Skate. (2008)

Putting the stupid naming convention of EA’s Skate aside, it’s a game and series that tried to take on gaming’s skateboarding genre that was well established by Tony Hawk and his Pro Skater series. Instead of just copying the layout and using the same formula, Skate really turned everything around and carved their own path, by one single massive change. The controls.

Instead of having dedicated buttons for flip tricks, grinds and grabs, Skate removed all of the muscle memory built up over the years acd forced you to relearn how to skateboard with a controller.  Even getting rid of the automatic pushing forward of characters, it was jarring when confronted with the beginning of the game telling you to just do a single ollie and failing several times. The Flick Stick mechanic was something that took time to learn how to really use. But while it was hard at the beginning to wrap your mind around it, not too long after, it felt like second nature.

The Flick stick requires you to “Pre-load” your trick in a sense. Pressing down, holding it, and then flicking the stick up and to the left will result in a Kickflip or Heelflip depending on the stance of the skater. While there are only a few variations that you learn throughout the game, there is a massive deep trick book that goes through every conceivable variation of how an analog stick can be rotated in 360 degrees.

Grinding also requires a different approach, as it’s not an auto lock on from several feet away anymore. There is a thought process that needs to be done before and depending on the angle and trajectory and speed, Grinding can be fairly difficult, but at the same time extremely satisfying. Pushing the analog stick into different positions while grinding will give you different grinds, and can be tweaked and mutated into variations on the fly.

Even vert ramps get changed up, as now there has to be a very specifically timed push through the transition into the ramp and back down again. Building up speed was never an issue with the other skating games around, but with Skate, it’s something that is always in the forefront of the mind. There are no massive million point combos with 400 tricks in a single line. You are lucky to be able to pull off a set of 4 tricks in a row most of the time. Each trick needs to be prepared and everything requires planning.

The camera was another big change up, as it’s placed much lower to the ground and closer to the actual skater’s feet. Giving a macro sized scope to the game, complete with fisheye lens effect, emulating real life Skate videos of the time. This camera change does obfuscate the objects that the player needs to find around the periphery and at times can be a bit difficult to see when the player takes up around 35 percent of the screen’s real estate.

The beginning intro to the game is something that should be recognized and lifted up for doing a really fun and interesting video bringing in all the different real life skaters that are featured. I was blown away with the amount of budget that the few minute intro had. Ambulances, car chases and tons of great gags all featuring the real life skaters in different and fun roles.

In the game, the real life skaters don’t really do much except become glorified task givers. They do show up in a little Guy Richie-esque clip, and are given a montage of tricks they perform. They’ll ask you to do some wicked tricks to move on to the next objective, but the voice acting usually sounds like it was recorded during a symposium about tax reform. Each skater feels like they were reading a script that was just handed to them for the first time three seconds before recording. Only a couple of the skaters feel genuinely enthusiastic and psyched to be recording lines for a skateboarding video game.

The game itself revolves around your created character rising from the ranks of a nobody, into one of the greatest skaters around. Thanks to the help of random professional skaters, that all happen to be hanging around and skating in your faek city of San Vansolona. Some skaters will ask you to do a specific trick, others will challenge you to a game of Skate, and other times there is a competition for best trick or even downhill races.

The Downhill racing, called “Death Races” were really fun, because of the crazy amount of speed built up. However, they are also incredibly long, and if you bail out once, you are pretty hard pressed to be able to finish first. And if you do have to restart the game will feature a load time that can be frustrating with it taking just a bit longer than you would think it should take.

The games of Skate with professional skaters, while interesting at the outset, become monotonous and downright unfair later on. You’ll have to master the trickbook and very complicated flips to even stand a chance with some. While other times, doing a simple ollie can cause the NPC skater to faceplant. It just seemed more unbalanced than I would have liked, and when I noticed it, I became rather bored very quickly.

The competition runs were some of my favorite events, but some became an exercise in patience. Giving a full couple minutes to complete a best trick mode, and getting a massive high score right out of the gate, only to wait around and see another pro skater pull off a trick score several thousand points higher than mine with 2 seconds left was ultimately defeating.

The Mega-Ramp challenge, giving you a massive drop to build up speed and then allowing you to launch into the air for several seconds was some of the most fun I had with the entire game. Pulling off crazy flips and grabs that I never could pull off in the entire rest of the game was a blast.

But my absolute favorite part of the game was the random bails that cause insane bone breaking damage to my custom skater and give me a layout of all the sprains and broken bones in the Hall of Meat. I know Hall of Meat becomes a much more finely tuned and verbose second in the sequels. But here, in the original Skate, it just pops up randomly when you really biff it hard. When I completed the game, and finished all the challenges, I spent a solid 30 minutes just tossing myself off of the highest places I could find. Seeing how badly I could cause damage and basically commit suicide to my custom character. After all, he looked like someone who would take a dive off an overpass and land headfirst into oncoming traffic.  

It seemed like skating games were starting to become stale, and burnout was becoming apparent when Skate released, but the team at Black Box studio really set out and challeneged the king of skating, and while it might not have won in the end, it came pretty darn close. If anything, it speaks to the quality of the game that over a decade later, people want another sequel and hopefully we’ll get it in the next couple years. I’m glad I gave this game another shot and finished it, because there is some fantastic mechanics on display in these games that I just guess I wasn’t ready for at the time.