Port Carverton is a city designed for skaters. Everywhere you look there are ledges, rails, ramps and sculptures, all designed with skateboarding in mind. This is in stark contrast to the setting of the first two Skates, San Vanelona, where there was an abundance of pointless empty space, and skating was a crime.
There you'd get shoved off your board by angry security guards for straying into prohibited areas, or fall on your arse after hitting a combo-busting skate stopper stuck to a rail. Not in Skate 3. This time the developers just want you to have fun - a philosophy that makes this the most outlandish, shamelessly entertaining Skate yet. Purists may curse the increased focus on high-speed stunts and 200 foot drops, but it's good to see EA Black Box getting more creative with level design, and wilder with the rugged physics engine.
The physics, incidentally, have been improved. Your character feels a lot weightier and more responsive, and there are new, and smarter, bail animations. Wiping out doesn't mean you'll topple over and respawn like in previous games: your character now stumbles, or uses the environment to steady his balance. It's a small addition, but makes crashing out feel more convincing and less frustrating.
The controls, however, are the same as before. You push forward with a and perform tricks and ollies by tweaking the right stick. It still feels as satisfying and natural as it did three years ago, but here lies our first major gripe: the game doesn't feel any different. The challenges and levels are bigger and more ambitious, but the minute-by-minute experience of playing the game is completely unchanged.
Which, perhaps, is why Skate 3 is bulging with new content and distractions. The biggest one is the focus on creating your own skating brand. In career mode 'points' are skateboard sales, and the more challenges you complete, the more popular your brand becomes. Your 'brand' is dictated entirely by you: you design the logo for posters, decks and clothing, and you create your own team members using the character editor.
But it doesn't really change how the game works. It's just a way of tying everything together, and giving you something to do between challenges. Structurally it's the same as the last two games: the map is filled with mission icons - like tournaments and photo shoots - and you work your way through them, steadily unlocking more as you go. Between challenges you can design your own park. In fact, at any time you can drop objects into the world - ramps, rails, etc - offering limitless possibilities for creative combos and lines.
The game's online integration is worth mentioning. You and your Xbox Live buddies now have profiles, similar to Facebook et al, where you can show off your best saved replays and snapshots. There's also co-op content, because the skate team system works online too. The idea is that you and your mates form a team and challenge other 'crews' online.
But new features aside, the best thing about Skate 3 is the pleasure of just riding. Lazily cruising the city at your own pace, discovering new spots, listening to the soundtrack and just enjoying yourself. Black Box really love skateboarding, and that sense of easy-going freedom and creativity is beautifully simulated by the controls, the atmosphere and the level design throughout.
We just wish they'd tried something more. The word 'sequel' doesn't feel appropriate in describing Skate 3. It's more like an ambitious update than an entirely new experience. There's a new city to explore and swathes of new content, but the gameplay is identical.
Nevertheless, the physics tweaks and slicker front-end mean it is, by nature of evolution, the best in the series. Its problem isn't a lack of ambition - far from it - but rather a refusal to stray from its comfort zone. Skate all-but destroyed Tony Hawk's whole world because its controls and attitude were genuinely new and exciting. But that excitement is fading, and the developers will need something bolder than a few tweaks and new content to bring it back.
Definitely the best Skate effort yet - but more of an update than a truly worthy sequel.
- A wealth of new content
- Improved physics
- Seen it before