The tangerine sky above San Vanelona suggests the late afternoon, but you will never know the time. In a few minutes the backdrop will return to the radiant azure of noon, from where it will make its own decisions about what atmospheric conditions it will broadcast next. One thing is certain: night will never fall. The sun always shines in San Vanelona.
In this heady urban desert of sunshine, you tread your path, a prophet on a wheeled surfboard. Skateboarding has always been a subculture that depends on a strange balance — to the outside observer it is an activity of frightening intensity, but to the skateboarder himself the motion relies on a state of constancy and calm. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series had monopolized the genre with its bombastic recreation of the former, but EA’s skate. is the first game to truly capture both halves of the equation.
Your odyssey commences with the creation of your avatar, in which you are presented with a bafflingly limited array of customization options. The only acceptable hairstyle is a long, scruffy cut; you are basically forced into shirtlessness by the poverty of tolerable T-shirt options — inevitably you will be Jesus in Vans. Names may only be nine characters long, in all caps. LARRY it is.
Surnames and shirts cast aside, you are invited to a nativity in a skate park: an epiphany soon follows. From your first tentative scoots and ollies upon the tarmac, the brilliance of the control scheme is immediately apparent. “Tony Hawk” was a ruin of a temple, over-adorned with a labored control scheme that was patronizing, out of touch with reality, alienating and confusing to the masses. skate. is a vision of a different way, a young and bold way of thinking, where control is achieved through feel and subtle impulse. Deft flicks of the analogue sticks control the movement of both your body and the board. Landing a grind is as simple as landing on a rail. With knowledge of the scheme, inevitably you will revolve and evolve, progressing to the point where landing a Christ Air into a Coffin (A combo that must surely henceforth be known as The Good Friday) is no longer an impossible dream. In our presence, LARRY achieved that dream. We have seen and felt it many times.
Divine in its simplicity, skate. is a triumph, a near-perfect realization of a strange and confusing pastime. It consistently delivers, all sun-soaked motion in the surroundings of an almost Platonic America. From the picket suburbs that crest San Vanelona’s hills to the marbled matrix of its corporate center, all the game asks is for you to indulge your avatar in blissful Californication. LARRY is a joyful marauder, a Santa-Barbarian.
How you relate to this world is your choice – career mode offers a sincere and challenging skateboarding experience, in which a variety of ‘pro challenges’ allow you to make good use of your newfound skills and freedom. These can vary from tasks so specific they read like coded messages between sexual deviants (‘P-Rod wants you to Nollie 360 Flip the Hubba’) to the mammoth pilgrimage Mark Gonzalez insists you undertake to ‘See some cool art’ (an art gallery where Gonzalez insists on performing a Coffin under a bench, presumably for eternity). This is without mentioning the even more frightening ‘pro challenge’ where you are advised to purchase items from Adidas’ online store. These seem to be a reasonably accurate representation of the types of challenges faced by real skateboarding professionals. The game’s other modes are effectively eponymous: in free skating you skate freely, and in online skate you skate online. Both deliver the same beautiful contradictions that pervade the entire experience — a game at once almost infinitely detailed, and yet simple and intuitive. All that is left is to follow the advice that the game’s title intones like a sage and dying grandfather: skate.