Monday, 31 May 2010

Skate 3: Review

Skate 3 is, unsurprisingly, the third installment in the EA Skate series. It is much anticipated by the previous games' fans but does it hold up to the high expectations created by it's predecessors? Has the brand had it's day? Is it all downhill from here? (pun intended)

Many among you will be aware of the rise and fall of the Tony Hawks series of games and the series' subsequent downfall. From the start, these games were released annually and the franchise eventually ran out of steam, losing a large chunk of audience in the process. So, with only a year since the last Skate game, is there a danger that this series is heading the same way? The, kind of.....maybe....lets read on.

The story loosely continues on from the previous game. Your character, the legend of San Vanelona, has decided to start a brand, and with it a skate team. This is the basis for the new online and cooperative features included in the game. Career mode missions can now be completed cooperatively online and with your assembled team. To an extent you are therefore penalised to a degree if, like me, you don't have friends who play the game. There is plenty of opportunity, however to use the online modes to meet people with which to start a team and this adds to the community feel of the game.

The game takes place in the new city of Port Carverton and the developers have clearly listened to players frustrations with the previous games. There are no more security guards to spoil your fun, You can make pedestrians move out of your way when they crowd around a spot you are trying to trick on, You can even knock opponents over in races (tremendously satisfying).

Your career progression is marked by board sales which is indicative of your brands success. In addition to this any uploaded content such as videos, photos and skate parks (which we will come to shortly), which are viewed and rated by other players in the community, earn you royalties, therefore progressing your career. You get a quick update each time you sign in detailing any royalties earned while offline. Royalties can also be earned if you appear in another players video which then goes on to get coverage within the community. All of this serves to encourage players to open the Pandora's box of online features.

The game also sees the first time difficulty settings have been included in the series. For those who found previous titles just right the normal setting offers no change to the gameplay, but either side of that there is an easy and a hardcore mode (self-explanatory really). Also for those challenges where a low angled camera just doesn't give you the view you need you can raise it to a more conventional third person viewpoint. All of these aspects can be changed in game.

Aside from the obvious additions, there is little change to the challenges the game offers. Mostly comprising of races, competitions, spot challenges and the usual 'do [insert trick] on [insert obstacle]' photo and film challenges. Far from a limitation, it seems that there is little scope to add objectives as the previous game was very comprehensive in this area.

Trick-wise, again, the previous game filled in most of the gaps, the only additions in this title are Darkslides and Underflips, both of which are incredibly satisfying to pull off.

One major addition is the park creator. The games have always allowed customisation of characters, boards and clothing but the environment often went untouched. Taking the ability from the last game to move objects one step further, players can now spawn obstacles and objects at will. These are unlocked as the game progress and offer an almost infinite customisation element to the already enormous city. In addition to this there are a handful of empty skateparks and a comprehensive park editor allowing creation and upload of custom skate parks. These, as previously mentioned, contribute to your career progression when downloaded and offer a free alternative to the inevitable DLC locations which will be released in the future.

Visually there is little to report, the game uses the same engine as the previous two titles and there is little change, the environment in which the game is set does, however, seem better crafted and a lot more attention to detail has been paid around your characters interaction with the environment. Gone are the days of senseless ragdoll physics every time you clip a curb. The character will trip and catch himself (or herself). The best part being that these run outs don't end your turn in some modes, which was a major frustration in the previous titles. There is also a nice little animation if you get onto your board at the top of a quarter pipe which sees your character walking to the edge and gracefully dropping in.

This brings me neatly on to my favourite aspect of Skate 3, the smoothness. It seems strange but the most satisfying aspect for me and many players is to chuck on the free-roaming mode, crank up the music (of which there is an impressive variety) and cruise the streets. The whole game seems so much more fluent and the controls do a lot to help that. Many of the control bugs from the previous games, not least the diabolical off-board controls from Skate 2, have been improved and the developers have seemingly found the sweet spot, vastly improving the immersiveness of this game. You truly feel that there is a connection between what you are doing with the pad and what the on-screen character performs.

In terms of sound, Skate 3 does not disappoint on the whole. The effects in-game are well crafted and add to the immersiveness. The voice acting is not so great but this is to be expected when using pro-skaters and not pro-voice actors. The Skate series has always successfully built a comprehensive soundtrack and this installment is no exception. There is a little something for everyone in there and, AT LONG LAST, players can now skip tracks in game.

My only major criticisms of the game are the continued absence of a local multiplayer and the direction taken by the Hall of Meat challenges. In these tasks players are required to throw themselves off various high points and either cause significant damage to themselves or crash into certain objects and in this installment the whole thing feels more arcade-like than ever before. This is, I suppose, a good way of relieving stress when you just cannot land that trick you've been working on but seems to detract somewhat from the realistic gameplay EA have been plugging all this time. It is nice to see this has been effectively segregated from the main gameplay now but it still, for the completionists in the audience, has to be done at some point. I found myself with an extremely long list of these challenges to do after I had completed the main story.

Overall the game offers a much smoother experience and good selection of new features. EA have been trying to push the online and community aspects of the series since it's conception and this time round they have come as close as possible without making it completely mandatory. Those who enjoyed the previous games will struggle to find fault with it and the new difficulty settings mean that there is a way in for those who haven't had three years to get to grips with the control system. This could easily be the end of a good thing if EA start pushing the annual releases and it is difficult to see where the story can go next. Your character has gone from nothing to superstar in the first game, re-built a career in the second and now started a new franchise and spearheaded a comeback in the most recent game. It is easy to forget just how young this title is and the amount it has progressed in it's short life is remarkable, we must just hope that it will not burn out as quickly.

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