Review: Skate 3 (Sony Playstation 3)

Skate 3
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Black Box
Genre: Skateboarding
Release Date: 05/11/2010

Back when the original Sony Playstation was the most important thing in my life, and when I was still trying to decide which profession to choose – professional skateboarding, playing for the Detroit Red Wings, or becoming a pro wrestler – there was one game that took up a ton of my free time: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. This skating game was revolutionary to my young eyes (and to a lot of reviewers, garnering obscenely high scores across the board), and my sister and I spent countless hours creating our own parks, finding secret gaps, and collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E to clear parks. As I got older, the Tony Hawk series started getting more and more stale with each release, and once the current generation of systems landed, I stopped playing the series completely.

A few years ago, EA Games decided it was time to compete for the hardcore skateboarding market that Activision had dominated for nearly a decade, offering up a fresh take on the genre with their new skater aptly entitled Skate. Skate promised a more realistic game for skateboarding fans, and a new control scheme – called Flikit – which used the right analog stick to perform tricks instead of the face buttons.

Fast forward to 2010, and EA Games is releasing the third entry in the series: Skate 3.

As someone who was used to the arcade action of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, I had no idea just how different this game would be. Is that a compliment to EA Black Box, or does it mean that I am stumbling around eBay to buy a copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 right now? The answer lies below.

Story/Modes

One thing I enjoyed about a later Tony Hawk game – Tony Hawk’s Underground for the Playstation 2 – was its story; it kept me entertained, and coming back time and time again to complete it. I expected, or rather hoped, that Skate 3 would offer me something of equal value. This is not the case. The story in Skate 3 is elementary: the main character that the player creates starts his own board company with a friend, and the objective is to sell one million boards. This happens by completing different challenges such as filming, taking pictures, team challenges, races, and various street and tranny competitions. Selling skateboards is the entirety of the objectives in Skate 3.

There are six different plateaus to reach on the journey to selling one million boards, and four of these plateaus come with the prize of adding a new teammate to the brand that the player can create. At the end, there will be a total of five created skaters, including the main character created at the beginning of the game. The point of having this team is lost on me when it comes to the offline career mode: I was not able to compete in any singles competitions with my teammate skaters instead of my main guy, there is no local multiplayer for my friends to play as one of these teammates when competing in doubles competition, and their only use seems to be wetting the appetite for the online multiplayer career mode.

Almost all modes available offline – Street Challenge, Tranny Challenge, Deathrace, Own the Spot, Own the Lot, Film, Hall of Meat, and Photo – are available online. Online also offers up some casual games like 1UP, where the objective is to one-up your opponents score for three out of five rounds, or S.K.A.T.E, which is skateboarding’s version of the popular basketball game Horse. I had fun playing 1UP in the offline career mode, but it was a very rare occurrence, only popping up when I was accepting a challenge against one of the professional skaters in the game. I found myself having a lot of connection issues while trying to play any of the team challenges online, and it appears that others have as well.

The modes available in Skate 3 will probably be familiar to anyone who has played this, or any other skateboarding series, previously. The street and tranny challenges are exactly how they sound. They usually contain three (sometimes two) rounds where the player competes either in singles or doubles competition against the professionals in the game. Whoever gains the most points at the end of the three rounds wins. In order to sell more boards, the human player must finish in first; second or third places mean nothing in Skate 3. Deathraces are races down a hill or across a given area against four or more opponents. Own the Lot requires the player to score a certain amount of points on various spots around a given area. Own the Spot is almost the same thing, but instead of an entire lot, the player tries to garner at least a certain score on one bench, rail, or other specific spot. Hall of Meat is a mode that throws realism to the wind and asks the player to bail (or crash) the hardest they can; the player is either trying to reach a certain score by breaking as many bones as possible, or reaching a target while falling to their would-be death. I expected Hall of Meat to be a lot more fun than it really was, and found the targeting challenges to be frustratingly difficult at times. Pros is where the player completes challenges such as following the pro, or filming with the pro to unlock them as possible teammates. The final two modes – Film and Photo – are also exactly as they sound: the player is tasked to take a great billboard, or magazine ad/cover, or to film a few tricks being done in sequence. These tend to be the easiest challenges, and an almost guaranteed ten thousand board sales.

