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Skate (Xbox 360) artwork

Skate (Xbox 360) review

"Like the hard pavement of reality, skate. can be mercilessly unforgiving. My first 30 minutes of bailed grinds incited a vocal rampage that would have made the halls of Def Jam blush. Where some might have seen all the joy of self-flagellation, I saw the second coming of skating games."

By the time I was seven I had made my decision to become a professional skateboarder. Too bad I was also the accident-prone fat kid. Now I’m older, a little more realistic, and thanks to $500 of DDR, significantly more athletic. I still love skating, but 20 years of watching faceplants and imploded crotches on TV, not to mention Jake Brown’s infamous slam, left me scared to leave the ground.

That’s why I initially turned to the Tony Hawk series, but I didn’t play like everyone else. While they spun 900s in the half-pipe, I did Rodney Mullen impersonations on the picnic tables. Neversoft’s little money-shaker wasn’t made for old-school, street skaters like me. It was made for the frat-boy posers who think that watching Bam makes them skaters. Sorry guys, but real skating has nothing to with go-kart grinds.

I have had my fill of the Jackass antics and impossible combos. I need a game that can see the complex beauty in a simple kickflip.

Like the hard pavement of reality, skate. can be mercilessly unforgiving. My first 30 minutes of bailed grinds incited a vocal rampage that would have made the halls of Def Jam blush. Where some might have seen all the joy of self-flagellation, I saw the second coming of skating games. When it finally clicks, when the gamy taste of Tony Hawk melts away and you land that first boardslide, you’ll realize why skate. has no equal. It’s all thanks to a combination of original controls and intuitive physics.

EA Black Box tossed out the Playskool button-mashing and mapped almost every movement to the analog sticks. To ollie, pull back on the right stick and flick it forward. From there, every movement of body and board, except grabbing, is based on the sticks. With a little lot of finesse, and hours of practice, even the most complex board tricks are surprisingly easy to do. Timing them is the hard part, especially for the button-less grinds.

San Vanelona is a dangerous playground for skaters, filled with angry drivers, lemming-esque pedestrians, and miles of vengeful curbs. skate. is not completely sadistic though. Not since 20Q has a game been imbued with this much psychic talent. Whether you want to grind a ledge or manual it, wall-ride a jersey barrier or hop it, skate. seems to know your intentions. Expect a checklist of fractured ribs and twisted limbs if you start blindly bombing gaps, but even at it’s most brutal, skate. nails the haphazardly smooth look and feeling of riding a board.

As sacrilegious as it sounds, skate. needs a walk function. It’s frustrating when you roll up to the bottom of the staircase with no way up. If you start at the top and crash on the way down, the respawn will slap you a few inches from the first step so you have to turn around and line it up again. You can set a session marker to instantly teleport to a location, but nobody wants to stop in the middle of a good line to lay one down.

With skill and the creativity, it’s possible to trick through all of San Vanelona’s streaming neighborhoods without stopping. If the makeshift spots of the yuppie Suburbs aren’t your thing, hop a train or cruise over to the massive gaps of Downtown, or powerslide through traffic as you tear down the hills of Old Town. There is so much space to play with that you could easily spend a few days hitting rails and sessioning the strip mall without completing a single objective, and honestly, you just might want to.

Except for a few sponsorship challenges, most missions involve getting footage for the angsty emo-kids of Thrasher or the collar-poppin’ tchotches of Skateboard Mag on your way to the X-Games. There’s a lot of leeway as to when and where you complete missions, but some of the ridiculous point requirements encourage the manic stick-twitching I was trying to avoid. Let’s not forget the skate jams, in which four skaters are crammed onto the same rail or funbox. People usually take turns for a reason. Then there are the inevitable vert competitions.

skate. sucks at vert. Smooth runs get ruined by computer-controlled bobbles, massive airs get cut by mysteriously random grinds, pure chance keeps you in the pipe or launches you out, and the scoring system turns downright alchemic. A multiplier rises as long as you keep the tricks coming, but it only works well in the streets. On one pass, with a full multiplier, I pulled a 720 varial kickflip to a crossbone of nigh-impossibility for 1,500 points. On the next pass, an accidental 180 nabbed double that. In translation, I avoid vert at all costs.

Missions mean money, and money means gear. skate.’s character-customization system allows for a wide range of bodily proportions and modern styles (i.e. clothes from paying sponsors), but only if something’s hanging between the legs. Maybe EA Black Box thinks that women can’t skate, or maybe they were afraid of pubescent boys making overgrown boobs on boards. Executive Producer Scott Blackwood said it was a decision to maintain “focus,” as opposed to, “watering the whole thing down and making it just really mediocre for everybody.” I just find it sexist.

Missions, vert, and testosterone aside, skate. hit a level of personal accomplishment that Tony Hawk barely grazed. Last night, I spent two hours practicing 360 flips for the sheer sake of pride. Of course, if you want some bragging rights, skate. includes a simple replay editor so that you can upload your proudest moments to the web, or stare in awe at the mastery of others. The six-person, online sessions are more constrained, but nothing beats the feeling of someone cheering you on in realtime.

skate. doesn’t do everything perfectly, but it certainly fills a longstanding void in the skating genre. If EA Black Box can keep this up for a second round without succumbing to a bigger-equals-better attitude, the Hawkman just might lose his crown.

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Staff review by Brian Rowe (January 07, 2008)

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