Much ballyhoo has been made about Skate.'s innovative control system and while it certainly demands the most attention in the game's initial hours, it alone is not the reason I recommend this game. It is Skate.'s portrayal of the modern city and all its structures that should initially drive the player to the game. From there, in Skate.'s depiction of its San Velona, the game then achieves the profound - to convey to the player the aesthetic and philosophy underlying the act of actual skateboarding.
Until this point video game cities were fairly primitive representations, not far removed from their polygonal origins. They were a series of stacked squares and the occasional oddly placed half pipe. Subtle stylistic differences in architecture were not depicted, and environments rarely looked like part of a coherent whole. Typical environments resembled nothing so much as large skate parks that could be ridden as one continuous line. Developers were less interested in imitating a real city than designing it to serve a particular play experience.
Skate.'s San Velona is a remarkable departure from the previous design philosophy. The row houses all have walk ups, public art sits in front of the corporate buildings it was commissioned for, and half-pipes can only be found in the city's myriad skate parks. More subtle, but equally impressive, is the empty space. There are open plazas with a few pieces of irregular terrain and a short handrail here and there. Space divides the city into disparate skating spots. In many cases, spots consist of one huge handrail or a single line. Some lines are obvious, but more often than not they resist immediate discovery. Like a real skater, the player has to look at the city in terms of gaps and grinds and, by doing so, finds a way to link the existing architecture to the physical act of skateboarding.
Once the line or spot is found the player finds himself sessioning it, often for an hour at a time, trying to lace the perfect line or even just a grind on the one enormous drop rail that might comprise the spot. The ability to replay the last 30 seconds of game time at any point and edit it in a fashion similar to an actual skating video adds a further aesthetic concern - players will become partial to certain types of architecture. If you are a stunt skater, you will look for large iconic architecture: that one massive ledge that you absolutely can't drop off of at the midway point. The more technical skater will gravitate to a city plaza with low, long hand rails, knee high planters, and 10 set stair cases. All of this is a wonder to behold under the city's permanent late Sunday afternoon sun. Even more remarkable is that deep into the game, when everything has been unlocked, the player will still be finding new spots to session, perhaps not as epic, but equally charming in their possibilities.
Ultimately it is not the control scheme that defines the game (that concept is quickly grasped) it is the extent to which the player can interpret San Velona's architecture as skate-able terrain that will determine the final experience. Certainly Skate. is not without its flaws, but none are so great that they should discourage a chance to roll around San Velona. To do so is to understand Skate.'s greatest triumph - its interpretation of the complex physical relationship between the skater and his environment. Fortunately this, unlike real skating, only requires participation to be understood.
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