Y’know, I wanted to talk about Oblivion, but…
You may have noticed for the past few years that a certain dormant game franchise has been long awaited by the public to return. No, it’s not Half-Life, they’ve been requesting a fourth installment of this particular series. No, it’s not TimeSplitters, although I wish it were, but no, keep guessing. It’s a series based around an instrument that relates to youthful rebellion… Bully? What? No, that doesn’t even have a— Fuck it, it’s Skate, alright?
Yes, Skate! The series that does Tony Hawk better than Tony Hawk, developed by EA Black Box all the way in 2010. Black Box had been making quite a name for themselves for a few years before this, with NFS: Underground 2, Carbon and ProStreet all being well and good, but it was Skate 2 that bought the company almost unlimited fame. We’re talking about the third game, though, because it’s better.
The story is a direct continuation of the second title, with our player character failing to “Jump The Shark”, a challenge set up by famous skateboarding magazine Thrasher. Not content with failing at this junction, you, Reda, and the cameraman Shingo, decide to set up a skateboarding company in order to make millions, while Reda sits on his fat arse, and you do all the work.
From there, the base is set. Your goal is to make millions selling boards, but this massive world has been opened up to us: three giant areas, all differentiating in scope, visuals, and skateboarding pizazz. In truth, selling skateboards doesn’t even matter, since we practically have the keys to the city already, so let’s just ride on through the valley and see what the place has to offer.
Part of Skate’s ingenuity comes from its control scheme: the Flick-It system, which Black Box had been designing long before they knew what the game was even going to be. The base on which all your tricks ride or die on revolves entirely around the right stick. Boardflips, grabs, manuals, powerslides, so on and so forth, it all needs to be adjusted with the stick, and it handles wonderfully. With help from the sound design, every trick’s resonating thump onto the concrete feels great.
That being said, it wasn’t great. Skate still had some problems to get rid of, like the lack of freedom to do anything other than skateboard and mess about with some absurd physics-related bugs (the more things change, eh?). After the first Skate, Black Box tweaked the formula slightly, achieving mechanical perfection with Skate 2, although it still didn’t result in a perfect game.
Visually and mechanically, it was pitch-perfect, but the pacing of the game itself wasn’t well done. There was a lot of fiddling about trying to execute perfect tricks, and I have yet to complete the Career mode in Skate 2, all because I have to do an Frontside Tailslide to a Backside Tailslide in such a small space. It’s madness, madness that Black Box fixed with Skate 3.
In Skate 3 however, everything had been buffed out. It still has the same solid core, but now the world embraces your presence. It loves that you’re here to enjoy it, and rather than stress you out, it’s on your same wavelength. Not to say it’s offering guidance and praise, but it’s more a mere spectator. The game shines then! When we’re not stressing out about pulling off a Nollie Laser Flip 540 to Nose Manual Fakie Flip over a small gap, but cruising the streets looking for our own entertainment, we’ll find it easily.
While the challenges the game offers are brilliantly designed, the map design is immaculate. It’s stupidly superb when you get into the right flow, as every pathway, banister, and barrier becomes a grind, ramp, or kicker. You can make a line out of anything, and it’s almost always going to look good. Even though the game presents some pretty big challenges that’ll make you feel like a grip-tape God, the world is filled with gaps and lines that the game doesn’t even acknowledge.
The double-bridge gap by the Observatory, the spaghetti-junction lines at the Super Ultra Mega Park, Slappy’s Car Lot, the drainage ditches scattered throughout the map, the tubular exit by the Park ‘n’ Play… all of these and more are mostly ignored by the game, in favor of a few technical challenges, situated to two or less blocks. It’s depressing, but exciting at the same time as well, because now you’re finding spots based on your own knowledge, and not via the game giving you a subtle nudge.
Of course, if you’re really heavily into your skateboarding knowledge, you’ll find a few of your favorites, barring the obvious Tony Hawk. Andrew Reynolds, Danny Way, Rob Dyrdek, and Eric Koston, just to name a few. They exist in-game mostly to alienate the player with fake praise as you take on some of their silly challenges, and never engage with them in anything fierce, bar the Death-races.
Ahh, the Death-races. I’ve failed to mention them in any capacity because upon returning to these sunny hills, I realized that they were easily the dullest part of the game. Despite some of them being truly breakneck speedy gallivants through downhill jams, the other half are meant to be skillful twists and technical feats, and that feels like a problem.
Skate isn’t fun when it’s trying to be realistic, it’s fun when you blast through the valleys without a speed cap. This is why Skate 3 is one of the best extreme sport games ever made, because it managed to find that perfect balance of rooted reality and impossible fun. No one bought this game to be blown away by a simple 360 Flip to Manual, they bought it to see 720 Superdudes being executed over a 40ft drop. Not unrealistic enough to call out, but not boring to the average player. That’s the reason why Skate 3 is such a mainstay for the average player today… Well, it’s that or erm… Remember the physics bugs from the first Skate?
Yes, one of the main reasons why people love Skate so much, is because of the insane physical glitches that you can come across quite easily. From stretching body models, to inhuman speeds being achieved, a lot of the stupidity relating to Skate 1, 2, & 3 is because of these glitches. In truth, most of them have been ironed out with patches, which is great, because people who bought this expecting a glitchy nightmare, instead got the greatest skateboarding game ever made.
That’s right, THUG 2 fanboys. Come get me.
From there, there’s not much else to talk about. You’ve got the ability to add more ramps, rails and pipes into the main game world, or you can go all-out with your very own skate park. In truth, even eight years later, this park creator hasn’t lead to anything special, bar a few impossible ramp parks and some incredibly tech-y stuff. Then again, is it really surprising that some fourteen-year old from Illinois can’t create a better level than professional level designers?
There’s also the multiplayer, still full of life after all these years, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything other than Super Ultra Mega Park sessions. There’s nothing in the multiplayer here that you can’t do in Single Player, and given the age of the game and the glitchy ways you can now play the game, why would you let your fun be ruined like that? Screw all those stupid “Trickliners”, just get your trick on by yourself.
Well there you have it. A poorly-written way of saying that Skate 3 is as good as skateboarding games are ever going to get. The playground you had was brilliant, it knew exactly what kind of players were going to come through, and still managed to satisfy everyone in the process. People looking to shred, people looking to glitch, people looking to chill.
Good stuff all around. May Session provide the same brevity.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.