Most challenges allow the player to either “own” them or to “kill” them. Owning a challenge is meeting the minimum requirements for completion, whereas killing a challenge is meeting a secondary goal which is always more difficult. When someone kills a challenge, they are rewarded with extra board sales.

One mode that stands alone from these challenges is the create-a-park mode. This gives the player the option to create virtually any park they could ever dream of. I spent a lot of time with this option when I was younger in the aforementioned Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. At first, I was a bit annoyed at the controls while creating my parks, but that subdued after continued use. There are a lot of different options for this park editor, and I cannot imagine anyone exhausting all possibilities, between changing the color and texture of spots, to completely overhauling the entire lot. This offers up a lot do, and once I got past the fact that it requires multiple buttons to simply rotate a bench 180 degrees, I found a lot of fun with this mode. Uploading and downloading parks that other users created can land the user some excellent free-skating spots, but beware: if you buy the game used, or rent it, you will have to buy the EA Skate Share pass to share parks. This is the start of something new that EA is doing in order to garner more new sales and discourage people buying used games (where EA sees no profit). When you buy the game new, however, the code is included for a one-time, free use.

The different modes in Skate 3 are unique from one another, and offer up a good amount of variety. Without any story to compliment them, however, they can start to get repetitive after a while. This could have been alleviated with offline multiplayer, but that has been left out for some reason, and is sure to hurt this game’s value for some players. The online multiplayer is fine, but I had problems finding a good team to fit in with, and the connection was shoddy at times. Again, if I weren’t forced to use the internet to enjoy the multiplayer in the game, this would have been less of a problem. As it stands, the story is rubbish, the modes are fun but can get stale due to repetition, the park editor can add a lot to the game if the user wishes to spend enough time with it, and the online multiplayer is only going to appeal to those that have friends with the game, or love the idea of having an actual human teammate to skate with.

Story/Modes Rating: Below Average

Graphics

EA Black Box has done a fine job of creating a large, breathing city in Port Carverton, filled with pedestrians (who enjoy skateboarding until the player starts running over them) and vehicles (who will hit the skaters without batting an eye). There was excellent attention to detail, which is noticeable in areas such as the parking garages, or the different street and tranny challenge lots. There were places I would have appreciated more areas to trick off of, but this wasn’t a big problem.

The creatable characters can look very different from each other thanks to the create-a-skater options available, including face and (limited) body morphing, as well as apparel and the ability to customize the skateboard. The characters models were great, and Coach Frank – the coach who takes the player through the training challenges in the game – looks just like Jason Lee, who happens to be voice acting the character.

A small thing I noticed was that the characters, after bailing a few times, sometimes get red scratch marks on their arms and heads that last for a given amount of time. I would have liked if they were permanent after a big fall, but that isn’t the case. The over-the-top blood spurts from the original Tony Hawk series are also gone. This is a very small effect, but one I appreciated once I noticed it.

This isn’t the greatest game I have ever seen graphically (that title goes to Heavy Rain), but it doesn’t do too poorly either. I wasn’t blown away, but loved the vibrant city and great character models. It’s in the details that Skate 3 shines, but if someone isn’t looking for these, they might not appreciate the graphics quite as much.

Graphics Rating: Good

Sound

Fun fact: before entering his acting career, Jason Lee (from My Name is Earl) was a professional skateboarder. This is something that most people might know, but, until I started researching this game, I had no idea why Jason Lee would be lending his voice to a random skateboarding game. I thought this was a neat touch, and that he did an excellent job of voicing Coach Frank. Although he got annoying towards the end of the training challenges, he was still a character that I enjoyed listening to throughout, and stands above the other voice over work in the game.

The professionals – including PJ Ladd, Lizard King, Ryan Gallant, and Andrew Reynolds – all lend their voices to Skate 3, and also do a nice, if limited, job with the voice acting. Fortunately for them they were not tasked with progressing the story in any way whatsoever, and were more than likely just “being themselves”.

