Tasks too, are more believable in EA’s game. There’s none of the bizarre feuding between rival real-estate agents that you found in Project 8, nor much of the Jackass-style tomfoolery that was, admittedly, such an enjoyable part of that game. Instead the emphasis is on realistic skate challenges and competitions, plus career-boosting photo opportunities and DIY video shoots. The main theme of the game is building exposure. Complete enough tasks and you’ll open up a major photo opportunity. Do what’s requested, and you’ll get some coverage in a mag. From there it’s onto new areas, new challenges and new possibilities. It’s a big game, but not one you’re forced to plough through at any particular rate. If you want to hang back, learn tricks, polish off every challenge and rack up ‘longest grind’ and ‘highest drop’ statistics, then Skate says ‘be my guest.’ If you’d rather just work your way through the major points, then that’s equally cool with the game.
EA’s single biggest triumph, however, is the control system. After Project 8 it was hard to see how Neversoft’s ‘Nail the Trick’ slow-motion analogue trick mode could be bettered, but Skate has managed it by centering the whole game around analogue control. Everything from basic ollies through kickflips, spins, grinds and manuals is done through a combination of the left and right sticks, with only the odd move requiring some additional action on the face button or a grab controlled by the triggers. At first, it is depressingly hard to manage even the simplest stunts, but the system becomes surprisingly intuitive, surprisingly soon. You learn the nuances of moving the boarder with the left stick and controlling balance and board with the right, and everything falls into place. When it comes to the fundamentals of movement and pulling off tricks, Skate is both more satisfying than Project 8’s more conventional button-mashing techniques, and arguably closer to the fluid, second-by-second way in which skateboarders actually skate.
Admittedly, there are times when the stick controls can be less a blessing than a curse. When they demand sensitivity, they can be frustratingly awkward. For example, shifting from a kickflip (pull stick down then flick up and right) to a manual (hold stick just off centre) is sometimes a real struggle, which is why tasks where you need to do exactly that can be a serious source of joypad-tossing annoyance. The developers have had the sense to include a system of Session Markers – basically player-defined instant restart points – but while these cut down on the hassle of getting back to your approach and taking another run, they don’t alleviate the problem completely. This really is the only thing that pulls the game back from utter greatness for me.