifteen minutes making your perfect skater with his $65 T-shirts and expensive shoes, riding the best board money can buy. Now prepare to fall flat on your face.

A lot.

has a serious learning curve for most people. Gone are the THPS days of “press A to ollie, X to flip trick, Y to grind, B to grab” while holding directions. For anybody interested in skateboarding who has been living under a rock, let me explain—Skate has a groundbreaking new control scheme that brings that aforementioned “feel” back to skating. Pull the right stick straight back and “flickit” (as their control scheme is named) straight up for a simple ollie. Pull it straight back a little longer and push it forward for a higher ollie. Both the length of time you hold it down and how quickly you push it forward determine the height of your ollie. You’ll use the left stick to control your body spin, and the left and right triggers to grab with the left and right hands, respectively. When mid-air in a grab, moving the right stick “tweaks” the grab for nosebones, tuck-knees, and more. Rounding out the controls are pushing off (gaining speed on flat ground) with the left and right foot using the X and A buttons, and dragging a foot as a brake when you press and hold B. . The only gripe I really have about the control scheme is not being able to get off of your board to walk up a set of stairs or over a curb. I can guarantee you’ll have several moments where you’re just pushing off against a curb going nowhere, and you’ll have to turn around and gain speed just to turn back around and ollie up a curb. But overall, the control scheme is something I definitely preferred to the long-standing THPS formula.

That’s it. No tricky hidden controls or unlockable moves where you can press A-A-X-Y-A-B-Back midair to grind a telephone wire for 300 feet. Once you learn a basic ollie, body rotation, and grabs, you’re off. Within minutes, most players will be grinding a basic rail, boardsliding a ledge, and eating a lot of concrete with regularity. As you skate more, you begin to realize the brilliance of the control scheme. You’re no longer attempting to hold a direction and hit a button to pull off a specific grab, then trying to spin the other direction with the same stick in a display of Finger Dexterity Olympics. You’re still going to have to be pretty quick on the sticks, but the movements you’ll attempt actually make sense. If you want to ollie up to a backside tailslide, you simply make the quick ollie flick, then spin the left stick to turn your player perpendicular to the surface you’re trying to slide on, making sure to land with the tail on the ledge. If you chose to grind the ledge instead, you’d take a slightly different angle and not spin with the left stick, simply landing on the ledge with your trucks instead of the board

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is. It really is. You can just tool around San Vanelona and find random spots to skate while performing simple tricks and have an incredible amount of fun. They have no-skate zones where rent-a-cops will chase you mercilessly, and more pedestrians and traffic than you can shake a stick at. Basically, it’s just like skateboarding around your town, except it’s in digital form. Blackbox did a fantastic job of recreating “Anywhere, USA” for the town design of San Vanelona. You’ll have the typical suburbs area with backyard pools and sidewalks, which merges into “The Res”, where you can hit the high-speed downhill lines for huge combo points. Old Town is a slightly run-down section of town where you can find drainage ditches (the staple of any skater back in my day) and gaps in abundance. Lastly, you’ll find Downtown, where you will find yourself skating through many no-skate zones, chased by security guards all the while. Downtown has some of the sweetest session spots in the game, however, so it’s worth it.

When you combine a fantastic control scheme with a well-designed, open-ended city, the possibilities are endless. I have spent countless hours simply finding a spot that made me go “oh, bet I could flip that gap” and attempting it repeatedly. No skateboarding game in history has captured that feeling of my younger days quite like Skate has—which is amazing, since that would make the game a success even without any main career path or multiplayer options.

Thankfully, that’s not the case. After you create your skater, you’re met with a series of progressively more difficult challenges from real-world magazines The Skateboard Mag and Thrasher. The two careers have slightly different focuses, but the experience itself isn’t much different. You will find film challenges where you will have to reach a specific points threshold, or photo challenges where you must trick over a gap without rearranging any major body parts on the landing. The major difference is that you’ll have “Death Race” challenges for Thrasher (which aren’t in TSM’s challenges), which puts you flying through traffic at break-neck speed, hitting gates along the way. You’ll also encounter a few comical challenges where you’re tasked with launching off of the side of a building and breaking 4 or more bones…things for a bit more “hardcore” crowd, I’m guessing.

