Having played through most of the THPS and Skate series relatively recently, both series are really great. But, I’m also gonna come down on the Skate side, one big reason: freedom of expression.
My intense focus is mostly owed to how much I appreciate it as a discipline, a monastic experience, that pulls bodies of all types into coherence around purely abstract concepts like a “big spin” or a “kickflip.”
This seems so weird to me. That’s completely the opposite of what draws me to Skateboarding. The thing that makes skateboarding so different from most other sports is that it’s not just about perfecting a sequence of movements, it’s about style. It’s about inventing a new trick, finding a spot that’s never been skated before, building wild shapes with plywood and steel. You don’t practice 100 hours in devotion to the kickflip, you practice 100 hours to make that kickflip yours. I love seeing the ways that different skaters continuously reinterpret and reinvent skateboarding.
The thing that makes Skate so interesting to me is that it gives you so much analog control, and so much expressive potential with the game physics. In Tony Hawk, you press a button and become rigidly locked-in to a single pre-set animation. In Skate, almost every aspect can be tweaked and used creatively. When you move the stick to execute a kickflip, you can change how fast the board spins, how high you jump, the angle you launch at, all with subtle variations in speed, timing, and length of your movements. The stick inputs are not just an abitrary barrier-to-entry like quicktime events or a special move inputs in Mortal combat, it’s a powerful tool for player expression. Even when you’re in the air, you can use both sticks to spin, grab, tweak, and do various poses that add style. Almost every button and analog input on the controller can be fed into the animation/physics system to create interesting results.
On top of this, the same philosophy feeds-in to other aspects of the game. Skate gives you a huge open world to explore and find your own lines, rather than small pre-defined areas. Skate has a very deep photo mode and replay system. Skate not only lets you build your own skate parks, it also lets you grab and re-arrange objects in the world, or drop in your own ramps and rails to reinterpret a spot or find some new way to grind that the map’s creators had never envisioned. There’s a fairly deep character and board customization system. And some of the in-game missions tie into the photo, replay, and customization features.
It’s fun to have a game like Tony Hawk that lets me live out the fantasy of being able to do a darkslide into a perfect quadrouple kickflip 900. I can definitely appreciate the hard, disciplined, technical aspects of skateboarding. But personally, I’m more interested in a game that lets me play out the creative aspects of skateboarding. Tony Hawk is rad, but give me a game that lets me be Gou Miyagi or Richie Jackson.