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EA Skate – Another Tool in the Goofy Propaganda Machine?

Today we are finally talking about the Skate series. A lot of you guys have been asking me to play this one for a long time. Actually, most of you ask for Skate 3. We’ll get there. I gotta do them in order so I can compare them as I go. But we’re finally getting into Skate. And it has taken me a while because this game is really big. I wanted to do it right. I had to track down a copy; I wanted to get up to date with the Tony Hawk series first; a lot of other reasons. But we’re finally getting into it. And I’m excited to finally do that.

I remember when I first heard about this game. I was really really excited about it. I saw screenshots, I saw “Rob and Big,” where they did motion capture for it. And it looked like a serious, realistic skateboarding game. And there wasn’t another one of those since “Thrasher: Skate and Destroy.” This one came out back in ‘99. And it’s very realistic, but only because the controls are so hard. It’s really awkward and weird. It’s a good game for the time, but it definitely wasn’t holding up to the modern stuff that was coming out at the time. This came out in 2007, about a month before Tony Hawk’s Proving Grounds. And it may have had a pretty big role in killing off the Tony Hawk series. I think it was already going downhill quite a bit at that point. But when this came out, and gave an obvious alternative, the Tony Hawk series was basically done at that point. And it started to get into gimmicks and all that stuff. But, I’m playing it here on the PS3, simply because that’s what I have. I had it on 360 back in the day. My 360 died. If you still have one, I would definitely go with the 360 version because it got better scores at the time. There was a little bit less lag and, you know, framerate issues and all that kind of stuff. Heads up though, it is not backward compatible with the Xbox One, in case you were wondering. Skate 3 is, but as far as this one, you’ve just got to go with the original hardware. So let’s get into the game.

Let’s talk about the control system. This is one of the biggest innovations in this game, aside from the physics. Most of you guys know how the control works, so I won’t go into a ton of detail, but these are the basics. It’s completely analog. You control your body with the left stick, so steering, spinning in the air, and body flips. The triggers are your hands, for doing different grabs, square and x are your feet for pushing. You can push with either foot, so you can mongo if you want. I kind of wish they left this out. The default stance is goofy, which we’ll talk about later, and a lot of people are more comfortable hitting x. So the game clips out there that people have published are full of goofy mongoers.

But the big thing here is how you do tricks. There’s no ollie button, just the right stick. Hold it down and flick it up, and you’ll ollie. The power you do it with will give you more or less height. Every other trick is some kind of gesture you have to figure out, like flicking off to the side, scooping and flicking, and all that kind of stuff. With some practice, it will make perfect sense and you’ll be able to do tricks by touch. This is such a huge upgrade over other games that it’s almost hard to explain. In the Tony Hawk series, there’s no difference between doing a 360 flip and a 360 inward heelflip. It’s just a different direction on the dpad. In skate, it’s actually a different motion, and it’s harder to get right because you have to scoop and then flick off the opposite side. So when you get more points for it, you actually feel like you earned it, to a degree. Also, after you do a trick, you can twist your body with the right stick. It’s not a full spin, but if you need a couple extra degrees before you land or you’re trying to tweak the board so you land in a certain grind, you can do that with the right stick.

The vert could use a little work though. They did a good job making pumping feel somewhat authentic, but it just kind of feels like you’re skating street at an angle. You pop and flick exactly the same, and it’s really hard to carve into grinds on the coping. When you do have to do transfers and gaps on vert, it feels pretty inconsistent.

Speaking of grinds, The other big innovation is the grind system. There’s no grind button. If you land on a grindable surface, you’ll grind however you landed. Land sideways with your weight over the nose? You’ll do a noseslide. But it’s not just a canned animation, there’s some variation to it. Your crooked grinds aren’t always at the same angle, or with the tail as high in the air. And that’s really cool. It feels a lot more natural.

Something else they did a good job with is making the grinds feel different. If you do a 5-0, you’ll slow down a lot less than a bluntslide, for example. So you can actually use skater logic to help you with the challenges in the game.

