Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Skate (Playstation 3)

Playing EA's Skate is an experience unlike any other extreme sports title on the market and offers a streamlined, yet innovative approach to the sport. Instead of giving you random buttons to mash, the game offers a more innovative system where most tricks are controlled with a single analog controller. This gives Skate a more realistic feel that makes things feel more grounded in reality. While there is a lack of flashy moves, the game compensates for this with a great physics engine and a massive playable city that allows you unprecedented freedom to explore and play around. Skate's approach is vastly different from other titles on the market, but its ambitious design offers a much more expansive gaming experience that gives it a unique personality and flavor. Skate is one of the most innovative skating titles to come out in some time, making it a refreshing change of pace for a genre that has become too predictable and safe.

Skate doesn't offer what players have come to expect from skating games, and is much deeper and more nuanced than you'd expect it to be. It's more of a skating simulation than an arcade-oriented life-style game. It seems counter-intuitive, but Skate's approach actually works to its advantage, since it's surprising amount of depth and nuance doesn't seem to be what the genre of alternative sports usually offers. At first glance, Skate doesn't feel revolutionary, since the game's reward structure doesn't seem to differentiate it from its competition that dramatically. You begin at the bottom of the skating hierarchy, a lone skater messing around in the local community center, challenging your fellow skaters to copy and beat your tricks while you slowly build your reputation up. Once you've earned your reputation, through the taping of skate videos and techniques, you'll be able to unlock additional areas in the city, more skaters to use and other items that bring an even greater sense of scale to the game. What makes Skate feel so refreshing is that it allows you to grow and develop your own skills at your own pace. This sense of freedom is important and permeates all aspects of the game. While you're on the way up, you're also learning and mastering the basic skills and techniques that will make your reputation.

The game's potential unfolds slowly at first as you play through a series of tutorial missions where you have to prove your worth to more established skaters. Playing through Skate's initial stages give you a fairly decent basis for the more elaborate challenges that you'll face later, and these areas can feel a bit constrained at first. You'll spend a lot of time learning these techniques by following the example of other skaters. This can become a bit tedious after awhile, but if you continue, Skate's real promise begins to reveal itself. Persisting in your missions, you'll soon discover that Skate offers nuances and features that in other contexts would seem mundane, but feel fresh and new in this game. For example, while other titles make huge spins and jumps feel ordinary and worthless, here even humble skills such as ollies and grinds take a lot more effort to perform and conversely, feel more spectacular than the jumps and gaps you find in other titles. This isn't a result of the game's flashiness, substituting a false sense of accomplishment for depth and challenge, instead, Skate takes a completely different approach to how the actual skating techniques and skills are performed. Its this grounding in realism and authenticity that makes each move feel like it has been earned, giving this a more simulation aspect than other games on the market.

Obviously, taking a different approach to its gameplay requires a completely new set of controls, and its here that Skate really sets itself apart from rival franchises. Its innovative control scheme is both simpler and more nuanced than the usual button mashing combos other skating titles have used, making for a much more realistic skating experience. The controls themselves are quite innovative and the game feels perfectly suited to the PS3's analog controllers. Instead of relying on the player's dexterity, Skate takes a more natural approach that requires a greater emphasis on timing and skill. In order to perform most tricks, you merely need to use the right analog stick and move in a semi-circular motion, which allows you a great deal of flexibility. For example, in order to perform a simple ollie, you move the stick down then up in a slight diagonal motion. You add a grab to this move by pressing down on the shift button. Grinding rails is likewise simple, you hold your skater down then leap up onto the railing which is much more intuitive. In order to push your skater, you merely press the square button for a left leg push of maximum speed while the X controls your skater's right leg. This system takes some getting used to but, quickly becomes second nature. Manuals are likewise performed using the d-pad in a slight motion to left, where you have to find just the right position to find your balance. It's tricky, but this technique makes the game feel even more authentic. The game doesn't offer too many flashy moves, but instead focuses on the basics. It might seem dull, Skate's controls arent't nearly as constrained as in other games and the natural interface does an excellent job in recreating the feel of skating in real life. Performing the moves makes the player feel much more grounded in reality and makes each successful trick all the more satisfying. The system allows you to build momentum naturally and move your player as you would in real life. You probably won't be able to perform the most spectacular moves, but the sense of realism and authentic skate style more than compensates for this lack of flash. While it takes some time getting used to Skate's different control method, it's definitely worth the effort because the game feels more realistic than any skating title before it.

