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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #42—Skate

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OnlySP Favorite Games 42 - Skate series

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week the list gets a big shake-up courtesy of the Skate series, honest-to-goodness sports games requiring true technical prowess to master. So like Devil May Cry with a board, right?

Skate game screenshot 2

#42. SKATE (series), by Chris Hepburn

Freedom is something all humans strive for, and skateboarding is a leading way to do so. The Skate series captures this feel of freedom perfectly while remaining more rewarding than most games in the genre. The games give players the freedom to explore and shred any location, from the simple curbs of a street to the absurd and huge skate parks throughout the city.

Each title in the series expands on what is offered to the player from the previous. The second iteration allows players to dismount their board and reach new locations to do “sick tricks.” The third title gives players the ability to drop skatepark items anywhere in the world to customize each spot. In addition, the game gives players freedom in how they wipe out with the Hall of Meat mechanics and also the ability to record their actions as skateboarders do.

The power of Skate is that they do not make performing tricks a simple press of a button; players have to use some dexterity with the analogue stick and account for physics making each successful trick or line feel more rewarding. Games such as the Tony Hawk franchise allow complex tricks and unrealistic combos at the push of a button, losing its substance, while Skate tries to be far more realistic.

Skate game screenshot 3

In order to land a grind, the player needs to accurately jump on to the obstacle and position the board in a way to do the specific trick they want. Furthermore, they must land with wheels pointing forward or they will wipe out, akin to real life. This care to the dexterity and physics makes the game more difficult than the arcade-like button mashers but makes doing a backflip or a few tricks feel far more rewarding than the acclaimed McTwist trick at the push of a button.

Landing a trick after multiple failed attempts can make players feel accomplished as a real skateboarder would. The dexterity of the analogue stick and control over the character’s physics creates a challenge for landing just right. Killing both normal and unrealistic spots is a joy with great in-game cinematography, creating a dramatic look which allows players to easily see the board as well as the obstacles ahead of them.

Players can place a pin anywhere they can stand and then recall to the area at the push of a button, making tricks or runs easier to retry. Skate keeps a rewarding system of allowing players to jump into any area and try a trick with the ability to quickly get back to their desired starting point.

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The story and challenges take full advantage of the rewarding yet challenging systems the game has in place, asking players to think creatively to achieve large scores on difficult areas. Creativity is a pillar in skateboarding, both in the real world and in-game, and this shows within the Skate series. Each area can be tackled in a multitude of ways—no one line exists, but an area can be picked and prodded or even customized to the player’s liking.

When doing tricks becomes boring, the game gives players many areas where they can do long downhill or traversal sections, allowing them to skillfully reach new areas in different ways, doing tricks and going fast. With the placement respawn system, players can tackle runs multiple times in bigger and better ways.

The Skate series is not known for its story, which focuses on the player becoming a famous skateboarder, but a simple narrative is all that is needed. The mechanics help enforce the feeling of becoming famous because of the high skill ceiling the game has, continuously forcing the player to become better and finding new ways to accomplish challenges.

Skate game screenshot

In most games, players wish for more freedom to do what they want and be able to tackle the situation in a various amount of ways, and anyone looking for that should look no further than the Skate series. Players can customize their character from head to toe and even how their skateboard functions.

Fans of the series have been clamouring for a fourth instalment because no game has been able to encapsulate the rewarding feeling and freedom of play like the Skate series has. Borderlining on simulator aspects, the title has gained a large following and converted many from the Tony Hawk franchise because of how it makes players feel. Being able to overcome challenges by hard work gives players a drive to continue—a sense of accomplishment rather than the easiness of arcade sports games that lose impact on what is happening. Skate incorporated this feeling into the three main pillars of the game: traversal, tricks, and wiping out. Thinking creatively and being able to tackles areas in a multitude of ways has brought players back time and again just to explore the wonderful playground of the digital world.

Hopefully, EA will hear the fans cry for a sequel and bring back the freedom in a new entry, pushing the envelope and driving progress in the genre. On the other end of the spectrum, the new upcoming title Sessions can, again hopefully, take what EA left off with and continue the as a true spiritual successor to the franchise.

Skate game screenshot 5

AN ENTIRE GENRE

Since the age of the PlayStation 2, or earlier, gamers have had to come to terms with a process of coming an going that follows that of the film industry: the life cycle of genres. For many years, games and cinema were intertwined in nerd pop culture, and perhaps they are still much more so than people give them credit for. To wit: the profile of skateboarding was much higher when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater hit the market, even showing up in popular movies. When Skate arrived, skateboarding had dipped in popularity, but compared with today it was still relatively well-exposed.

Since then, the industry has seen a single series of 2D sidescrolling skateboard games, OlliOlli and OlliOlli 2. Like the genre of film westerns before it, the genre of skateboarding games is for all intents and purposes dead. Unfortunately, a medium as young as video games simply has not had to experience genre death as much as others; though it happens. The real-time strategy (RTS) genre, is likewise in sleep mode but seems to be taking tentative steps toward re-emerging, with plenty of indie and mid-level strategy games seeing moderate success on Steam. Perhaps one of the upcoming Dune games will even assist in doing so.

