Last weekend and Monday, I started playing a game that’s been in my backlog for a long time. I used to own Skate about a year or two after it came out but I never sat down and actually gave it a fair shot. So I bought it when it was on sale on the Xbox Games Marketplace earlier this year and sat down and played it some last Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Before I continue, I want to make it clear that this is more of an impressions piece rather than a review because I haven’t completed the game.
What has always drawn me to Skate is the trick mechanics. Skate is a more realistic take on the skating sport, where a 360 flip over a sizable gap is awe inspiring. You use the right analog stick, in lieu of buttons, to do flip tricks and manuals. grinds are done by using the right stick to ollie and then lining up your board to the rail or ledge or what have you. Grab tricks are done with by holding the left or right trigger and manipulating the board with the right analog stick while in the air. Finally, acrobatic tricks like spins and backflips are done with the left analog stick while in the air. All of this is done pretty well and although I wouldn’t call it an intuitive control scheme, it makes a lot of sense.
However, the problems with Skate also begin with the control scheme. You do flips by holding either down or up on the right stick and flicking it in the opposite direction for different tricks. Go to the side a bit and you’ll get a kick flip or a heel flip. A quarter circle will result in a shovit. The problem with this is some tricks are done in ways that are too similar to other tricks. Being precise with your tricks is nearly impossible. For example, a 360 flip is done by holding down-left or down-right on the right stick, then rolling the stick to the down position and flicking the stick up-left or up-right. Most of the time, the game won’t register the beginning position of down-left or down-right and think you just did down and then up-left or up-right, resulting in a kick flip or heel flip instead of the 360 flip.
Another problem is the way you progress in the game. Despite having a more realistic approach to how you do tricks, progression features a familiar point system that in this context feels arbitrary. Most challenges have you doing certain tricks in a line, which is fine, but also a point goal that feels unrealistic. I understand having to do something for difficulty and preventing all challenges from being accomplish by doing a basic kick flip. However, this creates a difficulty that feels out of place in this game as well as adding unnecessary frustration to tasks that could be simple. The tricks are broken up into easy, medium and hard categories and that could have been used to differentiate the challenges and difficulty better. Instead of the challenge being “do a manual, a flip trick and reach 1,000 points”, it could be “do a manual and a medium flip trick”
However, none of this matters because when the game does ask you to do specific tricks, it’s often too specific. The precision the game does ask you to do is often too precise and it makes simple tasks frustrating. In fact, this was the reason I decided to stop playing the game. I got to a challenge that had me olling off a ramp onto a iron container and then jumping over to another iron container. I had to land on the first container in a manual, jump out of the manual over the gap while doing a flip trick in mid jump and finally landing into another manual. Sounds complicated but it’s actually not a big deal. However, I could complete it because of several problems.
First off, most of the time when I jumped the ramp onto the container, I ended up grinding the edge of the container instead. The issue is with the grind mechanic. Since you need to just approach a edge, ollie and line your board up in order to grind, that means grinding is situational. Therefore, it’s up to the game to decide whether you have met the requirements in order to grind and then make the action happen for you. Even though I meant to just land on the container, I met the requirements for grinding and therefore the game actually changed my jump trajectory slightly so I would grind instead.
Secondly, the ollie mechanic seems to either have a slight delay or the game is trying to predict a “falling” flip trick. The other problem I kept having was with the game not jumping over the gap and instead doing a flip trick while I fell off the container. Instead of jumping when I told the game to, it would wait a half second for me to fall off the container and then do a flip trick. The third and final problem is manualing. Sometimes, my player wouldn’t go into a manual despite me doing the command, which is hold up or down slightly on the left analog stick. The reason for this is because when you manual right after a jump, the amount you have to hold up or down the stick is different from if you were just on the ground.
The trick system is a cool system but it lacks the precision that you would probably have from pressing buttons. This makes for extremely frustrating gameplay. If I was going to complete that challenge, I would have to get some speed, hopefully jump high enough to get to the top of the container (sometimes you don’t ollie high enough for reasons I don’t know), hope the game doesn’t think I’m trying to grind, land in a manual that’s different from manualing on the floor, have enough speed to clear the gap, hope the game jumps when I tell it to, do the flip trick in midair, land in another manual, and then end the line. There’s way too much hoping in that, which means that if I were to complete it – and I’m pretty sure I could – it would just be because I got lucky.
I’m not saying Skate is a purely luck based game. Clearly skill is involved and I’m willing to admit that my skills in this game are not the best. However, to compare this to a more traditional sport, there’s a reason Basketball is played in a closed arena. The last thing we need is Lebron James missing a two pointer because the wind happened to blow at that moment and blew the ball off its original trajectory. Again, this is not a review so there will be no score but there won’t be a review of this game from me in the future because I do not plan to continue playing this game. I’ve got plenty of other games to play rather than one that frustrates me. However, since I made this game the main inspiration of my Understanding Gamer Rage post, I felt like I should talk about the game in depth.