It’s been six years since “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3” was released, and it’s been six years since the non-skateboarding public noticed a skateboarding video game. The “Hawk” franchise has put out seven games since “3,” but the novelty of the franchise wore off long ago. The more recent games have marginalized the series to appeal only to Thrasher subscribers.
So it seems as though the marketplace is ripe for a new, more mainstream and friendly skateboarding game. EA’s “Skate” is not that game. In fact, “Skate” is about as far as a skateboarding game can conceivably get from any semblance of mass appeal. EA’s new sim, is the poor man’s “Madden” to early “Tony Hawk” ‘s “Blitz.”
As a sim, the game succeeds for the most part. “Skate” rewards players for embracing the technical side of skateboarding. Manipulating the right analog stick lets players ollie, perform flip-tricks, grind and manual. The more complicated the gesture and the faster it’s execution, the more points a player racks up.
Adjusting to the right analog control-scheme is difficult at first, but proficiency comes with time. Unfortunately, a consistently enjoyable experience does not: This can be a tedious, unforgiving game. Playing “Skate” often felt like work, which it technically was, even though it’s a video game. Even the career mode is
is built upon a series of bland tasks and objectives that come off as something you need to do, instead of something you want to do.
Maybe this game is just too real for its own good. The life of an up-and-coming skateboarder never seemed very interesting, so it’s not a surprise that its digital representation isn’t much better.
Your alternative career choices: Unsurprisingly, “Skate” ‘s career mode involves building up an unknown skater into a successful skater with a large collection of free Nike SBs and N.W.A. shirts. The game does offer a degree of freedom in determining your character’s objectives though, with tasks inching him closer to either Thrasher Magazine or the skateboard MAG. Thrasher tasks emphasize the extreme side of skateboarding-like trying to see how many bones you can break-while the MAG wants you to pull off more traditional, technical feats.
Vision problems: Because the game focuses on technical nuances and controlling your character’s feet with the right analog stick, the camera is fixed close to the ground, right behind the skater. This is supposed to provide for a more intimate experience that allows players to focus on subtle board manipulations, but it’s an imperfect system. Lining up for ledges and rails is more difficult than it needs to be, and it’s far too easy to skate into oncoming traffic when heading downhill because your skater’s ass blocked the view of the Durango barreling towards you.
Rick Ross? Really?: The original “Tony Hawk” games were marked by their soundtracks, which synced perfectly with the games’ timed runs. “Skate” is more of a free-for-all where you skate from event to event in a less structured manner, and the in-game’s soundtrack plays a more passive role, just lingering in the background. This would be more disappointing if the soundtrack was actually good, which it’s not, although Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” almost singly handedly saves it.
Sex, lies and promotional shoe company videotapes: “Skate” lets players exercise their inner Warren Miller (of skateboarding?) by producing in-game videos with a set of crude editing tools that make iMovie look like a professional Avid setup. After you’ve compiled your masterwork you can share it online if you’re into that kind of thing. A good portion of the game’s career mode involves making videos for sponsors or magazines, but they’re essentially just timed runs that can be started anywhere.
For your inner sadist: With “GTA IV” getting pushed back to 2008, gamers are going to need another way to maim virtual pedestrians this holiday season. “Skate” may not have flamethrowers or shotguns, but you can intentionally slam into the curb and launch yourself into unsuspecting senior citizens. Sadly, that’s probably the best part of the game.
Is it worth a rental?: Sure, but I think people stopped renting video games in 1999. If you’ve been holding out for a serious skateboarding sim then “Skate” is worth investigating. Otherwise you’re better off dusting off an old Dreamcast and your bootleg copy of “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2” that kid in your word processing class burned for you.