Thursday, 22 April 2010

Skate 3 Demo: Reviewed

I downloaded the new demo of EA's Skate 3 with trepidation. As a huge fan of the series and the genre in general I am all too aware of how these sequels can go. Many of the older gamers among you will be familiar with the Tony Hawks franchise, the first 3 or 4 games of which arguable went from strength to strength breaking ground and entertaining the hell out of us in the process. Then it all went sour, at the time 'Jackass' was at an all time high and the introduction of people like Bam Margera to the franchise seemed to be the first nail in the coffin. The series lost it's feel as the focus became adolescent antics and loud abrasive voices. Story modes were dull and the arcade style gameplay simply got too repetitive.

EA Skate came at a perfect time for me. I had become utterly disillusioned with the THPS series (that's right THPS, not THUG or THAW or THP8) and needed a breath of fresh air. The early videos of Skate got me excited, the first demo had me trembling and by the time the game came around I was close to peeing myself. It combined a truly innovative control system with a very serene and immersive atmosphere. I have never spent so much time devoted to a game's free-roaming option before but it felt good to cruise the streets of San Vanelona.

When the second installment came around I was even more impressed. It was like they had listened to every gripe we had with the original, introducing cool new tricks and techniques and finally allowing us to get off the board (no more standing at the bottom of a staircase looking defeatedly at the summit).

When Skate 3 was announced I became nervous. I had flashbacks to how content I was with the original Tony Hawk's games and the cynic in me knew that the good thing has to end sometime. The bails aspect of the game has been becoming more popular and they were running out of foreseeable places to go, it seemed inevitable that the next installment would be the beginning of the downward spiral.

Fast forward to the present day and I started the demo for the first time. First of all let me get the criticisms out of the way. Now I know Jason Lee is very popular amongst the young'uns these days and he used to be a professional skater and all but it took around about 5 minutes of him repeatedly shouting 'Coach Frank' at me for the sound of his voice to begin to grate. Fortunately it would appear that he only screams over the tutorials so I won't be playing the full game on mute. Secondly (and I know this a demo-specific gripe) I hate time-limited demos, you've already limited us to a small playing area so why limit us in time as well. There are only so many dimensions you can control EA!

New features include Darkslides!
I am yet to decide whether I like the addition of difficulty settings. I understand that this makes the game more accessible to players of different abilities (I have had one too many kids crying down their mic over X Box live), but part of the appeal of the previous titles was the learning process. On the flip-side however the new 'Hardcore' mode is a new challenge for those of us who played the previous two titles to death, It's a whole new feeling of satisfaction every time you land something which takes me right back to my first experience with the control system. In addition to this setting, players now have the option to move the camera to a high angle, I tried this and immediately moved it back, it just didn't feel like Skate anymore but more like Tony Hawks, obviously this has been included due to the complaints the developers have received about the low angle previously forced upon players which does, admittedly, somewhat restrict the view.

The 'object dropper' feature adds a new element enabling the player to place various items (ramps, pipes, rails, obstacles etc) almost anywhere. Essentially this gives the player the ability to modify the various locations in the game and offers a raft of new possibilities. There are, as would be expected, a limited choice of objects in the demo but enough to give a god idea and allow a certain amount of customisation.

Challenges and tricks are almost identical to the previous games with the additions of darkslides and underflips. Both of which are tricky but veeeeery satisfying to pull off. The demo also offers the chance to test out some of the game's online features. In the full game this looks like it will be a welcome new feature, taking the online challenges from the previous game in a fantastic new direction utilising cooperative gameplay on career challenges. The demo is somewhat limited in this and with the host of a session being the only one able to start a challenge you will be lucky to find a game to check this feature out (as the majority of online players seem content with skating in circles and getting in each other's way).

The physics in the game have been given a re-working as well. Losing your board no longer results in instant ragdolling but characters stumble catch themselves with their hands and trip over their boards. This is quite a refreshing change but I have not yet put in the hours to see whether it is as detailed as it looks or just a collection of pre-set animations.

Now for a bone of contention: the bails. the previous games have been increasing the scope of the 'hall of meat' challenges whereby the player is encouraged to cause as much damage to himself (or indeed herself) as possible (usually by hurling themselves off high buildings). As previously mentioned, this kind of gameplay was a large part of the Tony Hawk's series' downfall and the inclusion of this mode has divided the game's fans. However, despite being somewhat more arcade-y in it's feel, 'Hall of Meat' has been made to feel much slicker in this game. It's not too overdone and doesn't detract from the splendour of the rest of game.
All in all the game looks quite promising, not the step down I had expected but not really offering the level of advancement that we got from 1 to 2. As expected, EA have given just enough in this demo to get a healthy taste and ensure people will be purchasing this game in droves on release day. Come May Stuff and Nonsense will, of course, be giving you a full review of the game so stay tuned, and if you simply cannot wait, download the demo.

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