Previews// SKATE

I assumed it was a ‘title tbc’ type name-in-progress

Posted 12 Mar 2007 15:30 by
SPOnG is a huge fan of both the real-world, big-kid ‘sport’ of skateboarding as well as the virtual-world pastime of videogame skateboarding, which up until recently consisted of blissfully nostalgic bouts on a battered and original 720 arcade machine and many, many, many hours lost in the wonderful world of Tony Hawks Project 8 on the 360, one of this reviewer's favourite games for the console to date.

As EA’s SKATE producer Jay Balmer (from EA Black Box in Vancouver) told me recently, while the idea of a skateboarding videogame is hardly something new (Skate or Die anyone?) it’s the behemoth of gnarliness that is Activision/Neversoft’s Tony Hawk series that any real contender in the genre has to beat - or at the very least match - which is no mean feat. Has EA done it? Simple answer. Yes.

Read on to find out why Tony Hawks may well be in all kinds of trouble!

Yep, you read that right. I think, by jove, EA might well have just cracked it, if the all-too-brief hands on session I got with the game this week is anything to go by. The bizarrely intuitive controls – left stick for body control, right stick for board control – really do a verisimilitudinous job of recreating the natural flow and quick-kick ollies and flips that any skater worth their salt is familiar with.

This is the key aspect of the game that sets SKATE apart and above the Hawk games, which for me have become increasingly more and more tedious as you have to remember increasingly complex button combos to pull off tricks. Nothing at all like the actual feeling of controlling and manipulating a little piece of wood with polyurethane wheels under your feet. SKATE is.

Face buttons on the 360 controller (which is what I was playing on, though the same will apply to the PS3’s six-axis) are used simply for building up speed (the [A]button pushes off with your right foot, while the [X] button with left) or [B] to brake. Plus you use the right and left trigger buttons to grab. It sounds simple, and it is, though like all good control schemes it is something that will take many hours of dedicated practice to really hone your skills.

For me, the most pleasing aspect of the game was learning how to ollie and kick-flip – something I’ve always been rather crap at in real life. I’m a huge fan of mini-ramps and parks, but street skating was never my forte! As a kid I broke numerous boards trying to perfect my ollies in the back yard, not to mention the broken bones and my poor, battered pride. Kerbs were the enemy.

In the game, to ollie you merely pull the right stick down then flip it up – very similar to the way your body moves when you pull the trick off in reality. If you pull off to the side you’ll discover how to perfect the pop shuvit and many variations on the good ol’ kick-flip.

For me, to finally be able to pull off smooth, flowing kick-flips down and over flights of concrete steps – particularly with an in-game photographer snapping away at me – was deeply pleasurable.

Before I go into any further detail about the game though, what’s with that name? When I first heard it I assumed it was a ‘title tbc’ type name-in-progress, but the more I think about it, the bolder a move it seems to be – simply because - as was suggeted the it might back in November - EA has decided not to go down the route of naming it after a big name pro.

“I didn’t want Danny Way’s Skater… and I was quite surprised to find out that were legally all good to use the name SKATE”, Balmer told me, “so I just figured that it was a bold move. Why the hell not?”

This is not to say that there hasn’t been any pro involvement or input into SKATE mind – with an impressive roll-call of names that reads like a “who’s who” of contemporary skateboarding, including Jerru Hsu, Danny Way, Rob Dyrdek, Mike Carroll, Chris Cole, and crazy old loon Mark Gonzales.

SKATE is set in the fictional city of San Vanelona, with inspiration for parts of this sprawling play-area taken from the dev teams favourite skater’s cities, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Barcelona.

† Verisimilitude - The quality of appearing to be true or real.
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