I’ll be honest: I wanted to hate Skate 3. It’s so completely not the game for me. I don’t enjoy skating games, skaters or skating.
Skating is hard. I tried for three summers to master it and came away with little more than skinned knees and an abiding dislike for the activity. I’d see skaters skating around with their hair flips and long t-shirts and envy them their insouciance. Every ollie, flip and whatever else they’re called was like a tiny dagger aimed directly at my skating ability-challenged heart.
So when I got my hands on my very first skating game (probably Tony Hawk 2, although my mind has blanked out the memory) I thought my time had come. If my treacherous, earth-bound feet wouldn’t serve to allow me to partake in this wretched sport, my well-trained, dexterous, game-playing hands would finally offer a chance at redemption. Little did I know the game – a videogame, for crying out loud – had been designed with skaters in mind.
I couldn’t master the in-game moves any more than I could master them on an actual board. Worse, I could hardly even understand what was being asked of me. To me, a non-skater through and through, the culture of the sport was impenetrable and actively exclusionary. The game didn’t want me to enjoy it any more than the flip-haired hooligans thrashing the K-Mart parking lot wanted me to hang around with them.
I could handle being shut out by a sub-culture, a gang of kids or even an actual sport, but by a game. My mind reeled. A scar was formed and my mind lit a tiny, white-hot coal to sear itself with whenever it even considered enjoying skating.
It’s not anyone’s fault – except mine perhaps – it just is. Skating and I are like Roy and white tigers; if we’re in the same room together, one of us is going to get hurt. Until recently I remained confident that whatever it is about skating that makes skaters love to skate would remain beyond my ken. Enter: Skate 3.
When the developers at EA Black Box told me they had designed Skate 3 from the ground up to be welcoming to newcomers while simultaneously ingratiating the hard core, I laughed. Everyone says that and it’s never true – except when it is.
I have to admit, that after a few minutes playing Skate 3, I still hating skating and skate games. I fumbled with the controls, struggled to line up a grind and couldn’t find the timing for an ollie to save my life. And then, barely a half hour into the game, something clicked; my fingers fell into a rhythm and I was doing it: I was skating. And it was awesome.
One of the difficulties with skating games is there’s a lot they have to live up to. People diss sports games, saying they’re not as inventive or creative as “real” games, whatever those are, but when you’re making a space marine game, there aren’t a whole lot of space marines around to tell you how wrong you’re doing it. With a sports game, you’re presenting something people actually do – which raises the bar a little bit.
Skating games are that much harder to fake because of all the people playing your game, a good number of them are playing it with a board across their knees, taking a break from doing the real thing. So you have to make it interesting for them, which means making it realistic and believable. If that wasn’t enough to live up to, there are inevitably going to be people like me playing the game who don’t know the last thing about skating, but maybe want to learn. So you also have to make the game accessible and easy-to-master, which is not the definition of skating. It’s a problem, to say the least.
On a recent visit to the EA Black Box studio, I had the pleasure of playing with an assorted mix of skate gamers. Most had played a Skate title before, some had played every skate game ever made and more than a few were accomplished boarders in their own right. I was the odd man out, but by the end of the day, we were all having a blast.
Skate 3‘s multiplayer modes are where the game really shines. There are racing modes, the “own the spot” mode (which is like capture the flag, but with skateboards), as well as the mode that’s sure to be the reason you keep coming back: Hall of Meat. In Hall of Meat, you start at the top of a cliff and skate off. That’s it. Extra points are awarded for breaking bones and performing aerial stunts. For anyone who’s ever suffered existential angst, here’s your cure.
In the career mode, you start Skate 3 as one of the baddest-ass skaters around, now trying your hand at starting a board company. The game, annoyingly, doesn’t let you into the open world right away, but instead forces you to explore the various extras you probably wouldn’t bother with otherwise, like snapping pictures of yourself mid-air and building a skate park. You can also, if you like, suffer through skate bootcamp under the instruction of the gratingly-voiced “Coach Frank,” but unless you just plain forgot the controls (or really do suck as much as I do), I wouldn’t.
Once the game takes off the training wheels, you’ll likely spend as much time perfecting a rail grind as exploring the alternate game modes, which is exactly what the developers of Skate 3 planned. The controls are so intuitive and the physics so spot-on, that it really does feel like skating – even to a hopeless mongo-pusher like me. Which makes it all the more fun to skate off that cliff.
Bottom Line: Fans of the series will find more to love in the third installment. For newcomers, this is the most accessible and fun skateboarding game there is.
Recommendation: You probably already know if you want to buy this one or not. If you’re tempted even a little, go for it. You won’t regret it. Otherwise it’s worth a rent just to see the current state of skate gaming and maybe play a few rounds with friends.[rating=4]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Russ Pitts is the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist. He is such a bad skater, he needed a “skate double” for an independent film he starred in as the teenaged, skateboarding serial killer. He is also not sure which part of that to be most ashamed of.