While Activision was busy driving its Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise into the ground, Electronic Arts quietly snuck in with its own title and stole the old pro’s crown. Skate was everything the Tony Hawk series was not, with true “next-gen” visuals and a fresh set of controls that put a new spin (or “flick,” as it were) on the genre.
That was in 2007. It’s 2010, and Skate 3 is now on store shelves. Do the math -- that’s one Skate game a year, every year since its introduction. Déjà vu much? Yearly updates can be the death of a series if not handled carefully, and really, how carefully can you handle it when you just released your last title no more than 12 months ago?
Fortunately, the Skate franchise is new enough that three titles in three years (not to mention a Wii and handheld spin-off called Skate It) isn’t quite the signal of the series’ death knell. With a bevy of new features, there’s little doubt that this third iteration is easily the best yet. But is it enough to satisfy Skate die-hards who already have previous games in their library?
Skate 3 (PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360)
Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: May 11, 2010
Fans of the series should know from the jump that the basics of the Skate formula haven’t changed much, with the exception of a few new tricks, including darkslides and underflips. The game’s "Flickit" control scheme remains intact, with all of the most basic skate moves mapped to the controller’s right analog stick. The idea is to simulate how a real skater would move his or her body weight and feet on a board -- you pull back on the stick to lean weight backwards, and then flick up and forward to “kick up” and perform an ollie, for instance. Combinations of flick directions and button presses result in a variety of moves, all of which --much like real skating -- require skill and timing, all of which comes with practice.
Admittedly, my experience with the previous Skate titles indicated that I didn’t have the skill, timing, or the patience to invest in practice. I had always found that the controls were unforgiving, spending more time shredding my virtual elbows and knees than actually, well... shredding. Instead of making me feel like a skateboarding badass, the game’s always made me feel more like a straight up jack-ass. So I steered clear of Skate 3’s new “Hardcore” difficulty, a mode with the “physics tweaked for more realistic skating.”
Instead, I embraced the new “Easy” difficulty mode, obviously included for players like me -- it’s harder to bail, easier to pick up speed, and far more forgiving when it comes to pulling off tricks. The result was a game that, for someone of my skill level, was far more satisfying and less frustrating across the board. If you've found yourself having trouble with previous games (and not having fun because of it), you’ll want to switch this option on immediately. But make no mistake, just because it’s called “easy,” that doesn’t mean the game plays itself -- you’ll still be required to focus on accurate flicks and movements. But if you're anything like me, it’ll mean you’ll find yourself tossing down the controller fewer times in any given gameplay session.
Both new difficultly modes mean that more players can appreciate the experience and dig into the meat of Skate 3, which is great news, because there’s a hell of a lot of great content here. From downhill races to playing “H.O.R.S.E.”-style games against the pros to setting up the perfect camera angle for the ultimate magazine cover shot, there’s plenty to do and see.
EA has also added a new layer to the title with its “team” play, which allows you to create your own skate team, the goal to promote your brand, sell more boards, and build a legacy. This can be done both online and off -- as you progress through the offline game, you’ll add new skaters to your crew, and even be given the opportunity to add your friend’s customs skater. Online, teams can be formed with other players, and you’ll compete against rivals in team challenges; you can even earn board sales (the game’s career progression “currency”) by having other players download your team’s graphics and other custom content.
And custom content is really where Skate 3 shines. EA has provided a massive toolbox for creating and sharing elaborate skate parks using the title’s new skate.Park feature. It all feels a bit like LittleBigPlanet, with the game giving you a bare canvas to drop in all manner of objects, allowing you to create some truly unique playgrounds. Playing the game prior to launch, I was already able to sample some incredible and creative environments; I expect time and care is going to yield surprising results once the tools are in the hands of consumers.
But for all of Skate 3’s tweaks and additions, it doesn’t feel like EA nailed the game’s career mode. It’s possible to freely skate the world, finding plenty of one-off skating challenges and opportunties, but it’s likely you’ll be hitting the game’s menu to fast hop from one trial to the next. They don’t get particularly creative either; there are a handful of the challenges simply asking you to “do a trick,” which could be anything from a simple ollie to a grind.
Of course, how much fun there is to have is up to the player in Skate 3. In reality, a skateboard by itself isn’t all that exciting; it’s really just a piece of wood with some wheels on it. You could simply push it around with your foot while sitting on a couch, which no doubt would get old quick. Or you could get off your ass and find some crazy places to trick on. Or take it to the next level and build something for yourself. With Skate 3's tools, the posibilities are potentially endless.
It would have been silly for EA to completely overhaul the already-solid Skate engine for this third installment, so it’s really no surprise that the game does share quite a few similarities with its predecessors. But there’s no mistake that Skate 3 simply isn’t a rehash of what’s coming before. The create and share features offer up so much potential that EA may have presented a problem for itself. There’s really no need for a new Skate game next year... you’re going to be playing this one for a long, long time.
Score: 8.5 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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