A lot of this is due in no small part to Skate's outstanding physics engine, which makes you feel like you're in control of an actual skater. Everything in the game feels and reacts as it should and the board feels like its under your feet and rolls realistically. This approach extends to the different surfaces, which also have different feels. For example, there are different types of concrete, some of which is rough and other smooth within the same area. This definitely adds to the realism. Additionally, your skaters themselves move and react as they really would. Instead of jumping outlandishly in the air, you have limits that require you to look ahead and time your jumps and grinds, which is a bit more challenging than you're probably accustomed to. Likewise, your momentum while skating is controlled by the number of foot pushes you do, with a maximum speed only obtainable by pressing three times. Your skater reacts to your controls in a realistic way, and the bails are particularly painful to endure, you can almost feel the impact on your skater when you crash into something. The game's sense of momentum is outstanding however, and once you get used to the game's feel, things definitely become more enjoyable. Instead of merely watching, and pressing buttons in order to trigger unrealistic moves, you feel like you are controlling living, breathing skaters. This creates a strong sense of gravity and grounding for each move, which is a huge difference that gives Skate an unmistakably realistic feel throughout. All of this combines to create some of the most realistic and believable skating seen in a game to date, and this makes for a sense of freedom and possibility few other skating games have attempted.

Skate's sandbox approach is quite innovative, and while this freestyle approach to games has seen its application in other games, when its applied to the action/sports genre it really becomes something special. This open-ended, fully explorable world gives the player an incredible sense of freedom to do what they want in a massive stage filled with hidden areas, secret sections and cool areas. While you can go through the levels and play each challenge consecutively if you like, taking this linear path means you'll lose out on a lot of what makes Skate such an invigorating and unique experience. Set in a massive fictional city called San Vanelona, the game allows you to go virtually anywhere in the city right from the start. This gives the player a massive area to explore, which each of the city's districts offering a huge area to skate through, complete with pedestrians on the sidewalks and cars on the streets, not to mention the multitudes of other skaters competing for space with you. If you see something, such as a large building, a series of ramps and large open areas, the chances are you can skate through it. There are plenty of off-the-beaten paths, hidden alleys and other areas to explore and it can take literally hours to see everything the game has to offer. You can skate everywhere from parks to parking garages, take the subway to other sections of the city or roll through the game's expansive areas without having to worry about a timer or specific objectives in the Freestyle mode, and this sense of freedom and unlimited skating opportunities is really where the game comes to life. Skate's impressive sense of scale and detail evident throughout the game's environments is really stunning when you compare it to the relatively tiny areas you are allowed to explore in some competing titles.

What really makes this approach work is that Skate's non-linear approach to its open-ended levels are designed to let create your own lines on each area. This gives you the freedom to use each area creatively and put your own stamp on each level. Skate's sense of freedom is quite intoxicating, and this is only enhanced by its superb graphics engine and innovative presentation. Instead of using the typical camera angles you'd expect, most of the action is viewed in a close-in fish-eye angle that gives you a ground based view of the action. Your skater's movements look very close to the way they would in reality, with slick animation and motion capturing used to create a stunning look throughout. As mentioned earlier, the city of San Vanelona is massive, but each area also displays a remarkable sense of detail and realism. The structures and layout of the game's environments is impressive throughout and most players will find themselves suspending their disbelief. The game is slightly gritty, with blurring text and a washed out, sedated color-scheme that fits with Skate's underground feel perfectly. You'll encounter several dozen real skaters here as well, and they look like real skaters and the dialogue is a bit stilted in parts but fairly decent overall. There are loads of music tracks which offer a fairly good compliment to the action, but the game is best when played without music, as odd as that seems. Skate's presentation probably doesn't sound that impressive on paper. In fact, judging it by the screenshots alone, you might consider it drab and dull. However, the quality of the visuals is superb overall with a consistent realism that sets it apart from its more cartoonish brethren, making for a refreshing change of pace.

Taking a back-to-basics approach, Skate focuses on the basic mechanics of skating with an innovative and dynamic control system that allows you to perform moves in a much more natural way, trading in the impossible for the satisfaction of doing the possible in a completely intuitive manner. The game's controls themselves will probably take some getting used to, but once acclimated, players will probably find the game more intuitive than other titles. The sense of realism is enhanced further by its excellent physics that make you feel like you're in control of the board under your feet and not merely button mashing. Skate's structure is also radically different, trading in the usual level-based play for an open-ended environment that allows you to explore and trick where and when you want, while also offering a number of challenges and a deep career mode in addition to its standout sandbox areas. Skate's alternative visual approach gives off a cool underground vibe that gives the game a cool authenticity while its real world skaters and a grittier feel creates a cohesive world that makes for an incredibly immersive skating experience. Skate is definitely one of the most innovative titles in the action-genre to come along in some time. Not only is it better from a technical standpoint than the predictable Tony Hawk series in many ways, its also a refreshing change of pace that delivers a more open experience offering players an almost infinite sense of freedom and exploration. Skate is definitely one of the best titles of the year one and gives the genre a much needed spark of innovation.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

Related Reviews

FIFA Soccer 08 (Playstation 3)
Tony Hawk Project 8 (Playstation 3)