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Skate 1 Review 2021

I recently replayed all of Skate 1 – every single challenge except for the optional pro games of SKATE. Sure, I did it with all the controls reversed, which made it a little more painful than it needed to be, but I feel like that gave me a really good look at how it might feel to play the game for the very first time in 2021. If you haven’t played it before, is it worth picking up? As of right now, the game is on Xbox Game Pass, and it plays really well on the newer Xbox consoles in backward compatibility. But I played on a PS3 emulator for ease of recording. You might fall through the Earth, but it plays pretty well on there.

Let’s start with the good stuff. 

What’s your favorite thing about skateboarding? Is it coming up with the perfect trick to do at a spot? Is it finding an awesome ledge you weren’t expecting? Is it filming, and spending time finding the right angle? Whatever it is, it’s in this game.

To me, it’s the feeling. That’s why the main thing that stands out in this game is the physics, especially for the time it was released. When you do a grind, you can really feel it, and you slow down realistically! The Tony Hawk games never did that. I can’t think of a game that felt semi realistic since Thrasher and this is leaps and bounds beyond that. 

Having analog control was a big upgrade too. You input tricks by doing different patterns with the right stick – a completely unique idea. And the height you do the trick depends on how fast you flick it. It might be harsh on your controller, but it adds a ton of realism. It also has other small touches that help a lot, like getting wobbly in a fast nose manual. That makes sense in real life. Turning at speed also feels good. It can be hard to do a powerslide on purpose, but in general, things happen for a reason. It feels like they really consulted people who skate to make it all feel authentic.

My appreciation for the physics engine actually went up since my original review because of Session. Session shows me exactly how hard it is to get this stuff right. Turning at speed is completely uncontrollable, and you are always hitting imaginary rocks that throw you off in a random direction. This game isn’t released yet, but still: the fact that Skate 1 got the engine so solid is genuinely impressive.

The vert is really good too.You can push in the flat bottom like a Philistine, but you can also pump and keep speed like a real transition skater. And it’s tough to test this for sure, but it seems like whether you ollie or not doesn’t make a difference on how much air you get. And that’s good! Your air on vert is just based on your speed and pump. Ollieing pushes you away from the coping and lets you do flip tricks, but it shouldn’t get you higher.

Of course, it’s completely possible to get stuck in a halfpipe! It only happened to me once in my run, but it vexed me so.

As does constantly switching stances. The game will reset you in the wrong stance very often, which is a pain if you have a certain line planned out.

Another good thing is the pro skater cameos and the characters. A lot of people don’t like your camera man Reda constantly talking in your ear, but I actually like him. Sometimes he’s got jokes, but he’s at least telling you who pro skaters are, in case you don’t recognize them. He adds some personality, which the game needs because your character is basically a blank slate. In fact, I don’t think your character has an original thought in his head in the whole game. Reda just parades you around, has you risk your life doing stupid things, and sells your footage, I guess? You end up making a pretty good amount of money too, but there’s really no reason to spend it. You can buy clothes and stuff, but they’re also free from your sponsors, so I don’t know why you’d bother.

But it’s not just Reda. Having a world that feels like it’s full of real people is nice too. They get in the way and they can be incredibly annoying when they seem to multiply during a challenge, but we’re talking about positives here.

San Vanelona is a great city to skate in, pulling famous skate spots and putting them in one seamless level. There are a ton of spots hidden away, like this whole park. There isn’t a single challenge in the story mode here. You just have to stumble on it, and you can skate here for hours. It’s very well done, with a lot of variety. Downhill areas, plazas, cobblestones, marble. Places with security guards that will rob you, and for some reason, Rob Dyrdek’s apartment in a corporate office building.

Another great thing was the skate Reel. These days, it’s not as useful, and you aren’t really uploading stuff to it, but it was fantastic at the time. Being able to spend time working on a trick just for your own enjoyment, and then getting the perfect camera angles and saving that clip, is now a standard thing in skate sims. Imagine if skate 4 came out without the camera mode. It’s unthinkable. So in a lot of ways, Skate 1 molded the future of skateboarding video games, and helped put the final nail in the coffin of Tony Hawk’s aging series.

They even included the video recording in the gameplay itself, kind of, with the video challenges. On paper, I like these, but I think they need a little work. They go like this. You have a list of things to do within one timer. Grind a certain distance, spin a certain number of degrees, that kind of stuff. But the cool thing is that you can do them wherever you want. It’s up to you to find a spot and come up with your own line. It’s pretty cool, and it’s a peek at what street skateboarding is really like. You keep an eye out for cool spots, and you come up with the best thing you can do at a spot and work at it until you finally land it. Nothing feels better in skateboarding.

The major issue is the combos of stuff that they put together. A lot of time, they slap on a minimum airtime to the list, which usually means you just do a bunch of ollies at the end. Sure, you can do this in a more realistic way by skating vert or finding a line with some big drops in it, but who’s got the time for that? The long grind challenges are really hard too… Unless you just do it on a curb down a hill. Then they’re really easy. So why would you do it anywhere else? Pretty much all of my film challenges have curbs and flatground grabs in them. It would be tough to redesign these challenges to make sure you don’t do that, but it stood out to me at least. Maybe they should have tried limiting the challenges to certain areas, like the school, or the community center. A little less freedom, but it keeps you from falling into the same habits just because they’re easy.

