A good game that causes concern for the future of the franchise.
At this point, the Skate franchise doesn't seem to have any real competition. Most people think that the Tony Hawk series is dead in the water and, while Skate 3 is far from a complacent cash-in, its release and the content of the game don't pack nearly the punch that Skate 2 did.
Skate 2 turned what was a revolutionary game concept into a better-realized game as a whole. That's arguably what most sequels should be. However, with Skate 3, it seems as though EA Black Box may be contracting sequelitis. The symptoms aren't totally conclusive, but Skate 4 had better be as innovative as the original game or released at least two years from now. Otherwise, this game and its concept are going to get just as dull as any other oversequelized (which is indeed a real word [for the purposes of this review]) franchise.
Playing through the game's challenges felt very familiar and unexciting. There aren't many surprises here: you beat target scores and compete with AI (or human, if you take the game online) skaters to win competitions. There are some Hall of Meat challenges and some film/photo challenges. The photo challenges tend not to be a challenge at all, as you often have freedom to do whatever you want for the photo. It's nice to be able to do whatever you want for a photo, but at that point it's not a game in any critical definition of the word. This is indicative of the difficulty of the game in general: anybody familiar with the franchise isn't going to have an especially tough time going through the game's unengaging story. It's pretty much a breeze, even if you're a completionist and want to complete (and even kill) all of the challenges. The game has three levels of difficulty, but it's pretty meaningless to switch between the three. It's clear that Black Box didn't put a lot of attention towards the difficulty situation, as a good many challenges seem impossible on the Hardcore difficulty setting. It doesn't matter, though, because you can just turn the difficulty down and there's no difference in the reward. It would've been nice to see at the very least an achievement for simply completing one challenge on Hardcore difficulty.
The only time your difficulty seems to matter is when you upload footage to the internet. When you're playing with the super-realistic Hardcore setting, your footage is tagged as being recorded under Hardcore difficulty. It's a very nice inclusion, but it's unfortunately the most meaningful the difficulty gets.
The other online components are okay. You can still create graphics on EA's site to import into your game, but it's not clear why the graphics editor couldn't just be integrated into the game itself like in the Forza series. The video editor is improved in important ways (you can keyframe the camera control for more precise framing of your clips), but it's still not perfect and it isn't a huge leap from Skate 2's editor. It's still hard to make realistic clips. So often in skate videos the cameraperson follows the skater for a time and then stops (or vice versa), but in Skate 3 this takes some clever handling of the keyframes to pull off. The camera control also seems a little glitchy at times.
When doing a career photo challenge, you can affect the depth of field and color saturation. However, when doing your own photos outside of challenges, these features are either absent or hidden well enough that I think they're absent. This is obviously disappointing.
The multiplayer isn't amazing. You probably won't be surprised by it. You can create skate teams with your friends, but after that the experience feels a little hollow.
The park creation feature is just ugly and uninviting. The framerate is absolutely murdered in created parks and the tools and resources given to the player aren't particularly impressive. The whole thing seems comparable to the park creator in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, which isn't a great thing to say about a game released so long after the other. It's nice to be able to drop a lot of skateable objects in the city of Port Carverton, though. A thoughtfully placed kicker ramp or rail can make for interesting, creative lines.
So, at this point, it should be obvious that I'm not totally enthralled with the game. That doesn't make it a bad game. It's still a lot of fun and, with the new Hardcore difficulty, it takes some serious practice and planning to successfully execute a line that you want to do. The new city is fun to skate and explore and using the analog sticks to do tricks still feels good. It's fun to upload footage of lines and gaps you find in the city. So here's what I want out of Skate 4 (if it comes out, which I'm not sure it should) and what I think would have made this game feel less disappointing:
First of all, a trivial upgrade: make it so characters can catch flip tricks with their hands. 3 games into the franchise and you can't do a convincing kickflip indy. Anybody who's a fan of vert skating should be thoroughly disappointed by that.
Now for the big stuff. I might be in a minority, but I am totally disinterested in winning contests, etc in the Skate games. Now that the player's character is a legend in the canon of the Skate franchise, what possible story can you tell via skateboarding that isn't an off-the-rails Tony Hawk Underground narrative led by a cartoony Bam Margera? Just get rid of the narrative. With Skate 4, my suggestion is to just make another new city and release it for $40 (or less) on disc. No unlockables. A tutorial for total newbies, a new city to explore, and the skate.reel stuff is all Black Box needs to do for me to be satisfied with another Skate game. Everything else feels extraneous and, frankly, tedious. Don't show players spots. Let everyone find spots on their own. The Skate franchise is arguably successful because of the ever-elusive quality of Emergent Gameplay, so just embrace that. Skate should just be the ultimate sandbox title. The people who have designed the three cities found in the three main Skate games have done a great job of making a city that seems fairly realistic but very skateable. Keep paying them. They seem to know how to make a fun playground, which is all Skate needs to be.
Ultimately, how much someone likes Skate 3 basically depends on if he or she wants a new Skate game. This isn't a huge leap from Skate 2, but the improvements aren't trivial. It's a whole new city and, as I said, that's all most people seem to expect from a new Skate game. There are some mechanical improvements (hey, darkslides!) and the social parts of the game are better, but it all comes down to if you're satisfied with your current game library and if it has enough Skate in it.