US: 11 May 2010
The original Skate was clearly offered as an alternative to a long stagnating Tony Hawk franchise. When it was released in the fall of 2007, Skate represented a refreshing change of pace from the over the top, arcade oriented gameplay and presentation that Tony Hawk had been serving up for far too long. Hawk’s control scheme was relatively simple, and its tricks and presentation kept getting wackier, making for a once beloved series that people eventually bought mostly because there was no alternative. In this landscape, Skate represented a wonderfully stripped down take on the skateboarding genre. Further, the “flick it” control scheme of Skate was fairly revolutionary at the time, as was the challenging but rewarding notion that all possible tricks were available from the beginning, it being up to the practice and patience of the player to pull them each off.
Frankly, it was always a little surprising to me that a title as unique as the original Skate came to us from Electronic Arts, a company with the capacity to publish enjoyable games, but one that also tends to largely gravitate towards products with either blockbuster or annual release potential, often both. Skate represented EA trying something new while also, ironically, taking a swipe at a stagnant juggernaut franchise. Since the release of Skate less than three years ago, we’ve seen a full blown sequel, as well as Wii, DS, and mobile phone versions. Now, Skate 3 comes to us, and while there are some changes and additions from previous entries in the series, more substantive modifications would have been welcome, given that Skate 2 is little more than a year old.
Among the features that sets it apart from its predecessors, Skate 3 attempts to increase the focus on team dynamics, bringing the concept of FPS style clans to the franchise. The team challenges are interesting, and online it works fairly well. What’s unfortunate is that offline multiplayer has been removed, meaning that one of your teammates can’t be sitting on the couch next to you. Also new to Skate 3 are a park editor and the ability to complete single player objectives while online.
Perhaps most importantly, Skate 3 features an adjustable difficulty level, a first for the series. This seems clearly to be an effort to make the title more appealing to a variety of gamers. Normal difficulty is akin to the level of challenge posed by the previous Skate titles. Easy is intended for series newcomers, and in this mode, the physics are simply much more forgiving. You ollie higher and the window for successfully landing tricks and grinds is much wider. Skate veterans will get nothing out of it, but it is a more friendly introduction to the unique control scheme than the series has ever had before.
The real treat here for longtime Skate players though is the hardcore mode, which makes an already challenging game even more so. Absolute precision is required for the smallest moves. Given how different and, frankly, unintuitive the Skate control methodology can be at first blush, it’s actually really surprising that it’s taken this long for such difficulty settings to appear in the franchise. This seems particularly so in a game like this where the difficulty settings seem specifically designed to impact the level of abstraction between the controls of the game and the real world analogue.
It is arguable, however, that none of these additions warrant a full blown sequel so soon. Largely, the things that are great about Skate 3 were already great in Skate 2 (and in most cases, the original Skate). To be fair, sequels represent a fine line to walk, between not wanting to spoil what made the predecessor (or franchise as a whole) successful, while still trying to add enough to make the title seem worth it. In the case of Skate 3, whether or not that line has been successfully traversed will likely have to do with what you’re looking for from the game. As an entry point to the franchise, it’s likely the most accessible and, perhaps, attractive to series neophytes. For die-hard Skate fans, it’s conceivable that that the added difficulty of the hardcore mode will be incentive enough to pick this title up. However, I’m not sure that the appeal will be so great for players between those two ends of the spectrum.
Skate 3 is largely enjoyable, and the core mechanics that make it stand apart from Tony Hawk remain fresh. But if EA plans to squeeze more life out of the franchise, they would do well to avoid the mistakes that drove Tony Hawk into the ground, chief among which was almost certainly the minimal amount of time and differences between releases. The difficulty levels and other additions do help to set it apart from its predecessors. But as a series, Skate is prime for a new round of innovation. It would be interesting to see EA further explore Skate 3‘s team and online elements in the series’ future.