The photo challenges are great though. These are easily the best part of the game. A photographer from Thrasher or the Skateboard Mag will text you on your sponsored slider phone and tell you to meet him somewhere. Then you have a specific trick type on a specific spot. Flip into a grind and get at least 400 points. Do two manuals and a flip trick. I really like these, because it feels the most like real skating. You get a little creativity to come up with how you want to meet the requirements, but at the same time, you have to do something that makes sense in skating.

Of course, the pictures they take are always god awful. Who framed these? Was there nobody in the art department at Black Box that knows how to take a skateboard picture? You need to be able to see the run up and the landing so you can actually figure out what’s going on. And you can’t require me to do a combo and then take one photo of it! Those should be sequences. That’s kind of minor, but given how big a deal it is to get coverage in this game, why wouldn’t they do that? So, good challenges, minor annoyance. I’ll give it a pass.

The own the spot high scores are quite a bit of fun. They aren’t marked on the map, and you just find them naturally throughout the game. I found about 15 of the 20 of them that are littered throughout the city, but I was trying to play through the game pretty quickly and relying on the subway quite a bit. So you roll past a spot and Reda will tell you about it, and you have to beat the best score ever done at the spot. It’s a natural, realistic street skating thing to do.

Another event type that’s very similar is the pro challenges. These might be even better than the photos because at least you have different people to talk to…. Even if two of them are responsible for killing people now.

But these are similar. Do a certain type of trick at a certain spot. One of my favorites was this pool one, where I had to do an air over the diving board. Getting a good line, pumping just right and blasting over it felt really good.

Overall, I wish these challenge types were the only thing in the game, because pretty much everything else sucks. Things get better later in the series, but at this point, it’s in rough shape.

After the tutorials, the first thing you do is play a game of SKATE. There are only a few of these required in the game, but I hate them. In my recent run, I got pretty lucky. But it’s perfectly possible for your opponent to land a ton of tricks in a row, and for you to eventually run out of tricks to do, since you can’t repeat them. And directions don’t matter, so frontside flips and backside flips count as the same thing.

Even in a best case scenario, it’s annoying. The flickit control system is cool and innovative, but it’s very touchy. Scooping a 360 shove it versus a 360 flip is a tiny difference. Only by the end of my run did I start to be able to reliably do 360 flips on purpose. So these are an exercise in frustration.

Another thing you do fairly often is… follow people to spots. This game absolutely hates fast travel in any way, and goes out of its way to make you travel long distances, as if it’s something you’ll enjoy. The perfect example of this is the time I had to follow Gonz so he could take me to an Adidas pop-up ad. It took 8 full minutes. That’s an obscene amount of time to follow someone. And on the way, he bailed 11 times. It’s not always a disaster if he bails, because it can give you some time to catch up… But it also might ruin your whole run. 

This time [5c2 1:03:22], I was about 6 feet away from him when he bailed. The game thought it was 65… Wait, just look at this! I’m 65 feet away? Yeah, okay sure. But when he resets, he’s over 100 feet away at speed, and he gets up to 200 right away. I almost lost the challenge here. Ultimately, these are annoying, but they’re really not that bad. But they feel more like a chore than a fun video game objective.

The contests are there, in a way that I find completely baffling. In the Tony Hawk games, and real life, you do your run, and you see how you did on the leaderboard, usually. But I think Skate wanted to show off their NPC skater engine or something, because the contests are always jams. I would have had more fun jamming a fork in a power outlet. Everyone skates at the same time, and you start in the same location. It’s impossible not to run into the other skaters constantly. Who thought this was a good idea? How is this better than having a chance to do your own run?

This pool contest is the worst example. You ollie into the pool basically blind, and then get a ton of air. What are the chances that you DON’T hit someone on the way down? It happens all the time. But to make sure these challenges are still beatable, they just make the other skaters suck so you only have to land a couple decent tricks to beat their score. 

Another great example is Dill. Just look at this guy. We’re competing with each other on the mega ramp, and no matter what I do, he appears out of nowhere and hits me. And this is the one place where the physics really don’t work either. Your speed can vary by a lot depending on how exactly you drop in. So Dill is just unavoidable no matter how you try to time it. He’s coming for you.

Why did they do contests this way? Maybe they thought that there were enough high score challenges in the filming and photos, and they wanted you to have to steer around other skaters to mix it up a little bit? I don’t know, but they should have thought again.

How about this? Make it a little more realistic. Tell the player what the judges are looking for, like wanting to see you cover as much of the course as possible. You’ll be judged better if you hit a rail, do a couple different flip tricks, do a few switch tricks, and maybe even throw in a grab. Don’t just rely on the high score, but make it a little more sophisticated. Maybe they didn’t think something like that was accessible for gamers who don’t know much about skateboarding, but it would have been a lot better than… this.