The objective of all of these challenges is to gain exposure…just like in real skating. It doesn’t matter how big you can go, or what technical prowess you have while on the lip of a ramp if nobody knows you can do it. The more exposure you get within the game, the more contests open up (called “Jams” within the game), announced by a rather “chemically altered” sounding P.A. personality. The guy is genuinely pretty funny; I found some of his off-the-wall comments warranting a chuckle out of me from time to time as I progressed through the game. Gain more exposure, win more Jams, and you’ll eventually make the cover shot of The Skateboard Mag or Thrasher—or both. They’re completely independent challenge lines, so feel free to progress through them as you desire. Make the cover of a magazine and you’ll land an invitation to the X Games, which are voiced by the real voice of the X Games, Sal Masekela. Sal is kind of a cult hero in the action sports community, and his inclusion in the X Games portion of the career mode is a very cool touch. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him chattering some commentary during my first street event after listening to the other announcer for so many contests.

In addition to the single player challenges, you also have a very fun multiplayer mode, playable either in “Party Mode” where up to 4 players alternate turns on a single Xbox 360 in either S.K.A.T.E. (think HORSE for hoops, but with skateboarding tricks) or Own The Spot modes, or on XBox Live. The Live play is extremely fun, especially if you get into a room with a few comedians in it. There’s nothing quite like watching a random XBox Live player stuff his face into a handrail and then listen to three or four other guys crack on him about it. Strangely, it’s even more amusing if you ARE that player that screwed up. You’ll get a lot of the same exclamations of praise if you nail a big line, and it really brings that “skating” feel to XBox Live, which is all you could really ask for. You’ll participate in ranked or unranked matches of S.K.A.T.E., Own The Spot, Jam, and Best Trick. Grab a few buddies, a few beers, and I guarantee you will have an absolute blast if you have even the slightest interest in skateboarding. You can even fire up an XBox Live version of Free Skate and just skate around in a smaller section of the main city. You can’t skate the entire city, unfortunately, but you do get some decently-sized territory to session on. Minor skater skipping or warping happens from time to time when playing with randoms, but skateboarding is all about you, your board, and the object you’re attempting to conquer. I’ve never seen horrendous warping, either…more like a slight stutter. It doesn’t show up in replays, either, so that helps.

Speaking of replays, the Skate.reel feature is absolutely mind-blowing. I love that so many game releases lately are including online portions. With NHL08 having online leagues, Tiger Woods 08’s Gameface and Gamernet functions, NCAA 08’s highlight reels…it’s an exciting time to be a bragging sports gamer. Skate continues that trend with the ability to edit and upload clips to EA’s skate.reel website, allowing everybody to experience your highs and lows with you. There is already some pretty brutal footage of guys clipping a truck on the top of a multi-story garage, plummeting down to the concrete below…after catching his neck on a street sign. Hilarious stuff when it’s digital—not so much in reality. But being able to upload it for all to see really has the “look at me” generation giddy with excitement.

The real question a lot of potential consumers may have is about replayability or longevity. Will you have fun once you’ve completed the career mode? That question will really come down to whether you can see yourself skating in a skateboarding game just to do it. If you’re an achiever, who just beats a game and completes challenges and then moves on to the next game, then it may not last for very long. But for anybody who has even an ounce of interest in skateboarding, or anybody who knows how ridiculously hard it is to actually land a laser flip-to-smith-grind-to-varial-kickflip-to-manual-across-a-manny-pad-to-360-pop-shuvit is…buy the game if you haven’t already. I played the demo of this game more than I played most $60 titles, and it still didn’t stop me from playing it nonstop at release. Between Skate and NHL08 releasing at the same time, my schedule has been pretty full lately.

Skate is a resounding success, a game that has complaints that are barely even complaints when compared to the rest of the product. It’s easy to play for five minutes or five hours. It’s easy to pull the basic moves, but ludicrously hard to master the complicated lines. It looks great, controls fantastically, and is a heck of a reminder of my younger days. When you get that feeling from a video game, that’s some magic going on there, let me tell you. Let me get off the board and perform some technical lip tricks (like hand plants, which aren’t possible) in Skate 2, and I may be in heaven. But this is about as perfect a “first generation” run for a new series that I can envision. It’s polished and insanely fun.

Get the point yet?

Skate Score
out of 10