With Skate 3. EA Black Box sticks to a tried-and-true gameplay formula, but still injects the game with a healthy sense of humor, a wide array of challenges, and a focus on cooperative and competitive online play to create the best skateboarding game in town right now.
- Beautifully-designed controls lead to rewarding gameplay.
- Cooperative play and team atmosphere will make you want to skate online.
- Balanced and pleasantly diverse soundtrack.
- Visuals haven't improved much since Skate 2.
- Hall of Meat antics look a bit too silly.
- Still a formidable challenge for casual gamers.
After Tony Hawk: Ride massively disappointed, it was a foregone conclusion that Skate 3 would be the best new skateboarding game in town. Even if its chief rival has set a low standard, developer EA Black Box should be praised for sticking to a tried-and-true gameplay formula while finding new ways to keep things fresh and lively this third time around.
If you played either of the previous Skate games, you'll be able to jump right into Skate 3. A few new tricks spice things up, including the impressive dark slide: a difficult maneuver where you flip the board grip tape-side down before a grind. Skate 3 also addresses difficulty concerns by adding an easy mode (harder to bail, easier tricks) and a hardcore mode for the sadists out there who’ve lost sight of this being a game and would prefer more realistic real-world physics. An optional manual meter and on-screen trick analyzer provide further assistance for those who have trouble mastering the finer aspects of skating.
While it takes considerable effort, getting a grasp on Skate 3's controls is exceptionally satisfying. That first time you successfully trick into a grind, clear a particularly challenging obstacle, or win a heated race will bring about a fist pump-worthy feeling of accomplishment that simply can't be measured by achievement points. Try "killing" challenges (with tougher requirements) instead of merely "owning" them for the ultimate bragging rights.
Skate 3's analog stick-driven control scheme is all about precision and timing, so it can take some time to learn the ropes. That process is made more entertaining by the addition of Jason Lee (My Name is Earl, Mallrats), an accomplished skater and a natural fit for the role of Skate 3's Coach Frank. Lee's mustachioed, headband-rocking character is a motivational teacher on par with the Tony Little and Billy Blanks. He slaps the tutorial content into the same goofy context as the rest of Skate 3 -- a tongue-in-cheek, never-too-serious approach to storytelling that deliberately mimics the humor and the casual vibe of the homegrown skate video.
Check Out the New Digs
Port Carverton, Skate 3's all-new locale, is a skater's paradise. The city is split into three expansive districts and inhabited by locals that don't seem to mind the disproportionately large population of suicidal sidewalk surfers constantly grinding, racing, and flipping over death-defying gaps. Even the security guards skate in this slacker utopia.
The visuals in Skate 3 haven't improved much since the first game, though the character models and environments are still clean and relatively attractive. The low camera angle in particular provides a unique visual perspective, putting the board and the skater's feet in focus, highlighting where the action happens. You'll be too busy processing all the information flying at you from on-screen to complain, your eyes glued to those sneakers, taking in the fine movements in response to your control input. With time you'll get in the zone, quickly analyzing the environment and stringing together tricks and grinds for high-scoring lines. Who cares if Chris Haslam's beard looks like crap?
The Legend Returns
Instead of trying to make a name for yourself like previous games, Skate 3 establishes your character as a skateboarding legend on a mission to build up a new skate team, market the brand, and eventually sell a lot of boards. All the hard work in building a real-life brand usually takes place in advertising and marketing departments, but that wouldn't be much fun. Instead, you'll carve up the streets first-hand, landing magazine covers, recruiting team members, and building up that empire one kickflip at a time.
Some activities are better than others. Deathrace is a lot of fun, as it encourages you to seek out shortcuts on your way to the finish line, and all checkpoints are completely optional. 1-Up is essentially a game of H-O-R-S-E, and can be lots of fun between evenly matched players. The Hall of Meat returns in all its goofiness, bringing the bone-snapping, ambulance-worthy self-infliction of bodily injury from PAIN into the skating world. The idea is to find a high spot and intentionally bail, doing your best swan dive, cannonball, or judo kick on the way down. If you're the type to get flustered and randomly input commands while playing, you'll find it way too easy to leap off your board when all you wanted to do was land a cool trick. This "Jackass" mode looks silly, but like anything incredibly violent it'll have its share of die-hard fans.
Regardless of the activity you choose to take part in, you'll make progress towards your team goal. Sell enough boards and you unlock goodies like new skaters and branded create-a-character merchandise. The rewards flow in steadily, providing plenty of incentive for you to stick to it for the long haul.
You can log in plenty of solo hours working towards that capitalist dream, or you can accomplish tasks and sell boards by playing through the career mode cooperatively. Between accomplishing career challenges, free skating around Skate 3's carefully-built environments (Port Carverton is seemingly built of nothing but rails, ramps, and benches), and building your own skate parks, your team should always have plenty to do.
The team theme carries over into Skate 3's feature set. You can create and join online teams, build up contacts with other players, and communicate with the rest of the Skate 3 community in and outside of the game. While you can easily play Skate 3 as an offline experience, you'd be missing out on showing off your sweetest highlight reels, creating and downloading custom-built skate parks.
You can stick to the scripted career mode and be plenty entertained, but going off the beaten path will reap its own rewards, like unearthing new spot challenges and discovering original music tracks from the likes of Del the Funky Homosapien and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo. The licensed soundtrack mirrors the evolution of the skating community; it starts with the punk-influenced "Thrasher" roots of Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers and shifts into a sampling that represents the multi-faceted tastes of today's generation.
Skate 3 is heavily focused on community interaction and online play, so you'll get more out of the game if you have friends with a similar interest in make-believe skateboards. There are some caveats, though. If you’re looking for major visual improvements, it’s not too different from Skate 2, and Hall of Meat borders on ridiculous at times. But at its core, Skate 3 adds some great new elements to the formula. Those who loved the first two entries in the franchise shouldn't hesitate to pick this one up, while the flattened learning curve -- though still not totally casual-friendly -- and new career mode make this an excellent place for skating fanatics new to EA’s formula to join in on the fun.