Where the sounds of Skate 3 are important to the overall feel of the game are when it comes to the skateboard itself, and how it sounds against the ground. EA Black Box did a good job differentiating between whether the skateboard was rolling on pavement, a wooden half-pipe, or a steel half-pipe. This is another small detail that can help immerse gamers into the world of Port Carverton.

Aside from the skateboard itself, when my skater would bail – specifically during Hall of Meat challenges – the sound of cracking bones and flesh hitting the pavement would be violent and painful – exactly as it should be – and kept me repeating the Hall of Meat challenges just to hear the gruesome sounds.

Although the voice acting was limited, and carried only minor importance in Skate 3, the sounds around the city and how the skateboard hits the ground were all well done by EA Black Box.

Sound Rating: Very Good

Control and Gameplay

EA Black Box introduced the world to the Flickit control system back in the original Skate. This system requires the user to flick the right stick in different directions to pull off different moves. Much like the Skill Stick in EA’s NHL series, the right stick acts as the player’s legs, allowing the user to move the right stick in a similar position that the skater would move his legs in order to pull off the different tricks. The player uses “X” to push-off, the left analog stick to steer and change direction, and L2 and R2 to grab the board. When in the air, the player can use R1 to flip the board to the “darkside” (or backside of the board). This is an interesting approach to the genre and completely different to what I was used to with Tony Hawk Pro Skater.

The Flickit control system is one that takes a lot of getting used to, and will forever brand this series as “for the hardcore” skateboarding fan looking for an indoor fix for their favorite hobby, or for someone looking to spend the time to “get” the controls. I found the Flikit controls difficult to love, but a lot of fun when it was doing what I wanted it to do. The problem was that that only happened about one-third of the time. The Flickit control system is a great idea, but requires almost too much accuracy to get the exact trick the player might be looking for. As someone who does not skate in real life, it is impossible for me to look at the controls from any position other than that of a casual fan. As a casual fan, I feel the controls worked well, but can require too much precision to pull off a simple move. That might thrill a hardcore skateboarding fan, and if that is the case, then they will love learning, and then mastering, the controls.

The physics in Skate 3 are also excellent, and are what make the realism shine. I never felt like I was flying too high or was weightless, and every trick I pulled off felt deserved, if not planned. There were points that I would pull off fifteen hundred point tricks out of nowhere; although I didn’t know how these happened, they still felt realistic and rewarding.

Skate 3’s gameplay is nothing like the arcade skateboarding games of yesteryear – players will earn there manual distance scores, and big air levels – but that isn’t a bad thing if the player knows this coming in. Realism is king in Skate 3, and EA Black Box has done a great job of making this the most realistic skateboarding game out there. Anyone who finds fun in ridiculous grinds and manuals will have to look elsewhere for their skateboarding fix.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability

It cannot be overstated that the lack of any offline multiplayer will ruin this game for some people, especially those looking to get a lot of mileage out of Skate 3. While the online multiplayer offers up everything most people would want to do with offline multiplayer, not every gamer has a quick internet connection, or the ability to play online at all. This hurts the game’s replayability. If the player doesn’t care about topping the online leaderboards, they have only the versus options to play with – which are no different than what is available offline – and can get dry after time, especially after beating the career mode.

It is possible, in offline career mode, to gain the one million board sales without completing every challenge. Players who are completionists will want to come back and “kill” every challenge (as opposed to “owning” the challenges), and this can add some time to the game. There is also the free-skate mode where the player gets to ride around the city pulling off tricks.

One cool thing that can help replayability, however, are the nice replay features offered by Skate 3. If the player pulls off a “sick trick” that they want their friends to see, they can hit select to bring up the replay feature. From there, the player is presented with a multitude of editing options to get the best angle, speed, etc. of the previous trick. These can then be uploaded online for others to rate, and in-turn, to help your board sales.

Someone looking to simply beat the game and then turn to other things will only be pleased if they enjoy trying to top others on internet leaderboards. If this isn’t appealing, then the game will be finished in about ten to fifteen hours depending on the player’s skill level.

Replayability Rating: Below Average

Balance

Certain challenges required the skater to reach speeds that I was just not able to attain, and they ended up frustrating me to no end. No matter what I would do – change the softness of the wheels and/or the tightness of the trucks – my character would never reach the required speeds to hit certain gaps. This was a downfall because there was no way to upgrade my skater or board throughout the game. The only way I see myself ever completing some of those challenges would be to get lucky. In a game that boasts realism, it would be nice if all the challenges remained in that category as well.

Other than these select challenges, I found that the difficulty progressed at a steady rate. It was by no means a hard game, but there were different parts that left me frustrated and cursing my controller. This is probably more because of my skill level in the game rather than there being any balance issues in Skate 3.

Balance Rating: Very Good

Originality

Even a realistic skateboarding game with a unique control scheme loses its originality when it reaches the third installment. The team aspect to Skate 3 can be seen as original, even if it is not something that will appeal to everyone. Other than that, there is little here to set this game apart from the others in the series, and skateboarding has been done plenty of times in the past (as I have mentioned with the Tony Hawk series).

Originality Rating: Poor

Addictiveness

One thing is certain about Skate 3: like with most games, the more someone plays, the better they’ll get. This is because they will become more familiar with the nuances of the Flikit control system, which although it isn’t perfect, it allows a player’s skill to progress with repeated play. This kept me coming back to each failed challenge over and over again on my way to one million board sales. Players will want to continue playing to get better and to take better movies, billboard ads, magazine covers, etc. There is enough offered here that Skate 3 has the ability to hook even a casual skateboarding gamer for at least a few hours, but only the hardcore fans will find a need to keep playing after the initial shine wears off.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

Appeal Factor

I’m willing to guess every hardcore skateboarding gamer out there has already played one of the games in the Skate series, making Skate 3 an easy purchase for those players. For newcomers, though, Skate 3 is a little tougher sell. If these new players try out the game at a friend’s house, they might be disappointed because of the learning curve of the Flikit control system. This, mixed with the realistic gameplay, might turn the casual fan off.

As I have stated over and over again, Skate 3 is a game designed for the gamer looking for realistic skateboarding on their couch, and is not too friendly to newcomers and casual fans looking for a quick arcade fix, even with the addition of the less-than-stellar Hall of Meat mode.

Appeal Factor Rating: Poor

Miscellaneous

Skate 3 won me over immediately after I installed it to my system and turned the game on because of a very funny live-action introduction movie. This movie was made as a satire on the creation of the skateboard, from the hippies protesting the destruction of the forest – chanting “give trees a chance” – to the factory worker falling asleep on a crane and running into a stack of boxes. I thought this was a great touch, and got me excited for the possibility of a great story (which wasn’t the case). More games should go the original Resident Evil route and create live-action introductions because they are just a fun way to get things started.

I doubt that I am alone when I say that creating the different magazine covers and billboard ads is a blast. There is a limited set of options for editing these shots, but there is still enough to make every picture feel unique to the skater, and a rewarding experience, even if someone’s doing it “just for the hell of it”, as I was. Watching the logo of my skateboarding brand spread throughout the city was another nice touch by EA Black Box, and helped me feel like my board sales had some semblance of meaning to the Port Carverton area.

EA Black Box decided to toss in the ability to fight with the pedestrians of Port Carverton. I have no idea why, as this adds nothing to the game. The fighting engine itself is extremely shoddy, and there is no risk/reward system for starting fights outside of Deathraces where the player can push their opponents off their boards to get an advantage in the race. Since EA Black Box decided this was important enough to throw in the game, they should have taken the time to refine and improve the engine, and maybe give it some purpose outside of a Deathrace.

Miscellaneous Rating: Very Good

The Scores
Story/Modes: Below Average
Graphics: Good
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Below Average
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE

Short Attention Span Summary
Skate 3 is far from a bad game, but it plays to its target audience, and can leave others gamers out to dry. Any fan looking for the skateboarding experience without leaving the house has a great option with Skate 3. Someone looking for a great story, and unrealistic grinding, manuals, flips, and spins will want to wait for the next Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater title to release; however, those willing to learn the Flikit control system can have fun with this title, if only for a limited amount of time. Those who love the idea of creating a team online and tearing up the city will get a lot more out of Skate 3 than someone who enjoys gaming alone.

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