My experience with skateboarding games is frankly thin, with my most recent virtual grind session coming from Tony Hawk: Ride. While troubled on many levels, I appreciated Ride for its interactive but very frustrating controller. But this isn't about ride. This is about Skate 3, the third title in EA and Black Box's series in as many years. Having not played Skate before, I was coming into 3 a total noob.
Test Your Trucks
Skate 3 works hard to blend its offline and online components seamlessly, and it does a rather nice job of that. But before you can shred around the skateboard-loving city of Port Carverton, you'll need to create a character (or choose a preset) and define a company (or team) name and logo. Then you'll customize your persona and have the option to go through a tutorial. The Tutorial, and much of the narration and presentation of the game for that matter, is handled by Jason Lee. Most folks know Jason Lee as Earl, from the now defunct TV series, My Name Is Earl. But, Jason is also a skilled skateboarder. In the game, he portrays Coach Frank, who is very much like the in your face character that was Earl. Anyway, besides giving you some useful advice throughout different modes and challenges in your Career, Frank is the source of some verbal humor that works to the game's advantage.
So, after the optional tutorial, it's time to get started in Career mode. Your goal is to start a skateboarding business and take it to the top. To do that, you need to build up your credentials, create promo videos and do photo shoots, and win local competitions in this skateboard-savvy town. You have a lot of free reign over how to proceed with this. A Challenge Map, available in the Pause Menu at all times, contains a list of available challenges that are ready for you all around Port Carverton. Players can Teleport to the challenge area to have a look, and then Sign Up while there, or simply Sign Up directly from the Pause Menu and jump into the Challenge right away.
There are a variety of challenges for you to try your skills at. These include Deathrace, Film, Hall Of Meat, Own The Lot, Photo, Pros, Team Promos, Street Contests, and Training. Deathrace puts players in an all out race to the finish against AI. In Film and Photo, players must complete a basic challenge while being filmed or photographed. After the challenge is recorded, you can choose from a variety of still images to touch up and use as promotional material for your up-and-coming company (the image may go on a billboard in the town for example). The Hall Of Meat mode is a pretty gruesome one, and if you've ever played Pain on the PSN you know exactly what is involved here. The general goal of Hall Of Meat is to crash as badly as you can, but specific challenges require that you do cannonballs, flying kicks, and spread eagle poses as you make contact with the ground. X-ray images at the point of impact show which bones were broken by highlighting them in red. Needless to say, this doesn't have any affect on your skaters health outside of the challenge itself.
In Own The Lot, players must complete several different challenges in one area of the game. The first of these challenges has players at the local university, completing grind challenges on handrails and planters for example. This was also the first time that I noticed how the number of NPCs in the area can get in your way and be annoying. It isn't a consistent problem, but sometimes they'll congregate in a small area and just about make it unusable. Anyway, to finish up on the Modes; Pros pits you against, well, the pros (Tony Hawk excluded of course), and Street Contests has you going up against AI in a series of challenges. Now most of these modes are playable online, but suffice it to say there is always some event in Port Carverton to jump into.
Online And More On Gameplay
Speaking of online, Black Box made a concerted effort to integrate online into Skate 3 and it's obvious from the start. Besides single player competition, you can rally up your friends for team based competitions. Your friends' character can also reside in your Career mode and skate for your company, which is cool. Video replays and still images from your career experiences can be shared to other Skate players as well. Also, something that I believe is new to 3 is the ability for players to create their own skate parks and share them. The editor has apparently undergone a bit of an overhaul in what I've read and is now easier to use. Having no experience with the previous editor I can't really comment on that, but what I can say is that the editor is quick and easy to get into. Personally, building skate parks isn't a lot of fun for me, but if you have the interest, Black Box did a nice job of giving you the tools to create and share your parks.
On the whole, the skating experience in Skate 3 is top notch. From the optional High and Low camera angles to the stick based controls -- including a Trick Guide tool that helps you see what you're doing wrong -- to a great physics engine, Skate 3 does a great job. I played on Normal, but an Easy and Realistic mode are included to adjust your experience. For me, the hardest part in getting going was
just the timing on the ollies -- something Coach Frank tried to get me set on in the Tutorial, but it took me a while afterwards to consistently "get" the importance of the timing and the speed of flicking the Right Stick up. Most other controls and functions are accessible and relatively easy to get under control. For example, to speed up, players can use X or A, and B is for braking. Tricks are all done with the sticks and the triggers, which keeps things complicated enough to be satisfying and require skill, but not too easy.
From a presentation perspective, Skate 3 does well, although I wouldn't say outstanding. I thought there were a lot of load screens, although these are very brief -- but it just seemed like there were at least a few for every challenge I wanted to start. Graphically, Skate 3 didn't blow me away, but it maintains a good framerate and the animations are smooth and detailed. Some minor clipping will
occur, but it's not a big deal. Effects and voiceovers are fine, while the EA Trax collection is okay -- certainly not the worst assortment of tunes I've heard, especially from a skateboarding game. Again not having played the first or second Skate, I'm not sure how 3 stacks up in terms of it's presentation -- but I don't think I'm going out on a limb in saying it's "better," even if only a little bit.
In closing, gamers looking for a skateboarding title this year that are newcomers to Skate, especially those with an interest in online modes, will find a lot to like about Skate 3. For owners of 2, the purchase decision isn't as clear. While improved, 3 primarily offers some new modes and a stronger online integration. It'll be interesting to see if EA and Black Box decide to continue the annual release schedule of Skate or if Skate 4 will take a longer development cycle to really evolve the series.
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