Thursday, September 20, 2007
Good: An alternative to the Tony Hawk formula, great soundtrack (Motorhead!)
Bad: Controls, bland sections of the city, load times, product placement, camera, hard to maintain speed
For the last three generations of consoles, no skating series has even made a dent in Tony Hawk's sheer dominance over the genre. Considering that, I have to commend EA for the ballsy move of spending the time and money required to take a serious shot at Neversoft's baby. I love the Tony Hawk series, but I have to admit it's become a bit of a Madden situation. Same essential game every year, just with a couple added tweaks or "upgrades" that haven't even been that substantial since THPS4. Because of this, I welcomed Skate with open arms.
Unfortunately, I simply can't stand the control system. EA has tried to make the experience a more fluid one by letting the analog sticks control as much as possible. There is no ollie or grind button. If you want to jump, you have to push the right analog stick down and then up. This makes simple tasks like getting up on the sidewalk annoying, as there's no option to get off your board. If you're riding parallel to the curb, you'll have to come from an angle and perform an analog stick motion just to get up there.
Grinding is performed by simply landing near a ledge or rail, and the variation you perform is dependent on rotating your left analog stick. One of the best parts of the Tony Hawk games was grinding huge rails and lines, but this joy has essentially been taken out of Skate. This is due to the insane difficulty in regards to maintaining speed. You have to manually push your board with either the A or X button, and almost all of your grinds will be very brief and slow unless you're going down a steep hill.
The game takes place in a fictional city, and it's painfully devoid of decent places to skate. Considering the whole game is based on skateboarding, it's a pain in the ass to have huge stretches of the city with nothing but the occasional curb or bench to trick on. Every once in a while, you'll come across a modest skate park (or X Games event), but prepare to spend a lot of time aimlessly wandering around the bland streets. Making things even more annoying is the terrible camera angle, which is far too low and causes your skater's body to obscure much of your vision.
Despite the annoying camera angle and bland locales, the city itself actually looks pretty sharp. Textures and animations are impressive, and everything runs at a generally smooth framerate. Unfortunately, this experience is hampered by long load times and rampant product placement. Expect to have T-Mobile products shoved down your throat and constantly updated billboards and posters (Buy Smallville on DVD this Tuesday!) at every turn.
Many areas of the game need working on, but they got at least one thing completely right the soundtrack. There are some excellent tracks in Skate, including selections from Nirvana, the White Stripes, Motorhead (yes!), David Bowie, and even Booker T & the MG's. The rest of the audio presentation is excellent as well, including some very realistic sound effects.
A lot of people will like Skate a lot, and I'm willing to bet a good percentage of them are skaters themselves. I've talked to a couple of my friends that skateboard, and they consider this game to be far superior to Tony Hawk thanks to the more realistic approach. However, if you're more of a gamer than a skater, it's probably a safe bet to stick with the long-standing king of the genre.
First Play: 6.5
Replay Value: 7.0
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