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SKATE 3 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 5/14/2010

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SKATE is one of those games that you either get or you don't. If you've played the previous two games, chances are you're either a pro at stringing together fantastic tricks, or on the opposite side, your best achievement was breaking a majority of the bones in your body in Hall of Meat mode. Existing SKATE players are generally either horrible or great at the controls, and the middle ground has always been a challenge for the EA Black Box team. But with SKATE 3, they're finally rounding out the difficulty and giving players a ton of things to do in the city of Port Carverton.

The second game in the series was very much an extension of the original, focusing almost entirely on giving tougher challenges to those who were able to master the moves. For many of us, it was tough as hell and very exacting with its goals, so no matter how many times a novice failed to get that Varial Heelflip off of a specific ramp, the game would just not let you get by with any other move - even ones that garnered a similar or even better score. Much of that has been fixed here, with the replacement of the S-K-A-T-E challenges against the pros with a more lenient 1UP mode and two "tiers" of beating each of the rest of the challenges as well. Now, you can "own" a challenge fairly easily, but to "kill" it you'll need to be very precise.

Speaking of precision: SKATE 3 also includes three difficulty modes, but unlike with the difficulty setting in most games, here your whole play style will have to fundamentally change. On easy mode, it's almost like you're playing Tony Hawk, with magnetic-feeling rails, huge ollies, lots of speed, and a ton of forgiveness for sketchy landings and the like. You'll still have to use the Flickit system on the right stick to do most moves, but actually landing them is much, much easier. The normal difficulty feels just a tad easier than the standard controls did in the last two games, but otherwise it's pretty similar. And finally, Hardcore difficulty requires you to tighten up your lines, your timing, and your precision in order to get a solid set of tricks going - plus, your ollies will have less height and you'll need more space and more kicks in order to get to top speed. Even if the game's challenges seem easier than last year, Hardcore mode easily makes up for it if you're serious about showing off tip-top skills. Also, you can take these three difficulties into the online modes, too, and likely get tons of credit from other players if you can hang with them while in Hardcore mode.

The solo career in SKATE 3 follows your character's creation of a skateboard company, and every goal you complete sells more boards. Getting up to a million sold is your goal in career mode, but you can go online to complete quite a few challenges - and some of them are made easier with other players' help, too. Unfortunately, there's very little in the way of rewards for selling boards beyond unlocking real-life licensed skate gear, and you can't go online in every challenge. It seems like Black Box is building up a feature set that may allow their next game to do a fully-cooperative online career mode, but that's just speculation on my part. Either way, working on your career in multiplayer mode isn't quite the fully-integrated experience that it could have been.

The new skatepark creation feature allows players to make all kinds of highly-detailed parks to use in solo and online modes, and they even sell boards for the creator's career when people download the parks to try for themselves. The frame rates can dip and chug for a split second at some points in the skateparks, but that's pretty much the only time that the frame rate has any major issues in SKATE 3. As far as doing other stuff online goes, if you want to get competitive, you can create skate teams (much like clans) and take people on in Ranked or Unranked modes, and yes, you'll again sell boards in career mode for pulling off wins here. The team-based action in these modes has a lot of great potential for keeping SKATE 3 fresh for a very long time, and while the online play itself through EA's servers has had some issues, it's already starting to clear up.

We also get a couple of Tony Hawk-like features that may or may not be popular with some players. There's a more traditional third-person camera angle you can use, and I highly recommend it due to its improved visibility of your environment as well as a slightly more stable frame rate overall. And speaking of cameras, when you're online with your friends, you can even assign one guy to just get footage - with up to six skaters in the frame at one time, the potential for ridiculous situations in online play is great and being able to capture it (the replay editing/sharing system from the first two is back, of course) is fantastic. Another seemingly Hawk-like "feature" is just how clean and idyllic Port Carverton is. Some will see the change of scenery as some sort of insult - a betrayal of SKATE's grittier roots - but I kind of like Port Carverton as it is. There's also an unfortunate lack of interconnecting routes like San Vanelona had, but I suppose this is one concession the developers made in squaring away the performance a bit.

The one feature that was removed that I really miss is offline multiplayer. Sure, taking turns bashing our skaters' heads into an aqueduct in Hall of Meat mode wasn't going to last forever, but we still had many hours of mildly inebriated fun, and that's just not really as easy to do anymore. I suppose we can still swap the controller around in the single player career mode's many Hall of Meat challenges, but it's just not as good.

Despite a few cracks and issues in the online play and a couple of missing features that would have improved the experience, SKATE 3 is still a fantastic sequel that really improves on the accessibility and style. With a hilarious tutorial-delivering performance by actor and pro skater Jason Lee as Coach Frank, new players (and who couldn't ever get the hang of the controls of the first two) will find it easier to play and enjoy themselves more online. While SKATE 3 is far from perfect, its appeal is huge, its action is fun as hell, and the longevity of its online mode will make it great value for anyone who likes playing games for months instead of hours.

Overall: 85%



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