Skate Vs. Tony Hawk: Fight!
This fall is apparently becoming a series of showdowns between games that cover similar subject matter, where one franchise is the new kid on the block, while its contender is the old veteran. Rock Band is taking on Guitar Hero III for the title of “Best Rhythm-Based Music Game,” and Skate is challenging the Tony Hawk series for skating game supremacy. Yesterday marked the Xbox Live Marketplace release of the demo for the upcoming Tony Hawk: Proving Ground, the next installment of the venerable series. Since the Skate demo has been out for a while, now we can finally see how the two stack up to each other. So I decided to spend some time on each demo and see how they compare:
Tony Hawk: Proving Ground
The Tony Hawk series has been getting flack for years about basically rehashing the same formula over and over. This doesn’t mean the games are any less fun, but it does mean any new addition to the series can get old much faster. Neversoft has been promising that Proving Ground will revamp the franchise with several new features, which the demo lets you try out. In the story missions you have access to, you’re mostly taught how to use some of the new gameplay features, like “Nail the Trick/Grab” and rigging, where you can place skatable objects on the fly. The graphics have also naturally been enhanced quite a bit, and the levels seem to have a much greater level of detail than before.
The controls have been preserved, so if you’ve played any Tony Hawk game in the past, you’ll be able to perform some decent combos right off the bat. The most notable change is an increased sense of realism. The physics are still a little goofy (like how grinding speeds you up), but the general environment feels less ridiculous. You can no longer pull off tricks that can’t be done in real life. Also, your goals are more grounded in reality and no longer require you to catch tigers or something. Although, the full game will apparently include a Classic Mode, with the usual objective Tony Hawk games are known for (collect S-K-A-T-E, find the secret tape, etc.)
At its heart though, if you stripped away any mention of Tony Hawk or Neversoft from the game, you’d still know it was a Tony Hawk title. This is kind of a good thing, but also kind of a bad thing. It’s good, because if you liked past Tony Hawk games, you’ll enjoy this one. It’s bad though, because there won’t be much challenge for veterans of the series.
It should be said that my only experience with skating games has been the Tony Hawk series. I’ve gotten used to almost absent-mindedly hammering out combos and tricks for years now. That said, Skate is a whole different animal. I know they’re both skating games, but they feel nothing alike when you’re playing them. You might as well be playing a shooter and a puzzle game; they just seem that different from each other.
While Tony Hawk may have amped up the realism some, Skate still feels more like a skating simulator comparatively. The physics in this game are entirely based in reality, so grinding slows you down, you have to push with your foot to move, and, if you hit a wall at full speed, you’ll fall down. The demo starts you out with a tutorial, and this has got to be one of the more challenging tutorials for a game I’ve ever had to go through. Besides the fact that the guy narrating it mostly keeps talking up the game and describing everything in it as “sick,” the controls take a lot of getting used to. Each button and joystick is tuned to a different part of your body or your board. You can’t lock your fingers into set positions, like with Tony Hawk; your fingers have to move all over the place to pull off a majority of the tricks. For example, say you want to ollie off a half-pipe and do a grab trick:
Tony Hawk: Hold and release A at the top of the pipe. Hit B.
Skate: Hold A until you push with your board three times. Pull back on the right stick for a second and then move it up at the top of the pipe. In the air, hit the left or right trigger.
Eventually, I managed to get the hang of it for the most part, but it does require a bit of practice. Grinding takes the most adjustment though. Unlike Tony Hawk, where your board snaps to an edge or rail just by hitting the grind button, Skate requires you to land on it almost perfectly. With the constantly shifting camera making it hard to line up your board right, this can quickly become an incredible annoyance. The camera is usually located at about your character’s hip height, and it keeps flying from left to right depending on which direction you’re moving. Frequently though, it seems unsure of which direction to go, leaving your character off-screen for a few seconds while it makes up its mind. And of course, in this time, you’ve fallen on your head. Tony Hawk’s camera moves to the side as well, but only when you’ve started a trick, and then that usually helps you see what’s ahead more than hampers your vision.
Overall, Skate is extremely, almost painfully realistic. It’s certainly impressive, but I don’t know if it really makes it a fun game. Tony Hawk has gotten more realistic, but still has that crazy sense of physics. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t seem to bring much more to the series other than that. Graphically speaking, Skate’s character models are marginally better than Tony Hawk’s, but the world in the demo feels so scarce compared to the vibrant, populated level from Tony Hawk. I guess I’m just not that impressed with either one of these games too much. One’s pretty fun, but basically not that different from before; the other certainly different, but not all that fun. Of course, these are both merely demos, so we could see some changes before the full games are released later this year.