Giant Bomb Review

55 Comments

Skate 3 Review

4
  • X360
  • PS3

Skate 3's offline portions feel flat and sterile, but its deeper online focus helps bring more meaning to every facet of the game.

 Thrasher is once again represented for some of the game's photo goals.
 Thrasher is once again represented for some of the game's photo goals.
There's a bit of a tug-of-war happening in Skate 3. The game has a lot of new online features that feel like they were built to cater to the series' most fanatical supporters. Things like teams and the new online challenge system are things that will keep fans of the series engaged for months to come. At the same time, most of the game's career mode challenges are much easier when compared to the past games in the series. Things like playing games of S-K-A-T-E and forcing you to do extremely specific tricks are practically gone from the game, at least until you set out to start "killing" the game's challenges by performing more than the bare minimum. The whole game feels like a big funnel, designed to get players onto Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, where they can mix it up in a ton of different ways. But that funnel has left the game's story and career feeling stripped and more insignificant than previous Skate career modes. The gameplay is as sharp as ever, but depending on what keeps you coming back to the series, you might not be as thrilled with the direction in which the series is headed.

Like Skate 2 before it, Skate 3 opens with a huge accident that leaves your skater horrifically mauled, justifying the game's create-a-skater while still essentially putting you in the shoes of the same skater from the previous game. This time around, you're trying to start your own skateboard company, and each goal you complete translates directly into board sales. There's still a flashy, well-produced live-action intro sequence, but once the company premise is established, there isn't really much of a story. The game gives you sales targets, you meet those targets by completing challenges, which opens up more challenges. Once you hit 1,000,000 board sales, the career is effectively complete, though you'll probably have plenty of goals left to try by that point. It took me around seven hours to sell a million boards. Along with setting up the company, you'll also form a skate team, ostensibly to further promote your line of skateboards. As you hit sales milestones, you'll customize more skaters for your team, and some of the goals have you skating as these guys for billboard photos and the ever-present team video.

The idea is solid, but there's little followthrough on the career mode's team concept. Most of the photo goals for your team are simply "take a picture of your skater." It's up to you to decide what the photo looks like, so if you want a shot of your guy standing there, looking dumb, that's totally fine. The filming parts for your team video are similarly empty, with simple goals like "perform any five tricks." The billboards show up around town, but the skate video you're supposedly shooting along the way never seems to surface. Also, even though you're building a new and huge skate company, you never really directly see anyone buying your boards. The sales number just increases every time you complete a task. It all feels like it would have benefitted from more of an actual story. Instead, playing the game alone feels more like a lengthy tutorial. You'll meet pro skaters along the way, but even these interactions feel a little flat, and the only justification for performing their tasks is to unlock additional shoes and other custom gear for your skate team to wear. But if your skate team is representing you, then why would you want to ride someone else's board, right?

 The controls will feel very familiar to fans of the series.
 The controls will feel very familiar to fans of the series.
Most of the game's challenges are broken up into two levels. The default completion state is to "own" a goal, and these tasks are awfully easy when compared to some of the tasks demanded of you in Skate 2. The deathraces, though more varied this time around, feel way easier. Playing S-K-A-T-E against the pros--by far the most frustrating part of the previous game--has been replaced with a more lenient game called 1UP, which trades turns back and forth as you try to outscore each other in a brief session, rather than being called upon to perform specific tricks. If you played Skate 2 and cheated your way through the S-K-A-T-E sessions there, you'll welcome the change. "Own The Spot" returns in the form of 16 various places in the city that you can trick off of, and you must reach a certain trick score to complete these. Photo and film goals are also present, but the filming side of the game has become more like the photo goals, rather than giving you a list of tasks that you can attempt to complete anywhere. 
 
All in all, "owning" the goals is way, way easier than it has been in the past. If you want to get trickier, you can attempt to "kill" most of the game's goals. The criteria for killing a goal gets way more specific than the owning instructions, and this is where you'll have to be able to pull off blunt slides and other specific tricks to proceed. Even these feel a bit easier. If you've been banging your head against the past two Skate games, you might find that the game is a bit too easy now, but it really feels well-tuned and designed to make sure that you're always making progress. The game never really restricts how you attack the goals, so you probably won't get hung up on one specific goal and have nowhere else to turn. Of course, if you're really stuck, you can always turn online.

The online side of Skate 3 is clearly where the developers spent the bulk of their time. The online play weaves in and out of the career mode, with most of the game's goals being offered in a cooperative online form, as well as their offline counterpart. So if you're really stuck on something, you can always call in a little help. This is most effective during the "Own the Lot" goals, which gives you a list of objectives to complete in and around one specific area. So if you can't pull off a 360 flip to save your life, get a posse together and handle it that way. Cooperating on photo goals also lets you take more creative photos, since you might have up to six players in the shot, if you time it right. All in all, the most interesting thing about the way the online is built is that it really feels like a game that rewards community effort, rather than just setting up a spot for experts to tear your punk-ass apart at every turn. Of course, that side is still in there, too.

 Port Carverton isn't as connected as San Vanelona was, but it still offers plenty of variety.
 Port Carverton isn't as connected as San Vanelona was, but it still offers plenty of variety.
Plenty of the career goals, as well as plenty of online-specific modes and tasks are available for competitive play. While you can hop in an unranked game by yourself and randomly battle it out with others, the ranked games are way more interesting. Ranked games are primarily built for your set skate teams, and these are built and managed like clans. There's a full system for creating a team, sending out invites, setting a custom logo, determining what sort of roles each player on the team has, and so on. So to play a team ranked game, you first join a team lobby, which matches you up with members of your crew, assuming they're online and looking to get matched up, as well. From there, your party moves into battle against another team, and the stats are tracked for all to see. Board sales are a factor here, too, as you'll sell more boards for wins, and board sales for your online team are tracked separately from your career total. While there's still a ranked solo option for players who aren't into joining things, playing on a team creates a real sense of accomplishment when you're taking out other teams, like you're making a name for your crew online.

For the most part, Skate 3 performs well and maintains a solid framerate. But it's also a much cleaner-looking game than its predecessors, at least by default. From the outset, Skate 2 defaulted to a low, realistic camera angle with a fisheye lens that made the entire game look like a filthy skate video. In Skate 3, that fisheye is off when you first fire it up. While you can turn it on, the framerate feels a lot less smooth, which I didn't find to be a trade-off worth making. The other instance of sketchy frames is in the game's new park editor. You can build terrific skate parks and share them online, but these areas don't run especially well, even when they're empty. Once you fill them up with custom parts, the issues become even more noticeable. Granted, these are pretty limited cases, and unless you get way into the community's created parks, you'll rarely notice any sluggishness.

Though the career mode itself isn't especially thrilling on its own, the online focus makes everything in Skate 3 feel like a bigger deal. If you're strictly a solo player, you'll probably find Skate 3 to be a sterile, temporary environment that doesn't feel as inviting as the previous game may have. But if you've even dabbled in the online world of Skate 2, you'll surely enjoy what Skate 3 has to offer.  
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+