Skate is a nightmare to review, but a joy to play. However gushing the description, you can't explain the feeling - the physical sensation of relief, exhilaration and pride - of nailing a perfect trick on your anguished 37th go. In Hawk games, you 'divine' complex moves into life via a rapid-fire test of memory and reactions, in Skate you caress your moves with direct analogue fluidity and grace. Put simply - it feels like skateboarding.
On their first attempt, EA have crafted a game so naturalistic and sublime, that it practically invalidates one of the longest running franchises in console history
Skate succeeds because, rather than focus on the tick-list whims of 'consumers', the developers have made a game for themselves, with a simple goal: make it feel like skateboarding. And by creating an intuitive, rewarding control system, it democratizes the thrill of skating, without the pain of having to learn it for real, providing creativity, exploration, challenge, community and, well, the simple thrill of wheels click clacking along paving slabs, or the primal screech of a power slide.
Love skating? Buy this now. It's probably the most fun you'll have on PS3, and an antidote to the cartoon, Jackass-excess of Tony Hawk. No interest in skating? "I don't know anything apart from playing Tony Hawk," revealed a journo on an Xbox 360 mag, "but I really, really enjoy this". That said, his observation that Skate's cast are 'nobodies' compared to Tony Hawk are erroneous, since EA have assembled an incredibly authentic, credible roster of real-life talent, including Danny Way, Mike Carroll, Colin McKay and Mark Gonzales.
Controls are sublime, with ollies, flips and shove its assigned to the right stick, and movement to the left. To jump (ollie) you simply pull back on the right stick, and yank it forward - mirroring the real-life motion. Snap the stick clumsily down and up, and your skater will perform a small, sketchy leap. Perform a fluid, deeper, motion, and he'll jump with poise and grace. It's the key to Skate's success - regardless of your understanding of real-life skate dynamics, few games give you such direct, or rewarding, control over your actions. Thanks to the, mostly, exemplary physics, it's possible to gauge when your timing's right or wrong by animation alone.
Roll the right-stick back, and your character will crouch in synchrony, primed to jump. Hold the left-stick back, and he'll gingerly slide his wheels. Yank it and he'll slam into a 90 skid - the distance a result of your speed, the terrain and the hardness of your wheels. Pop onto a rail at too slow a speed, and you'll see your skater teeter, waving the appropriate arm to regain balance. Misjudge a jump and land inches before a ledge, and you'll slam your body, or head, forcefully into the concrete.
No two slams are the same, and - despite the slightly floppy nature of the rag doll physics - you'll revel finding new ways to hurt your skater. There's even a pop-up skeleton menu after big slams, showing exactly where you've bust yourself.
Combine left and right stick moves for more complex tricks. For example, kickflip (right-stick down, then top left), then hold sideways on the left stick for a 360 flip. See that bump? Try the same move, but use the added height to add a grab (i or p for right/left hands).
Now try again, but push faster (three taps of q or r is all you need to reach top speed), time your jump earlier (to maximize the trajectory of the bump) and add a tweak (hold p while pushing right stick) to maximize points. At any point, you can use your skill, timing and exploitation of physics to try something new. Ground a rail? Good - now use the bank above it to 540 laser flip into a blunt slide. Now try again, but shove it out...