It used to be that of the two big skateboarding franchises, Skate was the serious simulator. However, thanks in large part to a major misstep by Activision (in which they may have seriously damaged the good name of their Tony Hawk franchise), it looks like Skate 3 may be the only serious skateboarding game to consider in 2010.
It's important to note right off the bat that Electronic Arts hasn't made any major fundamental changes to Skate's core gameplay. Skate 3 does not come with a fake plastic skateboard or a new set of buttons to learn. This hardcore simulator hasn't been magically turned into a fast-action arcade-style extreme sports game. No, this is the same basic game you played in 2007 and 2009. Thankfully the developers at EA Black Box have managed to add enough compelling content (both online and off) to make this third installment well worth checking out.
Are you new to the world of Skate? Don't worry, Jason Lee (yes, the guy from Mallrats and My Name is Earl) is here to teach you how to play. Unlike the older Tony Hawk games, Skate has you using the two analog sticks instead of the more traditional face buttons. The left stick controls your movement, while the right stick allows you to pull off moves. For example, if you hold back and then jam the right analog stick up, your character will perform an ollie. Experimenting with all sorts of angles and directions will allow you to find new moves, all of which you will need to master if you want to see the exciting conclusion.
Skate 3's story plays out much like the first two installments. The game opens with your character attempting to pull off the world's craziest move. You fail. You regain consciousness only to discover that there's a fellow skater hovering over your motionless body. Without you even saying a word, this guy talks you into starting your own skateboard business and team. And with that, you're swept off to learn how to master your craft, tackle a variety of events, meet tons of real life skateboarders and play out the same basic storyline of the first two games. At times it felt like the only meaningful difference was that your progress is now counted in skateboard sales. Not that I'm complaining, I had no problems jumping right back in to this brand new Skate game.
Big changes have come to Skate. Don't worry, the changes aren't as drastic as giving you a fake plastic skateboard. The first thing you'll notice is that Skate no longer takes place in San Vanelona. It has been replaced by Port Carverton, a skate-friendly paradise where the cops don't chase you and everything is open from the get-go. This new environment is a welcome addition; after three console games (including Skate It for the Nintendo Wii), San Vanelona was getting a little overplayed. We needed a change of scenery, and Skate 3 definitely delivers in that department.
While the game's story is structured in much the same way as Skate 1 and 2, the developers have gone back and taken out a few of the events that didn't work and tweaked the ones that did. Gone are some of the more annoying single-player modes, such as S-K-A-T-E. This was the mini-game that forced players to duplicate difficult to pull off moves and combinations. It has been replaced with a more user friendly game called 1up. In this mode you take turns trying to beat each other's score. It's worth noting that the S-K-A-T-E mode has not been completely removed, fans can still revisit it in the online mode.While we're on the subject of single-player events, you'll find that most of your past favorites are in yet another Skate game. We get the downhill Death Race, which has you (or a team) racing, score challenges, street and vert competitions, photo shoots, skate jams and events where you're going up against a whole team of computer-controlled skaters. Perhaps the most interesting event is the Hall of Meat challenge, which has your character trying to break as many bones as humanly possible. This event has you falling off of buildings, skating off of bridges and simply falling to your death in a number of compelling mini-games. But just like the Death Race, there just aren't enough of these events. I could have used two or three times more races and hall of meat challenges.
It's true that there aren't a lot of earth-shattering changes to this sequel; Skate 3 is more of an evolution of the first two titles. However, there are a lot of minor changes that help clean up some of the problems I had with earlier installments. A good example of this is the game's difficulty, which has been enhanced in meaningful ways. In the past people have complained that some tasks are far too difficult, requiring an expert level of precision to beat them. Thankfully that's been toned down a bit. Each event allows you to "own" it (complete a reasonable challenge) or "kill" it (complete a far more difficult challenge). This change lets inexperienced players see more of the game, while veterans will have a harder score to try and match.
Another non-gameplay change comes in how you get from place to place. In the past you've had to either skate the length of the city or take the subway. Skate 3 scraps the public transportation and instead gives us the ability to teleport from place to place. I'm of two minds when it comes to this change. On one hand, I certainly don't miss spending all that time skating long stretches. However, it's a little too easy to just pull up the menu and warp from place to place. What's more, the game's world is completely unlocked from the get-go, so you're free to go around the game world as you see fit. With everything open and the ability to teleport, it felt like there was very little incentive to get out and explore Port Carverton. In fact, several hours in I realized that I had only visited a tiny bit of this huge city.
It was after I decided to slow down and stop teleporting everywhere that I realized just how impressive Port Carverton actually is. This logging community is home to a giant university, a theme park, posh residential neighborhoods, team stadium, factories, docks, memorial gardens, downtown areas and much, much more. There's really a lot to do and see in this city, I had a much better time in Port Carverton than I did in San Vanelona (or New San Vanelona, for that matter).
One thing that Skate 3 stresses is its functionality. I'm not only talking about the game's robust multiplayer modes (which we'll get to in a moment), but the way that the game wants you to share and trade your designs to gamers all over the world. You'll earn more sales every time somebody downloads one of your created skate parks, looks at your pictures or watches one of your uploaded movies. There's a lot of customization available and it's fun to see other people enjoying the things you worked hard on.
This year's Skate also features an impressive multiplayer online mode, which allows you to turn most of the single-player events into exciting online experiences. Whenever you go up against people you're earning sales towards your skate team, which plays a big part in the online universe. On top of the single-player events, there are a number of online-exclusive modes. One such mode is Dominator, an event where a group of people try to set (and beat) high scores on individual objects. And like I mentioned earlier in this review, you can also resurrect S-K-A-T-E ... assuming you're a masochist.
Skate 3 is not the kind of sequel that is going to drastically change your opinion of EA's franchise. While the game does add an exciting new location, some new tricks and a bunch of new modes, I can't help but yearn for a game that takes this concept to the next level. It's hard to argue against the quality of this title, it has incredible looks and solid gameplay. The online multiplayer is well implemented and it really feels like EA Black Box are standing on the edge of greatness. It may not win over a lot of new fans, but Skate 3 is another great installment in what is turning out to be skateboarding's most reliable video game franchise.