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The world doesn't need two skateboarding games... because, arguably, it hasn't yet got one. Tony Hawk? The argument among hardcore skaters and disillusioned fans of Activision's franchise is that it stopped being a skateboarding game around THUG2, losing sight of the simple thrills of real skating and embracing Jackass culture to gloss over its insanely-complicated, obscenely video-gamey controls and swirl of baffling combos.
Hardcore Tony Hawk players casually toss out 100-trick combos, leaping from towering rails to jagged architecture without a sigh of emotion, while in real-life even the crummiest six-inch leap or scuffed grind can provoke shivers of delight. Ironically enough, the fact isn't lost on EA - the world's biggest, most oft-maligned commercial publisher - whose gritty, open-ended and online-video-sharing SKATE aims to take skateboarding back to its feel-good roots.
This has been attempted once before, of course. Rockstar's overlooked PSone cult classic Thrasher took difficulty to the other extreme, where performing a kickflip was a near-miracle. EA isn't about to make a spiritual follow-up to Thrasher, but it is tackling a gap (if you'll excuse the pun) in the market for skaters who want a videogame that represents what the sport - sorry, lifestyle, itself stands for.
While we love the intricate combo-crafting that Neversoft's games offer, SKATE is truer to the sport's roots. It's about the thrill of discovering new terrain, tweaking your tricks to the limit, goofing around or nailing a trick just right - board flipping in fluid mathematical symmetry... and landing with your feet flat on the bolts. It's about the smell of tarmac on a hot day or the screech of polyurethane as you power-slide down a hill. EA has traditionally made sports larger than life - think Fight Night, SSX or NBA Street - but SKATE is an exercise in purity, for clarity and feeling.
Mercifully, SKATE won't be as demanding as, say, Thrasher. But, as the developers claim, if they produced another Hawk wannabe that just piggybacks the culture, then both gamers and skaters alike will "puke all over us." And so, skateboarding's democratic, DIY ethos - of creating your own style, refining your tricks and applying them to your favorite spots - comes to the fore. That's the goal of EA's development team (who're almost all real-life skaters, apparently) - to make a game that they want to play.