OlliOlli 2 skate

The aforementioned Sessions, after its Kickstarter success, has a bright future if it can access even a small fraction of Skate‘s audience from back in the day. Even should the game fail, hope will remain—in the meantime, other action games do their best to include the best features of skateboarding games, from the rail grinding in Sunset Overdrive to the tricky combo-systems in Devil May Cry 5.

Don’t forget to come back for next week’s game in our list, with another big series—perhaps the biggest we have tackled so far. In the meantime, why not join in the conversation either here or on our Community Discord? Any video game genres that you wish were not sleeping, like the RTS or skateboarding genres? Do you follow any genres that actually have come back, thanks to a recent success story? As always, you can also follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #48—Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2

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Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 art

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week is another unexpected treasure from the turn of the twenty-first century, and a genre that had practically died of asphyxiation until earlier this year.

#48. LEGACY OF KAIN: SOUL REAVER 2, by Ben Newman

At risk of sounding cliché, developers just don’t make games like Soul Reaver 2 anymore. There are still “dark” games, but the nineties to mid-noughties tendency to opt for deep, grim, Gothic-inspired aesthetics and stories has pretty much died. Sure, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is getting a sequel, but even so, its tone and aesthetics are distinctly disconnected from the source material. The same would occur if Soul Reaver threatened to be remade today; games like this are not wanted in 2019, and if they were to be made, they would be a niche commodity. However, while Soul Reaver 2 and the Legacy of Kain series in general is very antiquated in terms of gameplay these days, the details and care pumped into the lore, art design, and especially the dialogue still stands the test of time.

From the outside, The Legacy of Kain can look impenetrable. Strictly, it’s a fantastical, Middle Ages-esque foray into vampirism, but the game offers much more than that. Thematically, Soul Reaver 2 carries its vampirism themes and imbues them with impeccable voice acting, thus elevating a subgenre than alienates many into something that appeals to anyone who appreciates good, consistent writing. Just check out the dialogue below, for example:

Beware of some story spoilers below.

“Hate me but do it honestly” is a piece of dialogue that sticks out: a mix of honesty and depression that underpins the whole series. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 was the epoch of what the series was building up to that point in terms of atmosphere, story and writing, although the gameplay did let it down.

The themes of the Legacy of Kain series never shied away from discussing heavy, biblical themes. The biblical and philosophical undertones of the game rivals that of more classical literature. How many games do you know of wrestle not just with the concept of time and life, but imbue these a subtle mirroring of Old Testament and New Testament meditations? Names like Kain and Raziel are not there for window dressing, they go a lot deeper than that.

Gameplaywise, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 has not aged well. The environments feel empty and too sparse, with platforming sections, puzzles, and combat just feeling overly rushed, almost an afterthought. Traditionally, the story is the fragile framework that allows gameplay to shine in games, but with Soul Reaver 2, this tendency is reversed. For those looking for tight, Devil May Cry-inspired combat or the regimented, meticulously designed backtracking of Castlevania, then Soul Reaver 2 isn’t that game. The game’s systems borrow from the greats but is never really interested in matching their quality. Instead, the game itself realises that gameplay is merely there for players to soak up its story and idiosyncrasies.

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When considering the Legacy of Kain series, each game was unfairly rushed out of the door. The first, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, was probably the most polished of the bunch. A litany of deleted dialogue, levels, mechanics, and set pieces were apparent in each mainline title. Despite these trials and tribulations, the Soul Reaver games still had so much soul. The combat was never really a joy to play, neither were stretches of barren wasteland in each game, but the dungeons, verticality, spacing of upgrades, and the story is what hooked so many back in 2002.

The character designs, too, were just so damn cool. Vampires were never my thing, but if a studio knows how to elevate them past their pale aesthetic into flat-out crazy, almost demonic variants, then I’m all in. Raziel, whichever way you look at him, is a blueprint on how to design an appealing protagonist. The little touches of his cloak, the way he moves, the distinct contrast between his royal form of speech and his scarred body just tells a story in itself; his entire presentation is an extension of his struggle, and the same can be said for most of the other main players in the Legacy of Kain series.

Raziel Soul Reaver 2

Tentative efforts have been made to revive the series, but each were wide of the mark. The cancelled 2011 spiritual sequel Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun was tonally all over the place, then 2014’s multiplayer-only shooter Nosgoth was a joke to the series. In some ways, Soul Reaver 2, and the Legacy of Kain series in general, is better off as a product of its time. Unless a team of writers can approach the series with the same deft touch and appreciation for slow, chess-like storytelling, then the series is better off left as it is. In truth, a game like this wouldn’t survive in 2019, and that says more about us than it does about the game.

Thanks for joining us for a look back at Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2. Do you have a favourite Gothic-flavoured game?—Why not join in the discussion below? Next week’s games are peripherally connected to the Legacy of Kain series, but only through shared development staff. What are your thoughts? Let us know below, and be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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