The words "updated yearly" are scary for diehard fans of any series to hear. Yearly updates translate into less development time on the features that blow everyone's mind and more time spent applying incremental improvements across several smaller, less substantive areas of the game. Skate 3 has fallen victim to the symptoms of a yearly update with small improvements that are devoid of any one feature for the game to hang its hat on. For newbies to the series, I'd say this is the one to purchase, because there's a ton of cool skateboarding to be had, but if you took the plunge on the first two Skates, you might want to wait for the next iteration.
Skate 3 tries to give players a sense of camaraderie with both AI and real human players that can join up on your skating team. The point of Skate 3's career mode is to build a new skateboard brand from scratch and your pals eventually sign on to help you out (though the actual story ultimately carries little weight). To get them to join up, you'll need to get notoriety. Once you attain a high enough level of street cred with the masses (tracked through a sales chart of sorts), you'll get your first teammate. You can customize your mates just as easily as your own skateboarder with merchandise, different decks, wheels and everything else you can think of. What's even cooler, if a friend on your friends list has created a skateboarder in Skate 3, you can use their character model on your team. No uploading needed on their part.
Of course, these teammates only come into play about half of the time (though it depends how you want to play). Most of the time you're completing challenges like Own The Spot (or Lot), Deathraces, Hall of Meat (you can now turn Hall of Meat mode on which assigns a score to every bail you make), and other solo affairs. Thankfully Black Box (the developers) included plenty of challenges to go around, so there are enough team activities to keep most happy. My favorites are the team contests that pit your squad against another in multiple rounds of skateboarding, each with a different rule set. Sometimes you'll have to pull off the longest jump, others are as simple as attaining the highest score as a team. It's a bit of a shame that unique team activities (something separate from the usual challenge types) weren't crafted to really leverage the fact that you have friendly skateboarders with you for the first time in the series. Sadly Skate 3's team dynamics don't extend much further than simply giving you a few buddies building your score for you. Thankfully the team mechanic pays dividends online more so than off.
Just about every challenge in the game can be played online. Black Box wisely made the career progression persistent whether playing online or off, so there's no reason why you shouldn't hop into a challenge when a buddy invites you to do so. There are some cool aspects to playing online, especially when you have a couple of buddies talking smack in your ear about how their 1UP score just kicked your score's ass. So while there are certainly some cool aspects of team play, it feels like a feature that would've taken a backseat in a game with more development time. Either that, or expanded upon to make a Skate MMO of sorts.
Note: I was never able to test Skate 3's online abilities on retail servers, so we can't speak to the game's ability to give a lag-free gameplay experience when on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network.
Another new construct in Skate 3 is a social network of sorts that allows players to view what's called "skate.feed." The feed shows your friends' activity when it comes to posting clips, graphics for use on their boards and sharing other content. But why keep all of these cool little trinkets confined to the world of Skate? I feel like EA could have really leveraged this social infrastructure if they had ported it over to Facebook or another social network medium. The ability to upload my clip of gapping that treacherous rusty pipe would've carried much more weight if all of my 2,000+ Facebook friends could have seen it.
The new park creator does a nice job of expanding on the line creation aspects of Skate 2, but really doesn't advance the methodology used to create things in-game. For example: I'd much rather create tracks in ModNation Racers (developed ironically by ex-Black Box employees) than create parks in Skate 3. The process is still a little tricky at times in Skate, though it is improved from last year's game. Still, I would have enjoyed spending hours crafting a park much more if there was a mechanic designed to share it with the entire Internet, rather than simply passing it around to my friends within Skate 3. The park creator is undoubtedly cool for those who enjoy making their own skateboarding playground, but there are definite frustrations that hold it back.
Thankfully the standard gameplay in Skate 3 is still extremely solid and outperforms what we last saw from the Tony Hawk series with ease. Tricks are still pulled off with the left and right thumbstick (with the left stick controlling your body and the right controlling the board) and right and left triggers for grabs. Other buttons work their way in every now and again, but for the most part everything is nicely compartmentalized and relatively easy to understand despite the impressive amount of depth.
Skaters will also notice a new option to use either a high or low camera angle while cruising around town. At first I thought that the high camera angle would make me feel more at home thanks to my years with the Tony Hawk series, but at the end of the day I found myself reverting back to Skate's traditional low camera angle. Everything from grinds to lining up your board with the ground was easier when viewing things closer to sea level.
New players will also notice that there's a new easy difficulty setting if the complexity of some of Skate's tougher challenges is too daunting at first. Grinds, flips and jumps are all greatly simplified when playing on easy; perfect for all the newbies out there. If you're a veteran of the Skate franchise, then you'll want to try your hand at the new hard mode. It's the most true to life skateboarding ever seen in the series and is sure to be a real challenge for even the best players. Once you pull off a few tricks you deem worthy of public consumption (regardless of difficulty level), you can easily edit a clip and upload it for all to see using the cool – though limited in its reach – social system I mentioned earlier.
The gameplay in Skate 3 is as fun and varied as it has ever been in the series, but it just isn't all that much different from what we've seen before. Throwing in Jason Lee (playing his now-patented My Name Is Earl character) as your skateboarding instructor is a nice touch, the list of pros to compete against is as extensive as ever, and the core skateboarding is the purest ride around, but those who took the sixty-dollar dive into Skate 2 will likely be a little underwhelmed with the new content Skate 3 offers in the gameplay department.
One area that has seen some attention is the audio department. While the soundtrack is of the usual high quality of EA Trax, other aspects like the addition of Jason Lee who chimes in during a session and a spunky announcer that pops up during the more organized contests do a wonderful job of fueling your skateboarding shenanigans.
©2010-05-11, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved