Three’s a crowd.
I suppose it was inevitable. As if obeying its own universal law of thermodynamics, entropy has set in the Skate universe. For all of the series’ original freshness and innovation back in 2007, Skate 3 has succumbed to the same decay over time that the Tony Hawk series has. That Skate 3 resembles the Tony Hawk games might not seem like such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that it resembles the forgettable late games in the series rather than the outstanding earlier ones.
[image1]Thankfully, the Skate series hasn’t quite jumped the shark yet—even though one of your tasks in the game is to do exactly that—but it’s clearly gearing up for a grand leap into oblivion. A nearly identical trick and combo set makes its return from Skate 2, but some core changes and oversights make this iteration the least worthwhile of the three. Ambitious online features have been introduced, but the promise of Burnout Paradise-style online play stumbles over an awkward menu system, long and frequent load times, and a painfully unstable framerate.
Skate 3 is an open-world game in name only. The quick travel system obviates the point of traveling the old-fashioned way, so you never get a real feel for the new locale. Just select an event from a list and that’s it. There’s no advantage to traveling from point to point yourself—no secrets, no alternate challenges, nothing. As a result, the city of Port Carverton never feels like a real place, and there’s no sense of it being a skater’s sandbox.
Worse, challenge areas themselves are so limited in where and how you can accumulate points that you’ll never spend time scoping out sweet spots for the kinds of tricks and lines you really want to do. For example, in many of the jam competitions you’ll only be able to earn points by doing very specific trick types on very specific objects. It’s like skating in handcuffs. I kept waiting for a moment when the challenges would finally give me free reign to score however I wanted, but instead it just got more and more narrow.
The adjustable difficulty setting is kind to newcomers, but the tutorial doesn’t teach you enough about the basics to invite new folks completely into the skating fold. Most of the challenges also feature two ways to win; you can either “own” a challenge by doing a general task at a given spot, or you can “kill” it by doing a specific trick in a specific spot. But there’s no gradual build-up in difficulty that encourages you to move from “owning” to “killing”. If you don’t already know all the various movesets, there’s nothing to ease you in.
[image2]Graphically, too, Skate 3 is a step backward. While the folks at Black Box have attempted to kick the framerate up to 60 frames per second, aiming so high does little good since the framerate is highly unstable. It looks great when the framerate peaks, but its dips come unexpectedly and always at inopportune moments. While annoying in any game, it’s especially unforgiveable in a game like Skate 3 that puts so much weight on technical precision.
Fortunately, the real sell in Skate 3 is the introduction of a huge online feature set. Any challenge in the offline mode can be played online, and most challenges also can be played in teams of three-on-three, with full-featured clan support organized by branded teams. When it works, online play is brilliant. When it doesn’t, it’s a frustrating mess.
Unlike its nearest analogue Burnout Paradise, dropping in and out of the online world isn’t seamless. Long load times, a clunky menu system, framerate dips, lag, and frequently dropped connections make playing online almost more trouble than it’s worth. In theory, the combination of individual and team-based competition overlaying the offline world is a wonderfully ambitious idea. Moreover, the clan-like team features are as deep as any of the best clan features in any console game ever made. If not for the many technical and UI hiccups, Skate 3 would be worth it for the team play alone.
On top of the technical issues, the team events are also fundamentally flawed in their design. In competition, players can drop out freely—whether by choice or by bad connection. When they do, their team is left having to make up for their absence by coming up with a higher combined score than the other team. Rarely were any of my online matches left with even teams at the end of a round, sometimes leaving me as the sole representative against a full three-man team. In a game with much larger teams (like first-person shooters), there’s no great disadvantage to losing one or two people. If one person leaves a sixteen-person team, you hardly take notice. But in a game that caps the teams at three players each, losing one or two people is disastrous.
[image3]Further, the flawed team play carries over into the single-player offline game when the AI takes on the role of your teammates. Needless to say, your teammates suck. Because team-based scores are all cumulative, you often have to not just outscore the opposition, but also make up for an incompetent teammate. You’ll frequently outscore or outpace each of the players on the other team, but because your teammates are so bad, you will still lose.
With Skate 2 released just a little over a year ago, it’s clear that Skate 3 was pumped out too quickly. The ideas are great, but the lack of polish is evident with every flip, flop, and flub. The tricks haven’t been tweaked much at all since Skate 2, and the technical issues and over-ambitious online play suggest that Skate 3 is reaching too far too fast. After seeing the venerable Tony Hawk Pro Skater series sink to lower and lower depths, it’s a disappointingly familiar sight seeing another skating series follow in its footsteps. But the real shame is that the Skate series never had a chance to reach its full potential before its steady decline.