The last, and also least, challenge type we’ll talk about is the death races. These are pure torment. I really can’t figure out why these are in the game. You’d think the first time they play-tested this, they would have deleted the code and fired whoever it was that wrote it. But with my time in the corporate world, I’m pretty sure it went like this:

“Hey Tim, I need you to add in a new racing mode by end of day.”

“But I would have to modify the traffic engine to make sure the player isn’t overwhelmed by cars, and add in some racing features, like maybe drafting and more sophisticated cornering and braking system so it’s satisfying. Can I get some more time?”

“F-k you.”

So here’s how it works: I don’t know how it works. There are gates that you can go through. They’re usually green, but sometimes they’re not. I don’t know what this signifies, if anything. Going through a gate resets your timer, so you don’t have to hit all of them, I think. Just get enough of them.

As for the actual nuts and bolts of the race, I again have no idea. If you crouch while you skate downhill, maybe that makes you go faster? Maybe pushing at full speed is better? I don’t know, but it seems like you can get passed by anybody at any time. In fact, I have no doubt that all of the other racers are faster than you.

So how do you win? Traffic, and luck. Getting to the bottom of the course without crashing into cars is completely random, sometimes impossible, and absolutely required.

Take a look at this area. You blast down these stairs into absolute chaos. There are curbs on both sides that you can get caught on, either tripping on them or accidentally grinding. Cutting through the traffic is often hopeless. And if you crash once in a run, it’s over. You absolutely need every other racer to crash once or twice so you can stay ahead.

In the run that I played on the channel, I had to cut out about a half hour of attempts for this race, and it was still a really long video. At the end of the racing questline, they get irrationally difficult. If you play this game again, just do the bare minimum of these. Save yourself. If you complete every mission in the game, you get an extra deck. It’s not worth it.

Let’s talk about getting around in the world outside of races. It’s aggressively  bad. 

The first thing you’ll notice if you’re coming from Skate 3 or Session is the fact that you can’t get off the board. It seems like a small thing, but it’s absolutely terrible. If you mess up when ollieing up a curb, you have to turn around, push, get hit by a car, restart, then get speed up and try again. It would be so simple if you could just… walk a couple feet. So many challenges are ruined by this, and one actually celebrates it. 

Here I am trying to meet up with Pat Duffy. I got stuck on the architecture for a bit, which was a fun preview for what was about to happen to me.

All he wants me to do is grind this ludicrously long handrail… BUT, you have to figure out how to get up to it. Are we 5 years old, pretending the floor is lava? If my feet touch the stairs, I die? Why would you do this Pat Duffy? Did you used to skate all the way around the block after every attempt back in your Plan B days?

But the game does that to you, and it revels in it. Look at this. They added in these ledges that are too high to ollie just to make it more annoying, and to make you skate further away to get up the building. Luckily, I got the grind first try, but I would have been apoplectic if I didn’t.

Even when the game isn’t rubbing this in your face, it’s still there. You’re always skating really far out of the way to avoid walking up stairs. I can’t tell you the amount of times I got to the marker on the map, only to have to brainstorm how to actually get that last 20 feet.

And the only fast travel option you have is to travel through the subway. But look at this. The subway map barely matches the real map. I went to the wrong one more than a few times because of that. Why would you make this map so abstract? And there aren’t nearly enough subway locations… But I don’t want to imply that I want more. I want zero. I want to be able to pick a challenge icon or a landmark from the map and fast travel there. Why not? What possible use could there be in making you skate everywhere? I guess you’re forced to find more spots in between, but forcing players to do anything is a terrible game design choice. Inconveniencing people for what you think is their own good is stupid. They did better in later games.

But it’s not just traveling to the next challenge. Sometimes they specifically require you to do a certain challenge at a certain time. If you unlock a big one, like the cover of Thrasher, it’ll hide all the other challenges, so you HAVE to do that one next. Even if it’s on the other end of the map. Even if you’re really far away from a subway, and that challenge is really far away from the other subway exit. I’d say, conservatively, that the game is 10% travel time.

Maybe this won’t bother other people as much as me, but I’m really obsessed with efficiency, in an unhealthy way. I’ll plan out my errands to do the bare minimum of driving, and if I ever have to backtrack, I get really pissed off about it. Imagine how it felt doing all the back and forth, getting hit by cars, going to the wrong subway stop, and getting a bald patch for ripping out my hair.

So, with all that said, how does this game hold up? If you never played it before, is it worth playing right now for the very first time?

Skate 3 is one of the best all-around skateboarding games you can play. I hope that’s not true for very long, but still. It’s got to be high up on pretty much everybody’s list. But if you started with 3 and tried to go back and play 1 afterward, you would hate how much more limited it is. But if you play them in order, you would probably have a pretty good experience. If you aren’t playing on a timer, and you aren’t trying to get things done quickly for your youtube channel, a lot of the rough edges will smooth out.

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