It's funny looking back on the old battle between skateboarding videogames. Ever since the original Tony Hawk, plenty of skateboarding games have come and gone, and other than the eternal old bird itself, not many of them have lived to see a sequel. All except the EA's Skate franchise that is, which is getting ready for the third iteration of the series. Not really third times the charm, it's more like a triple threat, as Skate has proven to be a more than solid skating franchise.
So it's really ironic considering the situation. Tony Hawk is now a peripheral based game, and Skate 3 is the only controller-based skateboarding game around. Now that they don't compete on the same level, it begs the question: can Skate 3 adequately build on the franchise without the competition? While it doesn't look like things are going to be groundbreakingly different, Skate 3 has a whole bunch of new content to bring to the table. Hit the jump to get an early taste of what Black Box is rolling on out.
Skate 3 (Xbox 360, PS3)
Quite noticeably, one of the major changes made to the Skate franchise has to be the interactions with other skaters. Skate and Skate 2 were really about establishing who the player was as a skater, but in Skate 3, it is all about establishing yourself as a member or leader of a crew. After all, the new slogan for the game is “Team up. Throw down”, and you'll be working together with friends to really create user created content such as graphics, skate parks and videos to become an all-around skate mogul. Even better, work as a team and create awesome stuff others download, and you'll receive in-game prizes yourself. There is strong motivation to not play Skate 3 solo.
The team-based motif continues with the new multiplayer modes. Every gameplay mode has been updated to keep multiplayer in mind. Deathrace has been changed to a team race around the skate parks, and the combined time and score is what is going to confirm a win. It's fun, but fairly standard. Make sure you have a full team for this one. Freeskate Activities, a mode where you could skate around doing random activities around the world, has been boosted to include that third team member. Contest mode now has a slew of skaters trying to trick off of one or two specific trick boxes and rails. It is chaotic to say the least.
However, it was the new game modes that EA really wanted to show off. First lined up was Domination, which plays like a control point mode in an RTS or FPS. Throughout an area are specific objects to trick off, and you and your team of three must make high scores to protect the control points from the other team. Yeah, it's kinda like Graffiti mode of ye olde Tony Hawk, but Domination seems to be a little tighter due to the specific trick objects.
The 1UP was actually my favorite new mode. A team based variant on HORSE, each team is given 20 seconds to do as many tricks as possible and rack up the highest score. If any member bails once during those 20 seconds, it's over for that team, and the next crew goes up. Lose and you'll get a letter, and earn an 1-U-P and you'll be done. Ultimately, for people looking to play multiplayer, there are a whole lot more options than in previous Skate games, so you'll definitely want to check this portion out.
Anyone concerned that Skate 3 is going to change things too much with the gameplay have nothing to worry about. While three new trick types have been added, such as underflips and darkslides, for example, the basic control stick-based trick system remains the same. Thankfully, certain issues have been tightened up, such as the off the board controls.
Detractors of the high difficulty of the Skate franchise will be pleased to hear about Skate.School, a new tutorial area for new players. Even better, there's actually difficulty settings for gamers, so if you are new to the game and want to play with your buddy who is a pro, you'll be able to keep up, albeit handicapped. Experienced players will be able to make gameplay more difficult as well, should they find normal Skate gameplay too easy.
Thankfully, even at this pre-alpha stage, that actual gameplay is as solid as you're going to want it to be. From here on out, EA Black Box just has to make sure that the world they create and the new things they do with it live up to standards. And the world of Skate 3 is quite a bit different than New San Vanelona, the anti-skateboarding city of Skate 2. Instead, we have the skaters paradise of Port Carverton, a sunny metropolis inspired by Venice Beach, Stanford University, and other fresh locations. It is broken up into three areas, University, Downtown, and Industrial, and while the locations were very early code, it is obvious the direction Black Box is hoping to take is a brighter and cheerier skating environment.
While the original Skate was touted as a straight-laced skating sim, Skate 2 injected a little quirkiness that some loved and some hated. Let's be real, any plot or goofy challenges only serve to do crazy stuff on a digital skateboard, and damnit, if Skate 3 wants you to literally jump over the shark sculpture, then jump the damn shark sculpture. Skate 3 doesn't seem to be taking itself terribly serious, and when you get down to it, begs the question on whether it should.
There is plenty to keep an eye out for in Skate 3. The new multiplayer focus and team-based mechanics are the logical direction Skate should take, and the overall improvement on certain features, such as basic walking, is an obvious acknowledgment that Black Box is paying attention to the needs of their fans. With a May 2010 release date, and the basics already in place, Black Box would be ashamed if Skate 3 were not the best Skate yet. And really, when they are the only traditional controller-based skateboarding game on the market, they had better make sure their game rocks.