Something else skaters will love is the reset points. This isn’t the first game that lets you set a marker and jump back to it, but it fits so well in the style of game that I haven’t seen it used better anywhere else. Think of a quick marker in the Tony Hawk series. You’d set it, do a million point combo, bail, and reset. But by then, you’re halfway across the city and you’ll have to sit through a load screen. In skate, you’re much more likely to be skating one stair set, or these couple ledges here, and a reset will be instant.

I also wanted to point out the scoring system. While it’s possible to do endless combos, Joe Moore style, it doesn’t really reward you for that. It wants you to do stuff fast, and over gaps. You get more points for speed, distance and drop. And it’s not like Tony Hawk, where gaps have to be named to be worth anything. It’s a more natural system that just encourages you to do big gaps. You get this multiplier going, but it’s for lines. Keep the line going and keep landing stuff, and you’ll get a lot of points. So even though you can balance a grind perfectly without really having to balance it, it doesn’t help you to do it really far, unless it’s also fast.

Something I wish they did though, is let you get off your board. That doesn’t come around until later in the series. Instead, you just have to skate everywhere. They put these little ramps in sometimes that help you get around, but sometimes it really sucks. And they actually throw it in your face. This pro challenge is to grind this handrail. No big deal, right — aside from it being gigantic. You would just walk up the stairs, try the rail, and walk back up if you bail. But the actual point of the challenge is to find your way up to the top, skate past the security guard, and then grind it. You have to skate all the way around the building, and it takes forever. I messed up, and then just did it like this because I didn’t want to start all the way over. For the most part, this doesn’t affect you too much, but every now and then you’ll get stuck trying to get up a couple stairs.

So, playing the game feels like skating, except you’re really good, perfectly consistent, have no fear, and you can teleport. So far, that’s pretty awesome.

But let’s get into the career mode. There’s not much of a story here, and I think that’s fine. The point of the game is skateboarding, and the story just exists to give you an excuse to skate more. You’re a new skater, recovering from a car crash, and trying to go pro. You have zero character of your own – so it’s a really good thing Reda is there as your filmer to add some life to the career mode. You’re a bland, faceless skater who is just trying to film stuff, get sponsors and make money.

One thing I can tell you though, is that you’ll be goofy, whether you want to be or not.

The game defaults to your character being goofy, and you can change it if you want, but it will be very upset with you if you do. Sometimes, you’ll be skating around, working on a challenge or just messing around, and look! You are suddenly goofy every now and then when you reset. OK, but that’s just a fluke right? Surely, you’ll sometimes reset from goofy into regular stance, right?

Maybe. Maybe it’s just a glitch, or maybe it’s goofy stance propaganda. Watch, I’ll prove it. This is me in a game of SKATE. I’m now goofy. This isn’t switch. Watch me do something fakie. Yeah, it calls it nollie. I’ve had a stance change.

But it’s more than that. You’re actually punished for being regular. The first example is doing this 5-0 to tailslide to impress PJ Ladd. It starts you off here, and then says “frontside.” Why? There’s a mirror image bench on the opposite side. Or, it could start me off on the other side of the bench. OR, it could just say backside. But it does none of those. Screw regular people, even though there are more of them. There’s a video about that here, by the way.

Here’s another example. Bobby D wants me to do a tre flip front crook on this bench. It starts me off backside. No big deal, right? I could just skate the other side. BUT, Big Black is doing laps around the bench, counter-clockwise. If you run into him, he’ll knock you over. You’ll be much more likely to run into him if you’re trying to do this regular. You basically have to do it goofy. Again, this is really easy to fix. Just call it backside. What difference does it really make?

I can only imagine how confusing this would be if you weren’t a skater. If you just bought the game as a gamer, and were coming into it blind. What’s frontside and backside? Why do I have to turn around to do this challenge? They took spin directions out of the games of SKATE, which I understand. It makes it easier for non-skating gamers. Luckily, most people probably just stuck to the default goofy stance and they don’t run into these problems.

OK, let’s talk about the challenges. These are all really authentic, except for one, and we’ll get to that. And pretty innovative in some ways too.

First is the own the spot challenges. Sometimes when you’re riding around, Reda will point out a spot, and he remembers what went down there before. You try to top it by beating the high score. I like these, because it’s just for street cred. You aren’t filming or anything, you’re just trying to figure out how to get the most out of the spot. And they aren’t on the map either, so it’s a little reward for going out of your way and exploring instead of fast traveling to the next event.

