Many years ago now a game came out that Blew. My. Mind. Having already sampled Neversoft’s Tony Hawks offering, a friend suggested I check out Thrasher: Skate and Destroy, a now largely forgotten title that placed all of its emphasis in trying to provide the most realistic depiction of skateboarding. I was enthralled, I was a wannabe Geoff Rowley and this focus on practice and developing skills, all to an amazing Hip-Hop soundtrack, greatly appealed to the skater inside of me. But Activision’s cash cow steam rolled over the title and years passed with extreme sports fans putting up with an action platformer in the guise of a sports title as the definitive representation of their hobby.
Enter the first Skate, developed by Black Box and released in 2007, it moved away from the ludicrous chain combos, frat boy humour and tired graphics engine of Tony Hawks and instead presented, very simply, an open world where the player was asked to face an extremely steep learning curve, develop trick lines and create their own unique style, practising until perfect. Finally then, here was a title that went back to the basics and in doing so advanced the genre, blew the competition out of the water and captured the imaginations of a whole new generation of skaters.
And now here we are in 2010 and EA presents the latest entry in the franchise with Skate 3. Featuring the aforementioned Thrasher as a sponsor (as well as numerous other brands) what Black Box have been hoping to do with this instalment it seems is lower the barrier of entry for newer players and improve the collaborative and creative aspects for veterans of the series, of which I firmly fall into the latter.
Let’s address the former first though shall we? The game does a fairly good job at teaching you the basics, getting those unfamiliar with Skate’s unique ‘Flick It’ control system up-to-speed. Once newbies are finished with the Jason Lee (who, it turns out, is a fantastic voice actor) narrated Skate School, the skaters paradise that is Port Carverton is free to explore, with a smattering of objectives on hand to ease you into the game. The requirements for successful completion of a task have also changed, with players able to both ‘own’ and ‘kill’ most of the challenges. ‘Owning’ a challenge usually involves getting over a gap with a trick, or grinding a rail, or beating a score within a time limit. However ‘Killing’ a task is much closer to the previous two main series entries level of difficulty, requiring specific tricks to be done over said gap or grind. This is a double edged sword for those new to the series; on the one hand it means players can progress through the game and see everything it has to offer, unlocking extra equipment, options, skaters etc without the arguably brutal wall of difficulty that players of previous instalments had to endure, but it also means that when newer players go online, they might well be at a severe disadvantage to those that have put in the hard graft Skate 1 and 2 demanded.
Veterans will find the more open challenges as either a massive slap in the face, or a chance to experiment further with their repertoire, which itself has been greatly improved with the addition of darkslides, underflips, evolved hippy jumps and an ever-so-useful drop-in function. Skate’s skaters have also learned how to control better off board and take falls properly, so if you screw up a trick, a nasty looking bail is no longer necessarily the outcome, as you’ll often just stumble off the board and regain your composure, allowing you to continue a line. If you’re finding you’re bailing a little too much, or perhaps not enough (you pervert), then you you’ll be happy to know that different difficulty levels can now be selected, altering the physics of the world accordingly.
Thematically the series has changed considerably from outing to outing, the first being about the individual, the second about rebellion, this third about collaboration and it’s here that Skate 3 has made the most significant improvements that will really shine if you have a few pals to enjoy it with. Forming a skate collective is easy and custom logos can be used to rep’ hard on t-shirts, boards and posters. Working as a team online you can take on missions from the single player, as well as compete against others and freeskate. For myself it’s this latter mode I had most fun with, sessioning spots with friends and setting our own challenges, egging one another on to go further or bigger, upping our game one try after another. Matches are relatively bug free, though this early on into the game’s life there are still a few kinks that need to be ironed out, such as long waits when new players enter a match.
There are tons more features too, including a revised photo and video creation suite, the ability to create entire skate parks, plus an RSS feed of sorts, keeping you aware of what’s happening in the world of Skate. It’s these extras that the seasoned Skate fan will get the most from, though minor improvements, such as an improved frame rate, a very appealing and almost squeaky clean approach to the graphical design, and improvements to technical elements such as menu speed, new area loads and quicker respawns will also please the hardcore.
Perhaps the one step back the title takes is in its Hall Of Meat challenges. Taking the franchise in a worryingly Tony Hawks style direction, a more unrealistic bail mechanic has been implemented to provide the title’s equivalent to Burnout’s Crash Mode. Where that title is silly but within a realistic world, this game is not, and hopefully EA will see fit to tone this down by the time Skate 4 inevitably drops in.
So this is Skate at its best so far then and though it’s clear that this isn’t the absolute zenith for the franchise, the team at Black Box clearly have more up their rather gnarly looking sleeves in terms of DLC and future sequels, new players will find this to be the most accessible title to date and those that have been with the series from the start will find the new locales and improved multiplayer a great place to test and develop their skills. It’s the most complete skating experience you can have on a video game system so far, and while it may not win over too many players that were turned off by the first two titles, Skate 3 is a must buy for anyone with even the slightest interest in the series.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PS3 (Xbox 360) Release Date: 14/05/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Skate 3 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of ten days on a Playstation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.