Skate 3 is the newest entry in the fledgling Skate franchise. This time out, the game sports a slicker online interface that's easy to access at any point via the start menu, featuring more stuff to do with your friends and random strangers, while you explore the different sections of the fictional Port Carverton. With bustling side streets, downtown areas, abandoned waterways, skate parks aplenty, and a few other odds and end areas that are designed to make use of grinds, ramps, and other everyday structures, this town is a skater's paradise.
My own experience with skating games dates back to Skate or Die on the NES, which was relatively tough and not particularly fun. I don't think skateboarding in video games really excelled until Tony Hawk Pro Skater blew everyone out of the water. Of course, THPS is also notorious for not being particularly realistic, which was always part of the series' charm. When the original Skate debuted, it delivered a sim-like skateboarding experience, as promised. With this third iteration, they've managed to maintain the status quo from a few years back, but at the same time, I'm wondering if the sequel sameness that plagued THPS is starting to affect this title as well.
Obviously, these two franchises are completely different beasts. While THPS has floundered over the years, Skate seems to improve in popularity and word of mouth. Having played all three offerings in the Skate franchise, I feel that this particular release doesn't introduce enough new material to tantalize longtime players. The online mode integration is certainly better this time, but this is achieved at the cost of offline multiplayer, which is a definite shame. The online component is certainly better, but there's a lack of focus on the offline component, which seems to be comprised of the same handful of events over and over again. You can make your own fun by free-skating around Port Carverton, but that's not what I'm looking for in a skateboarding video game. I like the objective-based aspects, and I'd love to have a lot more than what Skate 3 offers.
For example, in Skate 3, you take on the role of a budding businessman who's designing and selling his own brand of skateboard decks to the public. To do so, you need to build a brand and skate team to help you out, which in turn means taking on teammates and doing promotional stunts, like photo and video shoots. Every completed objective results in you selling a certain number of boards, anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000. You can view this as an experience bar that you'd have in other game genres, most notably role-playing games. With every milestone marker you hit, you'll bring on a new teammate, who you can either create or let the game generate.
Once you do this, you unlock a few more things for your team to try, but every time you add a new team member, the result of these "new" objectives is the same. One requires you to go somewhere and set up an in-game camera by pressing L1 and R1, and then snapping a photo of your new partner doing something cool while you control him or her. Another possible objective is a billboard shot, and yet another is a video segment. There's no set trick to make here; it's pretty much just snapping a shot and moving on. It's neat to do the first time, but the next three times? Well, it got a little old for me.
That's par for the course when it comes to other objectives you can tackle. Once the game starts, you can bring up your map of Port Carverton and see all the icons that signify different challenges. There are races, trick competitions, and a number of other challenges to check out, but for the most part, they involve the same set of activities, only located in different areas. You can argue that changing the locale of each challenge is enough of a change to warrant doing the same task over and over again, but I found myself quickly growing bored with the different races, 1up challenges against rival skaters (think of this as the skateboarding equivalent of basketball's HORSE), gap jumps, and successions of trick challenges. I think much of the charm in Skate 3 is more focused on the open world, where you can create your own fun activities, such as taking your own in-game photos and video and uploading them to the game servers for others to watch. However, I prefer a little more direction and story than what Skate 3 provided. I realize the previous games adopted a similar stance, but I was hoping for some significant changes to the formula with this title, and I never felt like the surfaced.
On the flip side, I can't fault Skate 3 on its technical expertise. Everything looks incredible in Port Carverton; with all the different locations that the city has to offer, you'll never get bored with the scenery or the availability of different rails, gaps and ramps. It's really a testament to great level design, as there's rarely a wasted opportunity in the entire city, which covers a significant amount of ground. The addition of teammates means you can call them into play at any time, so if you enjoy setting up your own videos and pictures, there's a lot you can do with that when you have three other AI teammates trailing behind you. Just a cursory glance at what others have already uploaded is impressive, and it's worth checking out when you get a chance. Along with the visuals and level design, the music selection via the Trax system, which is present in most EA Sports titles, is pretty well defined and varied. It offers a quick in-game ability to move ahead and repeat tunes that you enjoy, and the limited voice acting from skating professionals is well done. The inclusion of actor and skater Jason Lee as your in-game coach is kind of brilliant and acts as a solid tutorial for those who haven't played a Skate title before.
The addition of Easy and Hardcore modes is going to appeal to both sides of the Skate fence, and they definitely impact how the game plays. With Easy mode, you'll find yourself building up speed quickly and gaining a significant amount of height and momentum with every jump. It's not quite as ludicrous as the Tony Hawk series, but when you compare it to the normal mode, it certainly bends the rules of Skate. Hardcore mode, on the other hand, is certainly for the masochistic video game skater, and it's not something that I enjoyed or would ever play again. You can almost trip up by just pushing off; it will probably appeal to a certain set of players, but it's not for me.
Skate 3's online modes let you create your own team brand and name, invite other players, and then upload your recorded activities for all to see. You can also enter different zones of Port Carverton to skate around and challenge other folks, and while I didn't spend a great deal of time in this mode, it has certainly improved in layout and accessibility from the previous Skate titles. There's a certain level of seamlessness in Skate 3 when you switch between online and offline states that wasn't present in the previous Skate titles, and it's a much-lauded addition.
While I wasn't big on the lack of change in Skate 3, I can't really hate on the game too much because it definitely refines the franchise's gameplay. I'm not sure that I'll be inclined to check out the inevitable fourth entry when it arrives, though. With that in mind, if you're pretty happy with Skate 2, or even the original Skate, and don't care a great deal about the online aspects, I wouldn't suggest picking up this latest entry right away. However, if creating your own online team with a group of friends sounds like a blast, then Skate 3 is certainly worth checking out. It's definitely a solid entry in the series and at least warrants a rental.
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