Ok, right. Now this latest Tony Hawk game has the moniker 'skate' and has definitely fallen far from the tree, the control system has been completely redone, if the Hawkster didn't have such a monopoly on the market you wouldn't even know this was his ga... look what do you want? I'm writing a review here... you're saying this isn't a Tony Hawk game? Oh, ok.
I guess I'd better start again then, skate. is indeed a skateboarding game but, shockingly enough, it has not been created by NeverSoft and does not involve Hawk in any way, even more shockingly it's from EA... and it's good *thunderclap*. Sorry, just thought that was a bit of a dramatic line. But yeah it's a good skateboarding game but shouldn't be compared to anything before it.
The first (and most obvious) difference is the control scheme, labelled 'flickit'. This allows you to take control of the skateboarder's body and board separately using the left and right analogue sticks respectively with the left and right triggers grabbing the board. The left stick lets you turn, power slide and 'pump' (more on that later) while the right stick lets you perform tricks. Want to ollie? Just move the right stick down and then flickit up. Oh, I suppose you want to nollie now? Do the opposite. Tricks are performed by making variations of these moves, you can kickflip by moving the stick down and then up to the right or left depending on your stance and heelflip is simply the opposite, swinging the stick bottom to top does pop shuvits and there are many more possibilities. Believe it or not it's pretty damn intuitive although to this hardened Tony Hawk gamer it did feel a bit odd at first.
You may notice I left grinds out of the above explanation, that's because they rely upon the physics. All you Tony Hawk fanboys wanting to jump six feet in the air, grind powerlines and pull off three tricks in a jump as part of a +1,000,000 point combo, you won't find it here. This game is the Forza 2 to Tony Hawk's Sega Rally, it focuses on realistic tricks, you can pull off combos but not indefinitely and it takes real skill to flip trick a gap and then land on the rail beyond. Which brings me on to grinds, to grind in this game you need to land on the rail and how you land on it is the grind you pull off. It's a far cry from slamming the Y/Triangle button and magically jumping a foot to the side to get on the rail and is all the better for it.
Aesthetically the game is stellar, I played the demo 20+ times (which shows how addictive the gameplay can be) but getting the game proper is better. Clothing ruffles in the wind, HDR is put to subtle use, even cars look pretty good which is unusual when the cars aren't the focal point. Sounds are also terrific, you'll hear pedestrians, the sounds of your wheels on various surfaces, car drivers telling you to get out the way after screeching to a halt and bones cracking when they don't bother stopping. Which, in another unplanned segue takes me to injuries. See you'll do a lot of bailing, a LOT. Whenever you get a particularly heinous bail you run the risk of bruising, spraining or breaking parts of your body, it's completely pointless and has no effect on the game (except for obtaining achievements) but it's a nice addition.
The game centres around you as an unknown skater. You slowly but surely build your reputation by obtaining coverage in skate magazines and completing challenges until you manage to get into the X Games and win but if you don't fancy adding to your reputation you can just tool around San Vanelona, which thankfully is frigging massive. Ok I'm going to go ahead and assume Mass Effect is going to be bigger but you'll not be found wanting somewhere else to go in San Vanelona, there's always somewhere to go even if there's no specific target. Even better, by completing challenges you'll unlock other places to go such as awesome indoor skate parks.
Now I've sufficiently sung the game's praises let's get on to the other stuff. My main criticism of the game is that the controls, while being innovative, are too similar to each other. 360 flips are an awful lot like varial kickflips (or heelflips, can't remember now) with the former requiring only a slightly larger movement than the latter. Usually this isn't a big deal but on challenges that require you to be accurate like S.K.A.T.E. (think H.O.R.S.E.) it may lead you to snap your controller in half. There's also the minor complaint that there are no flatland tricks or hand plants, unfortunate but in truth it doesn't detract much from the game. What is unusual is the lack of a walking mode. Pioneered by the Hawk games (obviously), this made it so much easier to prepare yourself for the perfect line, as it stands it can be pretty awkward to get to a place, especially if it's upstairs.
That's the long and here's the short of it, if you want a skateboarding game but you're sick of Tony Hawk I recommend giving this a try. It's got support from some of the massive names in skateboarding, the graphics are great, the sounds are great, the gameplay is great. You may think EA is the devil but it's just put out one of the most enjoyable extreme sports games I've played and that's without the online play my uni digs doesn't afford me (because I can't afford it).