Next is the photo challenges. These are one of the most important parts of the game, and you’ll spend most of the time doing these. And I usually like them. You’ll go to a spot and meet up with a photographer to shoot a certain article in a magazine. The game separates the magazines for some reason. From a gameplay perspective, I couldn’t really care less which magazine it’s going into. These should all be grouped together.

Anyway, you’ll be told what to do, and you just have to do it. You’ll usually have to clear a certain gap and get a certain number of points. Pretty simple, although I wonder how confusing some of this stuff would be for beginners or non skaters.

A lot of these are simple, and I breezed through it for the most part. But I’ve been playing this series for years. I remember having trouble with a lot of them back in the day. But they’re new and different every time, and there’s always some new audio from the photographer and from Reda that mixes it up a little bit. Sometimes he shoots pictures and sometimes it’s sequences. But I noticed that his pictures are almost always terrible. You won’t see the full gap, or the timing will be off or the framing isn’t right. It’s weird because the game makes a big deal out of these. You can save them, go back and look at them at the skateshop and stuff. But they’re always bad.

Next is the video challenges, which are awesome, as long as you’re somewhat honest with it. Here’s the way they work in this game. You open this list of goals on the side, and you can shuffle through different ones. You’ll have stuff like doing a certain number of grinds, degrees of rotation, a high score, and other stuff, like staying in a no skateboarding zone where security guards will knock you over and rob you.

Pick one and just start recording. Anywhere. This is the most organic feeling thing a skateboard game can do. You get to pick your own spot, anywhere in the whole city. No two people are going to do the exact same thing for any given film challenge. And with some of them, like this one, where I had to clear some distance, I had to find a spot that worked for it and actually plan out a line, just like I would in real skateboarding.

But at its worst, the film mode lets you cheat. So if you need to do a bunch of grinds, you can just do it all on a curb. Need to get some air time? No need to find a ramp. Just ollie over and over and over on flat. It doesn’t really care if your footage sucks, as long as it technically meets this criteria. So, like I said, if you’re honest with it, it can be challenging and fun.

There are a few that aren’t fun though, like the games of SKATE, which I talked about a little bit earlier. If you’re consistent with your tricks and you’re comfortable with the controls, these aren’t bad, but they can take a while. You have no control over whether the other guy bails and gives you a chance to set, or if he matches everything you do. This probably could have been left out of the game and nobody would care.

Another boring event is the times you have to follow somebody. They’ll want to take you to a spot or something, and you just have to stay close to them as they skate there. At best, this is boring. At worst, it’s frustrating, because you could always get hit by a car and reset too far away and need to redo the whole thing. But they’re not very common.

But the worst events, by far, are the death races. The game really wants you to think that (a) this is a real thing, and (b) that it’s fun. But it’s neither. So the idea is that you just skate down hills and stuff and try to make it to the bottom first. Sometimes there are timed gates you have to get through, but it doesn’t really explain that. But I’ll help you out. You don’t need all the gates. If you hit every one, you’d end up in last place. You just have to hit a gate before your time runs out. Which doesn’t necessarily take strategy, just trial and error. And you’ll have plenty of errors, because you have to deal with the people and cars. This is horrible. It’s completely out of your control whether a car is going to be in the intersection on your way through. And it’s not scripted either, so you might just end up in an impossible situation, and have to retry over and over before you get lucky. These events are the hardest, but in a really cheap way. To be fair though, they’re nowhere as bad as they were in Skate It, which I reviewed right here.

There are pro challenges mixed in here and there too.These mostly take the same form of the other types of stuff in the game, except it’s a pro instead of a photographer or whatever. This helps mix things up, because you get to hear some bad pro skater acting instead of the regular photographer.

These typically have some stakes too. Like, you’ll unlock a potential sponsor, turn pro, or something like that. When you start to see pro challenges, you know you’re about to reach some kind of milestone. But the difficulty on these are a little random. I did some first try, even. Some actually took a while though, although this one was just because the game lagged every time I got close to the ledge I was supposed to grind.

The last event type is the jams and contests. The jams come in a couple of different flavors, like best trick and highest total score. These are kind of cool because it’s one of the only real tests of your consistency. Most things you do, you can bail it 100 times and just land it once. So having to perform while on the clock is a nice change. I like the announcer too.

