Throwback Thursday: Skate
Forget Tony Hawk’s skateboarding, we take a look back at an EA classic that redefined the genre.
When EA’s first Skate game nailed a landing on shelves back in 2007, it marked the final nail in the coffin for Tony Hawk’s long-running skateboarding franchise. Almost a decade before the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater had ushered in a new era for skating titles, mixing amazing moves with a killer soundtrack, but EA’s Black Box was going to do one better.
Skate redefined the genre, taking the controls and gameplay to a whole new level that threw Tony Hawk’s arcade sensibilities out of the skate park and brought in a game that felt much more realistic, and triggering a pair of sequels.
It’s been more than six years since the last Skate game however: with that in mind, we take a look back at EA’s brilliant skateboarding series, what it left behind and why we’re still salivating for more in this week’s Throwback Thursday.
By 2007, and after 11 games in eight years, Activision and Neversoft’s Tony Hawk’s series had become stale. Each iteration became more outlandish, ridiculous and so far from the humble beginnings of the original games that the franchise had become a shadow of its former self.
2006’s Tony Hawk’s Project 8 was meant to be the turning point for the series with the move to the then next-gen PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, but received middling reviews. 2007’s Tony Hawk’s Proving Grounds didn’t fare much better, and it was the only Tony Hawk’s title to directly compete against EA’s Skate.
The debut title promptly outsold Proving Grounds by a ratio of almost two to one, proving that the next-gen of skateboarding games was EA’s for the taking.
That also proved to be the final Tony Hawk’s game that Neversoft would make, as the developer then moved on to Activision’s recently acquired Guitar Hero franchise, marking the decline of the once-prestigious brand. Later Tony Hawk’s games simply couldn’t compete with Skate.
The shift in developer, the change of target and overall feel of gameplay just couldn’t keep up with the progress EA was making with its own series, chiefly due to the sublime, satisfying controls. Boiling down to just two thumb sticks, one for movement, and one for flick tricks, Skate felt oh so right: Tony Hawk’s dial-a-combo trick methodology instantly looked dated next to the fluid and active way Skate dialled it down, and the camera also proved to be a hit too.
While it did get in the way at times, its imitation of the angle you’d find from a skate video from the likes of 411VM added to the atmosphere and feel of the game, and helped bolster its authenticity as a skateboard simulator, rather than a mere arcade game.
Skate 2 hit shelves in 2009, and continued the loose storyline of the original, refining the gameplay and adding fresh elements to the series, with Game Informer stating it “accomplished the impossible task of making old gameplay feel fresh.” While some improvements were odd (moving around on foot looked janky and clumsy), it still let you reposition ramps, rails and benches, letting you create your own spots and set ups, plus the series’ Skate Reel video editor function was bolstered even more to let you create your own slick edits and clips. Skate had come of age.
It wasn’t to last though. Skate 3 followed Skate 2 just a year out of the gate (often the sign of a rush job follow up) and the result, while still enjoyable, looked like it was peddled out in almost no time at all.
It still retained the crisp, fluid gameplay of its predecessors, but something did feel out of place and not entirely complete. You only have to look at the game’s physics and the hundreds of videos on YouTube that have managed to warp the game into more of a jumbled mess than a sublime skateboard sim.
Long after the game first released, YouTube superstar PewDiePie managed to single-handedly kickstart a fresh reprint of Skate 3 in the UK off the back of his own online videos that poke fun at the game’s physics.
So what happened to Skate 4? EA Black Box is unfortunately no more. Following Skate 3, the studio was tasked with 2011’s Need for Speed: The Run, but even before then, EA had shut down the studio’s Vancouver location and relocated its operations to EA Canada. The studio remained open as part of EA, but by 2012 a number of layoffs hit the company at EA Canada and Black Box, signalling a downsize for the Skate-maker, and eventually, by July the same year, EA Black Box was renamed Quicklime Games until it shut down in April 2013, along with any chance of a sequel helmed by the same hands.
Still, EA owns the brand and the title to this day, and much like with other games under its stable, the company could hand over the reigns to a new developer for a brand new sequel. And what better time than the present?
It might not have the same charm as the original games, but now that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have been around for a while, dev teams around the world have had the chance to get the most out of Sony and Microsoft's consoles, and there's always the possibilty the series could head to virtual reality thanks to Sony's PlayStation VR headset. Sony’s work with PlayStation VR could also transport us into a first-person skating world that could look and feel like reality, and the thumbstick controls could still remain too.
Not to mention, in the unlikeliest of events, Tony Hawk’s skateboarding series had its latest entry released in 2015 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, signalling that skateboarding video games weren't quite dead just yet.
Unfortunately though, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 was a critical disaster and was plagued with even more bugs than Skate 3 – it was virtually unplayable at times. Some eagle eyed fans spotted that Hawk's contract with Activision was set to expire around the same time as the release of the game, leading some to speculate that it was a last ditch cash grab, even though when first announced, it raised the hopes and dreams of many skating game fans.
Still, the fanbase of EA's Skate series is still incredibly passionate and loud, and just recently, the mere mention of "#skate4" by one of EA's own community managers on Twitter caused a storm, with many speculating that the series is finally being revived.
But EA was quick to pop the very brief Skate 4 bubble that fans rallied around, stating that the company has no plans at the moment during an earnings call. EA CEO Andrew Wilson said that the company is "not presently making Skate 4," even though now would be the perfect time.
With Skate 3 now backwards compatible on Xbox One, and the fact that there's plenty of demand from fans – PewDiePie's Skate 3 videos still command a large audience, and fans are still making clips and edits even today – there's no better time than now to create a new entry in the series that could take full advantage of the recent tech that EA has developed. A new Skate game running on the very same Frostbite 3 engine as Battlefield 1 and Mirror's Edge Catalyst would be simply incredible. And with the PS4 Pro now out and Microsoft's Project Scorpio on the way, these souped up consoles could give us the fully-fledged skating game we've always dreamed of.
EA hasn't fully ruled out eventually making a new Skate game – it has been nearly seven years since the last instalment – and by how disappointed EA's own execs sounded, there's still a glimmer of hope. After all, the studio brought back Mirror's Edge after a six year hiatus. This pipe dream is one we're not quite ready to let go of just yet – we've still got our fingers crossed.