Tony Hawks has done some pretty impressive things in his life, he’s invented tricks like the AirWalk, was the first person to land a 900 (two and a half rotations) and he is apparently a genius and has an attractive wife. Basically when Tony Hawks stands in front of the mirror in the morning to give himself a pep talk it takes about 5 seconds and he realises he’s doing alright. The main achievement he should be proud of however is the fact that he managed to bring skateboarding games to the unwashed masses. Sure we had games like 720, and California Games featured an awful skateboarding game, but none managed to capture quite the same mass market as Mr Hawks did.
EA in their usual style did what they did best, they saw someone doing something, they came in, threw money at someone to make something better and they did. What EA did was task EA Black Box to produce an open world Skate game that was more simulation than Tony Hawk’s combo-spamming arcade game. Where falling off your board was easy and using Skate’s ‘Flick It’ controls was a challenge to new players; Skate managed to carve itself an interesting niche in the market where people wanting to create their own characters and customise everything. The wonderful thing about Tony Hawks was that it made skating cool again, something which had been quite underground since the late 70’s when it first blew onto the scene.
Skate could just be seen as just another skateboarding game, it’s easy to see the screens and just think it’s a prettier Tony Hawks, but it’s something more than that, it’s an open world game where you are presented with various locales of different styles and you can set yourself your own objectives. Obviously if you wanted to you could just jump from one main mission to another, star in this skate video, get a photo of you performing a hand plant or just beat some skaters in a competition. But for me the fun comes from when you, whilst just travelling around, find a stair set, or a grass gap that you want to spend the next 10 minutes just jumping down over and over until you perform the most awesome trick or distance you can.
It was this “the game is what you make it” attitude that really sold me. The awesome alt-rock and hip hop soundtracks of the series just fits perfectly with the casual cruising agenda the game encourages the player to take on. Often on the second game in the series I would find myself travelling across the open world and then Funeral by Band of Horses would come on, instantly I would need to find the nearest area to just enjoy, be it stairs or just a low wall to grind I would spend the next few minutes firmly locked in that one location enjoying the atmosphere provided by the music and the world.
The multiplayer should be especially praised, again this was a series that would take up to 6 of your mates and just let you mess around. Grab a bench from one area and drag it into the middle of a road, get your friends to grind it and then jump a car with the aim of getting the perfect photo. When you play offline your friend’s characters still knock around. People who I don’t talk to anymore are still friends in my Port Carveton, I’ll be just skating along and suddenly joined by two old housemates who just virtually join me in a chase around the city. Multiplayer is there to be fun, sure you can get annoyed about missing a gap a few times, but when you nail it, that sweet feeling of your friends and you all nailing a particular spot and doing it with style, there’s nothing like it.
So why the long quiet? It’s been nearly 4 years since we last had a Skate game, Skate 3 was released in October 2010 and since then we’ve had a couple of meh DLC packs, normally just adding an indoor skatepark, and that’s it. EA have been almost admirably quiet on all things Skate, and this is a surprise. This is a series that has sold well, each release has been received well with only minor complaints about the slightly heavy-handed in-game advertising and product placement.
We’ve had numerous E3’s and Gamescon’s. Each EA press conference I held my breath for two games, Mirrors Edge and Skate, finally last year I was given the teaser for Mirrors Edge 2, but still I wait for Skate 4. FIFA, NHL, NFL, hell, even Tiger Woods is still knocking about, or at least the games his name used to be attached to. Each of these are sports franchises that keep on trucking. Skate however remains firmly quiet, does EA consider it too alternative? There was clearly a point where skateboard was the biggest and coolest thing you could do thanks to Tony Hawks and the Jackass crew. Clearly the bubble has burst, but there’s some of us that still remember those days fondly.
Personally I’d love to return to San Vanelona or Port Carveton, Skateboarding games are few and far between after Tony Hawks broke the market with a few bad releases and the atrocious Tony Hawk Ride, this genre that once flooded the market is now relegated to a couple of crappy titles on the App Store. So where should EA go from here? Well the simple answer is to just release a new Skate game, they’ve managed to avoid breaking it with doing annual releases but the series is one that could sell, and sell well. There are no skateboarding games out there now, a new one could easily take the top spot in the charts.
Now to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I can see why EA may be resistent. There haven’t been skateboarding games for so long the market could have dried up, the people who loved the skateboarding scene in the late 90’s to mid 2000’s are now in respectable jobs and have grown up. But EA should know that they have an IP that sells based on quality and content, there should be someone at EA right now wanting to cash in on nostalgia and the over 30’s who remember trying to Ollie up a kerb outside their house and ending up with cuts and bruises. Simply put, I want this game, I play Skate 3 even now, 4 years after launch, I still cruise the streets looking for those perfect stairs, that big drop or that insane gap. I want to go back to the cities I started to know so well and the areas that would taunt me with their difficulty. I want Skate 4.