“You couldn’t have slammed any better if you had tried! Thank you!”

The one thing that sucks though is that you have a dozen skaters all trying to skate the same thing. Chances are, you’re going to run into them over and over. And most best trick events can be beaten with one crazy combo like this. Land it once, and you can just wait around until time runs out.

Pro tip: instead of skating back to the start, you can bail on purpose and you’ll reset at the top.

The worst contest is the X-Games big air. The amount of air time you get is pretty inconsistent, and it’s hard to plan out your line when you don’t know how much air time you’ll get. This goes back to the game treating transition like street. You don’t really ollie off the mega ramp. It’s designed that you could just early grab and air over it. When you do ollie, it just helps pop the board into your hand, it doesn’t really give you 20 extra feet of distance. But you only have to beat it once, and you can retry easily enough. So I’ll give it a pass.

That’s about it for the events. When you beat them all, there’s no huge ending really. You get invited to the mega park, which I could take or leave. I talk about that a bit more in my gameplay video.

Aside from that, all the challenges you missed come back, so you can complete everything. And I did. But this is where the game really opens up.

My favorite thing to do is to go to the free skate mode, turn off all the people, cars and security, and just skate around. Find spots, come up with lines or combos, and just skate. And there’s a couple of things you can do.

First, you can film yourself. This was awesome when it first came out. I remember, back in the PS2 days, people would try to record Tony Hawk footage and edit together realistic skate videos, but it was a ton of work, and it was incredibly unrealistic because your skater can ollie 10 feet up in the air. Being able to do stuff that looked this good was really cool. And you could upload stuff and share it. I didn’t get a chance to play around with that at the time, because I was still on dialup until Skate 2 came out.

Although this was revolutionary at the time, there isn’t that much you can do. There are 5 preset cameras, and you can jump between them, add some filters and slow-mo. That’s it. The later games greatly expanded this, and it’s kind of weird going back and playing this today.

There’s something else you can do too… hunt for glitches. I never got into this stuff too much, so I’m having trouble showing it off. But there are certain trick combinations you can do that will shoot you up in the air. The easy way is this one, the nose manual nose pivot to shove it. It gets you a little air. I also managed to do a manual pivot to fakie hardflip, which gives you a pretty big pop too. The best way to do it is with a 360 hardflip, but I never got that to work. I thought I did it here, but when I watched it back, I just bounced off this bench and got some extra air. Anyway, it’s possible, and you can get good at it if you want. There’s a lot of stuff like this. Search for ‘Skate pop glitch’ and you’ll see some crazy stuff.

This last thing isn’t exactly a glitch, but it’s clearly not something you’re meant to do: hippy flips. There are certain tricks where your feet are pretty far from the board, like double flips, late flips, and fakie nosemanual 360 flips, when you’re actually backwards. These are hard, but I managed to do one to show you! Look how close you have to be! So, there’s still a lot to learn and work on, even when you master the actual skating.

There’s a poll on screen right here. I want to know which game in the series is your favorite. Some people love 1 because of the city. Other people love the more advanced controls and the camera mechanics, and all that that come later in the series. I want to know what you think about that. It’ll be helpful as I go forward with reviewing the whole series. And I will do that soon. I’ll do Skate 2 and Skate 3. Maybe not in order – maybe I’ll do some other things here and therein between. But I’m going to get to those as soon as I can. So, is Skate 1 still worth playing today? I would say definitely yes, especially if you’ve never played the series. If you’re not coming into it spoiled from the things that come later in Skate 2 and 3, and you can play this fresh: do it. Play it all the way through. Spend your time, you know, go through the entire city. Find spots. Do everything. Spend a lot of time on it, then get Skate 2, then get Skate 3. Because, they’re not making a Skate 4. Last anyone has heard, there’s nothing in development. So we’re kind of stuck with what we’ve got. So definitely savor it. I would say Skate, even the first one, is better than anything else we’ve got today, even the touchscreen tablet games, and all that. Those are good, but they really don’t reach the depth that Skate does. So definitely check this one out. Go with the 360 version if you can, but either way, you’re going to have a really good time.

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