Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
You’ve really got to hand it to Electronic Arts. After a disastrous first year of stale and uninspired next-gen titles, the company best known for catapulting John Madden beyond the ranks of football history has quickly turned things around and delivered some of the most exciting games of 2007. Sure, the latest “Madden” is also on that list, but so is the Tony Hawk franchise-killer, “Skate,” the company’s first (and most realistic) skateboarding title that reinvents the genre with the simple flick of your thumb. We should have known it was coming – after all, EA is the king of every other sports game on the market – but it’s a welcome surprise nonetheless, and one that will no doubt knock Mr. Hawk off his pedestal for the first time in eight years.
It’s been quite a run for Tony Hawk and the guys over at Activision, but while they continue to crank out games under the guidance of the skateboarding legend, EA will likely take a large portion of the spotlight. If you’ve been reading anything about “Skate” over the past few months, you’ve probably heard rumors that the game has a very steep learning curve. Well, the rumors are true, but once you get the hang of things, there’s nothing like performing a trick that actually feels like it’s really happening. Gone are the days of million-point combos and button mashing ‘til your fingers bleed – “Skate” features a more organic process that is lighter on the hands and a heckuva lot more realistic.
There isn’t much story behind the career mode in “Skate.” After crashing into a bus while filming some new tricks, you’re transported to the hospital to recover. From there, you’re handed a T-Mobile Sidekick (the first of many shameless product plugs that appear throughout the game) and sent back out into the city to cause more havoc. Yep, you’re Wolverine on wheels. Well, not exactly, but you’re as invincible as video game characters come, and when you’re not busy face-planting into the concrete, you’re desperately trying to make it big as a pro. From taking part in citywide skate challenges to landing photo ops in Thrasher magazine, every step counts towards landing a sponsor.
Everything you need during the course of the game can be found by pressing the back button – check out the city map to locate new challenges, hop on the subway for quick transport, or hit up the trickbook to expand your arsenal of high-flying moves. And if you’re a sucker for playing dress-up, the in-game store features a bevy of cool clothes, accessories and skating gear from all the top companies. You'll need the dough to buy the gear, but that's easily attained by winning competitions and filming cool footage for upcoming skating videos. Of course, when it comes to a game like this, the only thing that really matters is how it plays, and “Skate” surpasses just about every expectation you might have. A lot of this can be attributed to the ingenious skate system that the guys at EA Black Box have designed.
Taking a cue from the innovative Nail the Trick system, “Skate” features an even better one appropriately titled Flickit. Based solely around the right analog stick, the Flickit system uses basic movements with your thumb to perform tricks. For ollies, the player simply moves the right stick down, and then flicks it up. Nollies (or nose ollies, for the uninitiated) requires the opposite. Start with the stick up (thus pushing the front of your board downward), and then flick down to get air. The rest of the controls are just as simple – X pushes off with your left foot, A with your right foot, and B brakes, while the left analog stick is used for turning, and the left and right triggers for grabs. Grinds are performed by simply timing your jumps to coincide with landing on the rail, bench or curb of your choice, while wall plants are also automatic.
Don’t expect any crazy tricks like the ones you find in “Tony Hawk,” however. EA isn’t joking when they say that “Skate” is as close to a skateboarding simulation as you’re going to get, and unless a real-life pro can pull it off, neither can you. Some might find this a little upsetting, but if you’re looking for an arcade experience, go play the new “Tony Hawk.” It’s not like the two games can’t survive at the same time. “Skate” just happens to offer a new experience that's better.