The 'rules' of skateboarding will never change, so developers have to find new ways to keep their audience engaged, especially if they plan on releasing titles on an annual basis
- A significant number of improvements make Skate 3 more than a glorified expansion pack, multiplayer mode offers a wealth of possibilities
- The franchise is showing early symptoms of sequel-itis, multiplayer limits you to specific spots rather than opening up the entire city for exploration
It may not be the breath of fresh air that the original Skate was, but Skate 3 still offers up plenty of innovation in its robust skate park creation mechanic, engaging multiplayer feature, and expanded move list.
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Critics and fans alike lauded the first Skate title for its innovative control scheme and serious approach to skateboarding, but let's be honest: fans were just happy to have an alternative to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater's reliance on ridiculous tricks and insane combos. Skate's realistic physics and analog-stick based controls were a breath of fresh air, and helped reinvigorate the ailing genre. However, there was an unspoken fear among its fans that Skate might fall victim to the same trap that claimed Pro Skater: a yearly release cycle which would eventually cause us all to lose interest.
I love the series, but EA is releasing sequels at such a rapid-fire rate -- it's been a year since Skate 2 launched, and that came out a year after the original -- that I worry each release will feel less impressive than the last. Miraculously, this isn't an issue quite yet: Skate 3 retains the franchise's trademark focus on skating fundamentals but adds enough improvements to deepen the sense of realism and challenge. Maybe sequel fatigue will set in when Skate 4 inevitably releases next year, but this year's installment is definitely worth considering.
The improvements Black Box made to Skate 3 start with the core skating experience. The control scheme remains the same -- the left analog stick controls your body while the right controls your feet and board -- but the game's improved physics and smoother animations lend a greater sense of realism. It's not a dramatic change, as the skating was already in top form, but it's a lot smoother than before. Pulling off tricks feels much more natural and the addition of new tricks like underflips and darkslides offer new possibilities when setting up lines.
Fans of San Vanelona -- the setting of the first two Skate titles -- will no doubt miss their familiar stomping grounds, but Skate 3's colorful city of Port Carverton is a welcome change. Unlike San Van, which had annoying obstructions and obnoxious security guards that constantly got in your way, Port Carverton is a skater's paradise. Every lip, ledge, and rail is placed to facilitate a sweet combo or line, and the environments are big, varied, and expertly designed. The university area, for instance, features long rails, big staircases and lots of objects to interact with. If you ever get bored with the pre-built environments, you can drop a kicker, quarter pipe, or curved rail into the world at almost any time, letting you edit the world on the fly.
As I dug deeper into the object tool, I grew increasingly excited about the ability to create custom skate parks. The tool is flexible and easy to use, and I whipped up a custom-made bowl, set of grindable benches, and a kick ass funbox in a matter of minutes. After finishing the main story and unlocking the epic-huge mega ramps, though, an entirely new set of doors opened up. It feels good to cook up a collection of connected rails, but building a 50-foot-tall launch ramp is something else entirely. Making spots to share with my friends tapped into my creative spirit, but my simplistic creations are nothing compared to what the community will eventually create for public consumption.
That community aspect is something that's ingrained into the fabric of Skate 3. The single-player is definitely fun, but skateboarding is an inherently social endeavor; you can skate alone but it's almost always better when your friends are around. Skate 2's multiplayer was a decent attempt at bringing skaters together, but Skate 3 does a considerably better job of achieving a sense of competitive and cooperative freedom. It doesn't go all the way, sadly, since you're stuck in certain spots until the player hosting the session migrates from one large landmark to another, but the variety of activities available to you is staggering. Racing to complete a long list of challenges with a team during an 'Own the Lot' event, or playing 1-UP, a truncated version of HORSE, can be an exhilarating experience. The numerous challenges also gives more options besides compete for high scores, and I had a good time filming co-op sequences to edit in the Skate Reel video editor. There's a lot to the multiplayer mode, especially when you factor the user-created skateparks into the mix, and it has the potential to keep you busy long after you've exhausted the single-player mode.
The 'rules' of skateboarding will never change, so developers have to find new ways to keep their audience engaged, especially if they plan on releasing titles on an annual basis. Gamers serious about the sport won't settle for incremental updates that amount to nothing more than a glorified map pack. Tony Hawk slumped into irrelevancy for that exact reason, but the Skate franchise manages to avoid that pitfall -- for now, at least -- by greatly expanding on the concepts that made it so successful. Skate 3 doesn't go as far as I would have liked, but it's still a great addition to the series. Let's just hope they do something really creative for next year's installment.
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