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Skate

EA takes skating to new levels of realism

Bah - it's bound to be a Tony Hawks rip-off, right? Wrong. EA gave us a sneaky peak at the game it hopes will topple Tony's reign on top and it could well do.

We went to EA's Skate presentation expecting a slightly adapted interpretation of Activision's skating series, but was instead shown a skater that blows Tony way off the half pipe in terms of realism.

Skate is a hardcore simulator - totally physics-based and paying an impressive amount of attention to the feeling of real life skating.

You see, Tony Hawks is great fun but it's totally unrealistic in every way - it's an arcade game. You are capable of feats in Tony Hawks games that no real human being could even come near to performing.

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Skate focuses on realism - you can't rush up a vertical ramp at full speed and suddenly grind at the top. The physics won't allow you to - you'll carry on up into the air. You can't leap to some ridiculous height and make your boarder do a silly number of tricks, kicking the board in a flurry of different directions. In Skate, you leap into the air, kicking your board in a direction to perform a stunt quickly before you land realistically.

There's no grind button either - you don't press a button and watch your boarder stick to the nearest ledge or rail. You have to time a jump to land on the rail you want to grind on properly. Then, the realistic laws of physics see you slow down as you grind, rather than speed up as seen in Tony.

The part of your board that hits the rail is the part you have to grind on - it's impressive to watch because you can see the physics in action. The way your boarder interacts with his board is great - you can see that they are two separate entities. The board isn't connected to the skater.

The producer, Jay Balmer told us that they spent months just perfecting the physics of the board alone. The board turns because of the weight applied to it, he explained. You lean your skater to one side with the left analogue stick which applies weight to one side of the board, causing the trucks underneath to swivel and the wheels to turn the board. We're not programmers but it certainly looked that genuine so we'll take his word for it.

And to go with this impressive physics technology, EA has invented a control system that's equally as innovative. In Tony Hawks you just bash a load of buttons to pull off tricks. EA wanted to go for something that better replicated the mechanics of skating so instead of using buttons, all board manipulation in Skate is handled by the right analogue stick.

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The idea is that you move the stick in the way you want the board to move. Pulling the stick down then flicking it up makes your skater perform a simple ollie off of his rear foot - so the stick imitates the way you would distribute your weight when doing the trick in real life. So if you push the stick up and then down and he'll ollie of the front foot.

Kick flips are a little more complicated. You can pull the stick down, then up and to the right to flick the board in that direction as you jump. You can push the stick left, rotate it down to the southern position and then flick it up to make your boarder do more of a spinning kick flip. Whatever the trick, EA has created a stick gesture that roughly replicates the way the board moves and, although difficult to get used to, it feels great.

Grabs are in there too, using the two triggers - one for each arm - you just pull one (or both) of the triggers to grab the board with the corresponding arm. Again, Tony fans will find it strange at first but it's so logical once you get the hand of it.

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