SKATE 3 – First Look
Given that I have the balance, grace and co-ordination of the average Vanessa Feltz, skateboarding for me is one of those sports that I generally avoid along with, you know, sports. It’s a shame though as there is so much to like about it. The music, usually a cross between American hardcore punk and early hip hop, the clothes, t-shirts, baggy jeans and skate shoes, and ridiculous levels of skill involved all make it pretty captivating and when skating guru/smug get Tony Hawk endorsed Activision’s first foray into the skate genre, it also made for some seriously enjoyable gaming as well.
Of course, like everything Activision touches, the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series eventually was milked to within an inch of its life and has been utterly redundant for at least five games which allowed EA to slip in three years ago and literally steal the crown off of their head with SKATE, the shoutiest skating game ever. Where the Tony Hawk games used the d-pad and facia buttons to put together endless and impossible combinations of tricks (nollie to kickflip to noseslide to heelflip to tailgrind to pop shuvit to revert to 900 superman to have you stopped caring yet), SKATE used EA’s absolute favourite thing in the world, analogue controls, to concentrate more subtle, refined and realistic trickery.
For gamers tired of Tony Hawk’s identikit sequels, it was a revelation. The genre stripped down to the basics with enough EA gimmicks to keep gamers happy for months. Of course, the success of SKATE could mean only one thing: sequels. SKATE 2 was just a tad more polished than the original, and had more of a co-op focus to it, but was your standard EA yearly update, by no means a bad game but a small evolution focusing on tweaks rather than updating the gameplay in any significant way.
This leads us to SKATE 3, presumably the last properly-named sequel before they start calling the games SKATE:grind or SKATE:2011 or whatever. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that SKATE 3 is just another minor update to the series and the short version of this review would say that anyone who owns either of the previous games won’t be getting much here to excite them especially given that SKATE 2 was already extended beyond its shelf life needlessly by DLC, but this is how modern gaming, and EA in particular, works. Micro changes across yearly updates. So, none of this should be a surprise and by now we know what we are getting ourselves into when we delve into the wallet-buggery of EA’s world.
With that out of the way, SKATE 3 still plays a mean game of skateboarding and EA have made some changes for the better, even if they are fairly superficial. Probably the best one is that this is the first SKATE title to be set outside of the fictional city of San Vanelona. While the new locations are very reminiscent of the old ones, the city itself benefits from the game’s slightly clearer visuals and, more importantly, is skater-friendly. After the anti-skating security guards from the last two games, it’s very nice to be able to skate around without some rent-a-cop bastard rugby tackling you every few minutes.
The new city of Port Carverton is a nice place to explore but, as with SKATE 2, you aren’t really encouraged to do so, with all challenges being available through a quick-travel menu. It’s a shame as the original SKATE was all about seeking out new spots to trick off of until you had a replay saved of a your own unique line. You still can ride about, of course, but it may have been better if quick-travelling was only available after you’ve discovered a location (a la Oblivion). That said, you’ll see a lot of the city just through doing challenges and a small handful of challenge spots do need seeking out as well (although this can be avoided using some trickery within the multiplayer menus). As ever, the game world comprises of the usual array of residential, business and industrial centres as well as a host of skate parks ranging from street courses to ludicrous transitional courses.
As is mandatory for this type of game, you can also build your own skate park, although this is best left until the end of the single player game as pieces for it are unlocked as you go along. The editor is easy enough to use though and there is enough scope there for your imagination to run wild, although I still think that level design is best left to the professionals but maybe that’s because of playing one too many Forge levels in Halo 3 (i.e. – one). You can also share your parks (as well as the usual videos and photos) as well, although ominously this feature is only enabled by entering a code that comes in the box. Pre-owned buyers and renters beware. Typically, the EA Nation share system has been more down than up since release as well.
One excellent modification to the game is that challenges are now available in either single player or co-op rather than the split lists from SKATE 2. This is great as it gives the player more choice, even if each challenge is naturally suited to one option or the other. It’s worth doing everything in co-op though, even if certain challengers are made harder by doing so, because like all the SKATE games, the best bits are only good if you have witnesses. Certain co-op challenges can be attempted with an AI buddy but bear in mind that they’ll often finish last in races and challenges and will lose you the match, even if you finished first.
Also on the ‘very clever Mr. EA’ list is the fact that they’ve gotten rid of the S.K.A.T.E. challenges from the single player portion of the game. This mode, which sees you attempting to copy the moves of an AI skater exactly, required far more precision than the analogue sticks offer and was a recipe for horrible frustration, so I’m more than happy to see the back of that. It has been replaced by the 1UP mode which is similar but involves setting points targets for each other to beat. These can be pretty frustrating at times but at least you won’t punch yourself for pulling off a shuv-it when you meant to do an inward heelflip.
The one big poo in SKATE 3’s soup is that the single player mode is a little short and a fair bit easier than the previous two games (at least on the default Normal difficulty), so veterans of the series may feel a little cheated – this can be rectified by setting the game to Hardcore (or ‘No Fun’) Mode. This is predictably down to EA’s ridiculous notion that their communities aren’t infested with chav rat weasels and so they’ve once again beefed up the multiplayer aspect of the game. More game modes are available, and in more locations, but the big focus is now on team vs. team challenges. Given that players can customise their clothing with text and images, expect to see idiots with ‘FUCK YOU’ written all over themselves. Sigh. Still, at least EA haven’t drenched the game in ranked achievements, so even the whores among us won’t have to dip our toes in the cesspool for too long.
While it may be a minor update to an already minor update, the SKATE series’ compulsive gameplay and occasional moments of maddening frustration are still present and correct and as welcome as ever. The satisfaction of pulling off a challenge after half an hour of trying still leads to plenty of fist pumping and shouts of ‘get fucking in you skatey fuck!!!!’ Skills for kills, Agent. Those are the moments that keep you coming back and I’d be lying if I said I’m not a bit addicted to this at the moment, even if it feels like a sequel too far. You won’t be getting any surprises from SKATE 3, and it may well be punching way below its weight, but what it does it does very, very well and at least it doesn’t come with a poxy plastic board or any trace of Bam Margera.
I give it 8 scabby knees out of 10, but it falls just short of a torn knee ligament.
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