Skate 3 PS3 Review

Publisher: EA Games  Developer: EA Black Box  Genre: Sports  Players: 1-6  Age Rating: 16+

Other console/handheld formats: Xbox 360

Hey, you!  Internet dweller person!  Do you know your kickflip from your nollie?  How about your varial nosegrab from your backside face plant?  If you do, well, this game is for you.  If you don’t, get with the times, grandpa!  Gnarly!

I have a personal theory about how skateboarding evolved as a sport.  Step one: someone sticks wheels onto a plank.  Step two: someone starts inventing slang and just won’t stop.  A side effect of playing Skate 3 is learning a whole new lexicon, albeit one that won’t help you solve your cryptic crossword very often.  You’ll view the mission briefing for a particular task and realise that you’re lucky if you understood every other word.  Just as well the game comes with an extensive in-game glossary or the tricks would be even more complex affairs than they already are.

I say complex, though with Skate we’re not dealing with the ludicrous physics-defying tasks of the latter Tony Hawks games.  In Skate 3 (how much will power do you think it took the marketing-men not to call it Skat3?), the stunts are much more within the realms of actual possibility.  What gives the missions their complexity is the control scheme that the player must master before being able to pull off even the easiest of assignments.  With the no-doubt patented controller layout set down in the original Skate, refined considerably in Skate 2, veterans will be able to jump straight in and start nailing tricks.  Lesser mortals will have to learn not to tie their fingers into knots.  Basically, the direction of travel is controlled by the left stick.  Triggering tricks is done by pulling the right stick in a particular direction then flicking it in a specific way to make your skater jump.  The jump can then be manipulated further by holding down the bumpers or triggers, spinning in the air with the left stick or getting confused and just hitting everything at once.  Equally important is landing the trick smoothly so that your skater doesn’t stumble or, more embarrassingly, meet forehead to curb.

Radical jump, dude!

If the above sounds complicated and finicky, well, it is.  But on the other hand, it’s the only way of mapping skateboarding on to a controller in anything like a realistic fashion.  Activision recently shot themselves in the foot by releasing Tony Hawks: Ride to universal critical panning.  Having given up trying to fit everything onto a controller, they bundled the game with a plastic skateboard, clearly hoping for the same revolution that plastic guitars did for the music game genre.  Unfortunately for Activision, it was a total flop.  At least EA’s Black Box have the nerve to stick to their guns over the whole affair.  The last thing we needed was a Rock Band/Guitar Hero-esque plastic skateboard incompatibility fiasco.

Anyway, Black Box have as much as admitted that the control scheme is difficult for the rank beginner.  Aside from an extensive tutorial (hosted by none other than a digital representation of Jason Lee, of My Name Is Earl fame), in which the basic jumps, grinds and fliptricks are introduced, Skate 3 now has a couple of very helpful additions to aid successful skateboarding.  The first is a ‘manual gauge’  A manual is pretty much pulling a wheelie with a skateboard, and involves very careful tilting of the analogue sticks. This manual gauge is an onscreen indicator of the amount of tilt that you are applying to the stick, and where it needs to be to maintain the trick.  The second, and most likely more useful for the newbie, is an indicator of exactly which way they just moved the right stick and where they should have moved it to pull off the required trick.  It doesn’t help you actually pull off the trick, but it’s amazing how often the way you thought you just moved the stick wasn’t actually anywhere near the direction you had intended.  In a game where frustration at attempting to nail the same damn trick over and over and failing magnificently time and again sends most gamers into spirals of rage, this is a god-send.

Aside from tweaks to the control scheme, what else is new?  Well, Black Box is very keen that we should all become landscape gardeners.  Right from the very beginning of the game, access is given to a surprisingly powerful set of tools for manipulating the environment.  Adding objects into the actual game world to be manoeuvred and angled to give a different angle on pre-existing areas is a simple and welcome addition, but the ability to completely design and tweak your own enclosed skatepark is going to appeal to a lot of obsessive people.  The skatepark you design can be uploaded online for other players to download and enjoy, and at the time of writing a lot of great parks were available.  This sort of community creation aspect of games is a great trend, and is one I personally would be happy to see the franchise pursue further in the future.  Combining LittleBigPlanet with a skateboarding game?  Yes, please.

Worth noting in its own paragraph is the addition of different difficulty levels.  Easy mode makes jumping higher easier, hitting grinds less fiddly and making it more difficult to fall over.  Hardcore mode is pretty much the exact opposite of easy mode, with the developers claiming to be closer to simulation than game.  Whether this is true or not, I’m not sure, as I’m not going to volunteer to throw myself down a ramp on a skateboard to check.  However, if you previously played an earlier Skate game and felt that it was too much effort to get into, easy mode might be enough to entice you back to give it another go.  If anyone was put off by the fact that Skate 2 wasn’t quite frustrating enough clearly didn’t play enough of it to truly experience the nail-chewingly hideous final missions of the game.

Who needs a plastic skateboard?

The rest of the changes to the game are merely superficial.  A new city is all well and good, but when you’ve seen one empty swimming pool, you’ve seen them all.  Pretty much the same stable of events is present from the previous game, with the likes of nailing specific tricks for photographers, freestyle points battles against AI controlled skaters to the Hall of Meat events, in which you fling your skater off increasingly high ledges with the aim of breaking specific bones and bodyparts.  Playing some of these particular events without wincing in sympathy with the avatar onscreen is harder than you’d think.

Skate 3 ticks all the right boxes for the devoted, right from the start.  From the slick, funny intro video to the tooth-grinding frustration of failing to land a grind and repeating the event 20 times in a row.  Something that surprised me somewhat was the low framerate observed throughout, on both PS3 and 360.  It may be a case of rose-tinted glasses, but I can’t remember the previous games suffering from poor performance in this way, and I can’t be bothered walking across the room to find my copy of Skate 2 on my shelf enough to check.  Certainly, the game is running on what would appear to be the same graphics engine, and I witnessed the framerate drops on both consoles.  I feel this is a bit disappointing, especially in a game where pixel-perfect positioning and timing is required for many of the challenges.

It’s hard to review a game like Skate 3 without merely repeating the mantra of ‘if you liked the other Skate games, this is more of the same’ (substitute ‘hated’ for ‘liked’ to taste).  Unfortunately, for your humble reviewer, that’s about all I can think to say.  And I suspect that when Skate 4 appears, I’ll still be saying exactly the same thing.

Now, go away.  I’m trying to perfect my forward-backward heelgrind 560 footspin and you’re in my way.