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Joystiq hands-on: Skate

Jared Rea

Skateboarding, like punk rock and Lindsay Lohan, is rebellious by nature. And however crass and in-your-face the scene can be, there is a fine line between being a rebel and just being a dick. When you successfully complete a series of intensely complex button combinations that total up to millions of points and you're rewarded with a virtual Bam Margera farting in your face, it certainly feels like the latter of the two.

The foulness of this scenario, however, is a perfect metaphor for the Tony Hawk series as a whole: it's crude, low-brow and ultimately out to beat you down. Over the past eight years, Neversoft's Tony Hawk series has had more in common with something like Killer Instinct than it has the craft of skating.

Skate is a disruption. It's the 800 lb. gorilla tossed in a cage full of hapless puppies. Its rebellion, like skateboarding, is through mere existence. It isn't just challenging the rule of an eight year tyrant, but the very notion of how "extreme sports" titles are handled.

God save Tony Hawk because Skate is coming and it is heavy.

Utilizing a unique control scheme (which is best described with this tutorial video) that mirrors real skateboarding, Skate mostly breaks down to the two analog sticks: left for your body and right for your feet. Still busting both bones and boards to this day, we hardly needed a run through of the controls before we were hopping stairs and nailing tricks. The simplistic beauty found in Skate not only means that anyone should be able to pick it up, but those who actually do skate will appreciate just how naturally everything feels. Even ollying up to rail and twisting your body for a tailslide comes easy (no "grind" button required!), though not without some practice to perfect.

And everything in Skate will take a bit of practice. Even pushing off with your feet takes a few moments to get right as not only can you choose which foot to use, but it must be timed correctly in order to get the maximum amount of speed. Timing, like in real skating, is something that must be learned before you can go big and everything from pumping on vert ramps to ollying has a rhythm to it. The character you create in Skate comes as evolved as they'll ever get, so while you have all the skills you could ever need, unlocking them is a personal quest rather than a designed one.

Relying on physics as much as Skate does, our biggest fear was that of weight. Previous showings of Skate seemed a bit floaty to us, but what we played felt on the money: certainly heavy enough to be realistic, but with a touch of lightness to keep it in the realm of playability. In our opinion, the true test as to whether Skate was worth the hype was whether or not it would fun to skate how we do in real life. True enough, even the simplest lines such as ollying up to a fun box, landing a nose manual and flicking off was worth a replay or two.

It's hard to believe but after eight years of Tony Hawk, the fun box is actually fun again.

The replay feature itself is fairly slick in that you can stop the action at any time, rewind it, capture it, edit the footage and then upload it to EA's Skate website to share it with friends. It is, however, unclear as to whether or not you'll be able to view the replays of others through your Xbox 360 or PS3. What you will be able to do with other folks is play online with up to 8 people in a variety of events and free skate modes.

At its simplest level, skateboarding is nothing more than you versus your imagination. Having gotten to fool around with the core of Skate for so long, the impression left is very much the same as the real thing. Before the team at EA tackled skateboarding, I was convinced that no video game -- what with their ridiculous button setups and design traps -- could ever properly replicate the feeling of stepping up and tearing down the streets.

In the end, only one word needs to be said: believe.

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