The Skate franchise will forever be known for two things; being the first game to attempt to truly simulate the experience of skateboarding on a game controller, and being the series that knocked Tony Hawk off his lofty perch after eight years of virtual skating dominance. While the Tony Hawk franchise flounders, desperately experimenting with silly gimmicks and struggling to find a justification for its continued existence, Skate continues to move forward, introducing new online and offline features with its newest entry, Skate 3.
The two previous Skate games asked players to climb the ranks of the skateboarding world, then to re-establish themselves as the premier thrasher in town. Skate 3 takes a different approach. At the start of the game, the main character is already a huge star, and one of the most respected skaters around. Instead of building your rep, this time around, it’s all about board sales. In career mode, completing challenges and winning tournaments and races moves boards. Sell a million boards, and the game is essentially beaten. Online, a separate million-board goal is set, and players attempt to reach that sales mark by completing co-op challenges and online tournaments. Skate 3’s focus on the online community opens up new ways to sell boards online. In fact, pretty much everything players do in Skate, from uploading videos and pictures to cooperating in Hall of Meat challenges to creating skate parks with the expansive new park editing tool, earns board sales, meaning that skaters can “sell” their boards however they want to. A new online skate team feature has also been added, allowing players to create their own logos and team names, then invite friends to join the team. Teammates then have access to each others’ custom skate parks and special team-specific challenges, and can upload new content to the team’s profile.
From a control standpoint, Skate 3 is only incrementally different from Skate 2. The “Flick-Stick” right analog controls are pretty much unchanged from the two previous iterations, with only two new moves in the game at all; the Underflip and the oft-requested Darkslide. Players who had trouble mastering the somewhat intricate controls in the previous games will be happy to see the inclusion of a “Skate School,” which teaches skaters the basics, and an optional on-screen trick analyzer that shows exactly what your right analog stick is doing.
In an effort to make the game more accessible, three difficulty settings are available for players to experiment with. Easy mode makes everything, well easier, with every ollie gaining maximum height and a noticeable magnetic effect to every grindable surface in the city. Hardcore mode attempts to give an even more realistic, and therefore more challenging, simulation of real skateboarding. This mode will appeal to those who have mastered the previous games, but after two iterations of slightly exaggerated physics, the hyper-realism of Hardcore mode will likely be too much for most players. Most challenges in the game feature two difficulty levels, as well. When a player accepts a challenge on the world map, they are shown two sets of criteria for it; “Owning” a spot usually involves pulling off a basic version of a trick, while “Killing” it usually requires players to perform one or more specific tricks, or to reach a lofty score. Skate 3’s focus on accessibility is obvious, and manages to open the game up to new players without sacrificing the hardcore player’s experience.
One of the most highly touted aspects of Skate 3 is its new, skate-friendly city, Port Carverton. The city certainly lives up to its name, removing all security guards, rail blocks, and filled water-pools, and essentially turning every piece of terrain into a trickable object. Too often in the previous games, terrain would be laid out in such a way that skaters would often find a line that would be perfect if not for the 7 feet of grass in front of the ramp, or the oddly angled wall that inevitably got in the way. This is no longer an issue, as Black Box has made sure that when skaters see a line, they’ll be able to attack it with impunity. The only real problem with Port Carverton is that it doesn’t feel like a full city, rather a set of three isolated sections. This serves to make the city feel significantly smaller overall, and less suitable for randomly cruising around town. In a bizarre omission, Black Box neglected to include a “You are here” marker in the world map, further disconnecting players from the environment. Port Carverton doesn’t have the gritty feel of its predecessor, but it’s a lot more skatable, even if it is a lot smaller.
The Skate franchise has never been considered a graphical powerhouse, but it’s also no slouch, and Skate 3 continues that tradition. Most of the game’s animations look either recycled from Skate 2 or slightly tweaked, but skaters still look good in motion, and appear to be subject to Skate 3’s in-depth physics engine. This is accentuated during bail animations, especially those where skaters stumble, but don’t quite fall. Adding to the visual presentation is the city itself. Port Carverton’s more skater-friendly atmosphere is reflected in a more colorful, vibrant look than San Vanelona ever had, making the overall skating experience a far more upbeat, joyous one than before. Frame rate issues pop up from time to time, but they rarely distract from the action. It does, however, seem like Skate 3 has more physics “hiccups” than either of its predecessors. There’s nothing more frustrating than ripping down a steep hill at over 40 mph, only to come to a dead stop when hitting the start of a launch ramp; a scenario that happens far too often in Skate 3.
With two Skate titles under their belts, Black Box has pretty much perfected the sounds of skateboarding, and Skate 3 shows that off with excellent sound effects. Skaters are an eclectic bunch, and the soundtrack of Skate 3 mirrors that variety of tastes very well. With music from acts like Them Crooked Vultures, Animal Collective, Canned Heat, Young Jeezy, and Neil Diamond, it may, in fact, be the single most diverse soundtrack ever seen in a game. Whether it is or not, it’s an inspired selection of music from various eras and genres.
With the Skate franchise now in its third iteration, EA and Black Box have turned their attention to fine-tuning their proven product. New additions like the park editor, item dropper (which lets players add any of hundreds of ramps, rails, etc. to the environment with the press of a button), skate teams, trick analyzer, and a beefed up Hall of Meat mode flesh out the skating experience, while the new difficulty settings allow almost anyone with thumbs to enjoy the sublime satisfaction that comes from nailing a 540 Double Heelflip over a 15-stair gap. There are some unfortunate, frustrating physics issues that really should have been cleared up by now, and the removal of offline multiplayer is a bit of a bummer, but the most part, it’s the Skate experience that players have been waiting for since the first game.