Skate

Tony Hawk's video games have dominated the virtual skateboarding landscape since the first one hit in 1999, without even a whiff of competition. So it was a must that an eventual adversary would have to be daring. EA's Skate is. It's also an admirable, innovative risk from a company that has, in the past, played things safe. The game sets you on a skateboard, with the two analog sticks serving as your feet. The ultimate aim is realism—a basic kickflip is easy, but a 180 heelflip will lead to lip skids until you practice. Problem is, the game is realistic to the point of tedium.

Unlike in Tony Hawk's titles, where you'll bound around cityscapes doing tricks that are impossible in real life, in Skate, players work hard to pull off something remotely special. At first, it's fun to sort out the basics, but after a while, there's a sort of "This is it?" moment. Unfortunately, the answer is "Yes." The game's greatest excitement comes from downhill races, where you'll burn through the city dodging traffic and competing skaters. Putting together skate videos is cool—and you can upload them to YouTube. But the game doesn't deliver any real "wow" moments unless you unlock the X-Games—which isn't easy, even for patient players.

Beyond the game: The game looks sharp during gameplay, but the art treatment of the cutscenes is stupendous, and the writing is clever, too.

Worth playing for: The game takes place in San Vanelona—a combination of San Francisco, Vancouver, and Barcelona. Doing a manual down a wicked SF incline while dodging traffic is exhilarating.

Frustration sets in when: Hopping a curb or a set of stairs is harder work than lifting a bag of concrete. There's no way to get off your board, so you'll have to mosey around to find a ramp. So annoying.

Final judgment: A technically strong game tailored to hardcore skaters (and people up for a really serious challenge), this one will alienate casual gamers, as the learning curve can be excruciating.

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