"People are playing, and we're listening," says the narrator in the latest Skate 4 pre-alpha trailer. For me, that statement alone is as important as anything EA and Full Circle, or the game's coinciding fan-driven hype train, has given would-be players in more than 10 years.
The world of video games, and, indeed, the real world in which we live are totally different places to the one the original Skate first rolled into all those years ago. And while the promise of player empowerment, of offering players an active role in the features and fixings that might appear in any given upcoming video game, is nothing new – a phenomenon galvanised by big-money Kickstarter projects over the last decade or so – the fact that an outfit of EA's stature is doing so here feels like a big deal. Community, after all, strikes at the heart of real-world skating itself, so the idea that Skate 4 is being steered by feedback with a more social and collaborative focus makes perfect sense, especially for a game now shouldering so much hope and expectation.
Skate, the skateboarding game that's as much a cult classic today as it was a critical gem back then, hit the scene in 2007. It received a sequel in 2009, a third instalment the following year, and, after much drawn-out speculation, official confirmation of an incoming fourth entry a full decade later in 2020. Now, two years and a still-ongoing global pandemic later, EA and Full Circle have given players a glimpse under the Skate 4 hood by way of some "pre-pre-pre alpha" footage. It looks good, even in this crude state – low-poly, greybox animations and all – articulating the raw and real, more grounded nature of skateboarding that has always stood this series apart from the likes of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
But, it seems this take on Skate will blur the lines between reality and reverie more than ever before. "We took what we know, what you told us, and started building," the pre-alpha trailer's narrator adds, before an animated wall of pop-up fan suggestions appears – ranging from requests for Skate 4 to feature on PC with console cross-play, to the introduction of a fish-eye lens, hippy flips, custom grip tape, and the ability to climb structures, parkour style, to access higher areas ripe for stunts and tricks.
That latter part features pretty heavily for the remainder of the trailer, as do scenes of dozens of players simultaneously combing the urban landscape, grinding on office block railings, and hitting everything from Chinese nollies to 540 spins all over the game world's streets and sidewalks. At the trailer's end, the camera follows one player as they emerge from an alleyway into a thoroughfare, where they join up with several other skaters who appear to be pals. This scene is, presumably, designed to underline Skate 4's collaborative focus – immediately preceding a plug for the game's Insider and Playtest programmes. Nowadays, with the prominence of Twitch, live-service games, and a general deference to ever-present online experiences, all of the above appears to suit Skate 4 down to a T.
Bubbling beneath its virtual crime simulator exterior, the likes of GTA Online – a game which first launched in 2013 and is still going strong today – enjoys a thriving online community of performers and spectators who treat the game's Los Santos setting as a stage. To these players, Grand Theft Auto's central narratives of gangsters, corruption, and high-stakes heists are of little interest, with every ramp, every railing, every stairwell and hillside instead presenting an opportunity and a challenge. Ultimately, these players have turned GTA Online from a multiplayer sandbox shoot 'em up into, simply, a cool place to hang out and have fun with friends online – and from the little EA and Full Circle have shown of Skate 4 so far, coupled with the open-to-suggestion vision it sets out in its latest pre-alpha trailer, it looks like this game is going in the exact same direction.
Moreover, in the wake of worldwide lockdowns and quarantines over the last two-and-a-bit years, it would seem more people are interested in skating and skateboarding than ever – something best showcased on social media platforms such as TikTok. With purpose-built skateparks a regular feature in public parks (certainly here in the UK), it would also seem skating as an activity is less derided than it once was, with skaters themselves, for the most part, no longer considered by the majority as nuisances or pariahs. Granted, I make this claim on the wrong side of 35, but that's the impression I get against my own experiences getting moved on by the police at a young age.
In any event, the thought of buddying up with mates in an open-world skating sandbox, and scouting the best locations for the best pre-determined jumps – or, if that isn't possible, creating your own – from the comfort of your own home sounds wonderful. I suppose it's worth mentioning the fact EA hasn't always excelled in the live-service, persistent games space across its wider portfolio – but this only makes Full Circle's moves to keep players' suggestions at the forefront of development, and the fact it's running early playtests in order to consistently iterate and refine, all the more appealing. If Skate 4 is to grow and succeed in the long term as per its purview, nailing that landing from day one will be doubly important. At this early stage, it looks like Full Circle is giving itself the best chance of doing exactly that.
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