A by-the-numbers, glitchy and fun time for all!
Skate 3’s pretty alright. For 5 minutes, I’ve sat at my laptop trying to find an appropriate way to sum up my feelings on the game in a way that would make for a good introduction and that is the only phrase I can come up with. What Skate 3 does, it does well. However, like past entries in the series, there are too many things that still hold it back from being a completely positive experience. It tries to do so much that it stumbles in it’s steps and ends up falling face-first, making it nothing more than a by-the-numbers game. The thing is that, like past entries in the franchise, it’s approach to skateboarding makes it so damned addictive that it’s so easy to forget all of it’s underlying problems.
The biggest focus Black Box put into S3’s development this time around is Online Play. Players can now create teams that can compete with or against each other, as well as play most of the challenges from the single-player portion with others on the net. There’s a super-wide variety of objectives and modes to play with friends and, compared to the fairly average multiplayer offerings of Skate 2, is probably the most “advanced” part of the entire game. Players can now join or create “crews” to compete against one another in rankings and board sales and creative players can take things further and use Skate.Create to upload, share and download created parks, replays and photos. All of this works into the Skate.Feed– a beginning-of-game UI that displays recent community news, single-player/online board sales, highlighted Skate.Create features and a ton of other shit that makes the feature somewhat daunting when first seeing it. Despite a few hitches and freezes, all of this works well and offers up a pretty fun experience. It makes for a very nice change of pace from the lackluster offerings of past Skate entries.
That being said, the online has only been a limited portion of my playtime with Skate 3. I’ve never really cared for it in any of the previous entries since, to me, Skate has always been about skateboarding around the city and finding new places to pull off tricks, then just watch the replay for fun. A very simple-minded way to play the game but judging by the amount of fantastic content that’s posted on the Skate.Reel sometimes, I know I’m not alone in my crazy little world. My point is that I’ve had a strict method of playing the Skate series and I’m forced to point out how Skate 3 doesn’t really make much of an effort to change that in any way. It’s not that I want it to, it’s just what I’d kind of expect after three annual releases. I’d never want them to change the core of the experience since that is what I love most, but a little more incentive to try something new and play the game a little differently would go a long way to making it feel more than a victim of the yearly-iteration syndrome.
But who am I kidding. I’ll keep buying it. I always do. I’ve been doing so for three years. Probably will for a fourth when Skate 4 comes out. I just can’t resist its open world, “do what you want and show it to the world” charm. It’s open world that, this time around, is the game’s biggest problem. The area of Port Carverton is split into three districts: The University, Downtown and the Industrial Port. Nothing new considering preceding entries of the series have always had the city split into different sections. In Skate 3, however, each district is literally sectioned off from one another. There are no bridges, metro systems or even walkways to cross from one area to the next. The player is forced to go into the pause menu and teleport to another part of town. It’s incredibly aggravating to anyone who just wants to soar from the top of the first district to the bottom of the last one. Each area takes about 3-4 minutes to cross from top to bottom and there’s no other way to access another “island” than by using the “Teleport” option in the menu. I’ve no clue if this helps loading times (in which case, they failed) or makes the game run smoother (again, see: failed) but even with it’s potential positives, it hurts the experience more than it aids it.
Which brings to point another complaint, it being that the graphics engine for Skate 3 hasn’t markedly improved since its inception 2 years ago. Players and NPCs still look weird, building reflections use PS2-era tech, textures look flat, Black Box has yet to figure out how to make attractive female models, the lighting engine is super-sketchy— the list goes on. If they’re going to make a fourth game, they seriously need to overhaul the engine or simply trash it and start a-new. It’ll be 2011 by then and if they still haven’t figured out how to get rid of ugly textures and shadow-over-shadow issues, I’m going to start questioning if the tech guys at Black Box weren’t just out-right fired. Though animating flawlessly and harboring a vastly improved user-interface, the game appearance still manages to fall incredibly flat on its face.
The game is also riddled with glitches. Server disconnects, pedestrians spawning in your way, instantly bailing for no reason when performing a ‘Caveman’, bouncing off rails… The list goes on and I sincerely hope a patch is in the works to fix this. More often than not, a failed career-mode challenge would be the result of an impromptu bug, not that that is what was keeping me from enjoying the game’s career mode. I’m fine with Black Box trying to create some form of storyline but Skate 3 couldn’t even be considered as an “effort”. Heck, the game lets you know you’ve beaten it with a “You win” on-screen pop-up. I’d be lying if I said a kill-screen would have surprised me after that on-screen horror. I don’t know what they need to do to encourage the player to complete offline challenges but this is most certainly not the proper way.
All told, though, I still had fun. It’s crazy weird that I can find so many faults with a game and still keep a smile the whole time while playing it. What Skate 3 fails at, it fails pretty hard. There’s no excuse for all the wrongs it commits as they could of easily been avoided had Black Box taken the time to rethink things a little. It’s to their advantage that, three iterations later, it’s still just as fun to Half-cab Heelflip down a 16-stair set and end up completely forgetting about all that crap.