Skate 3 Preview: Peer Pressure Is On

Sequels are hard when the preceding games are good. It's tough to think of what to improve and changing too much because might ruin what made the first game(s) good.

Lucky for you, Skate 3 developer Black Box is aware of this challenge and dealt with it once before in Skate 2.

What Is It?
Skate 3 is the follow up to last year's non-Tony Hawk skater sim, Skate 2. The setting is new, the modes are somewhat familiar and the emphasis is on team gameplay this time instead of the solo experience.

What We Saw
EA sat games journalists down in groups for a quick rundown of all the new features plus a multi-round multiplayer face off in several different gameplay modes. The modes (as I frantically wrote them down between loading screens) were: Race, Domination, One-Up, Contest and Own-the-Lot.

How Far Along Is It?
Very early days. Skate 3 is built on Skate 2's engine, so everything looks farther along than it is and probably will move along quickly — but it was still what you'd call "alpha."

What Needs Improvement?
Race: It is so hard to get back on the right track once you've hosed yourself in a race. I was doing damn fine at the beginning, but when I messed up a jump by trying to flick my trick stick (read: right stick), I wound up facing the wrong way and the game reset me on the race track right back where I'd failed the trick with zero momentum to get up the vertical wall from which I was trying to do a trick jump. It ruined the pace of the race and of course put me in last place. (And no, I didn't mean for that to rhyme, it just came out that way.)

Skate.School: Sadly, EA wasn't ready to show off Skate.School — their tutorial mode. I put it here because it's really, really important that the developer nail the tutorials in Skate 3. So much of the gameplay rides on a team experience and there doesn't seem to be a space that's really all about solo skating except for the tutorial. Without a solid tutorial experience to catch everyone up, newcomers are going to be left in the dust (and totally demoralized when they realize they're the weak link) by their teammates.

Not Fundamentally Different: Some people griped that Skate 2 was really Skate 1.5. Those same people might be tempted to say that Skate 3 is really Skate 2 because when you get down to it, new tricks and new modes doesn't necessarily make a new game. The might even call Skate 3 Skate 1.75, if they're being particularly harsh.

What Should Stay The Same?
One-Up: Easily the most nerve-wracking mode of them all, One-Up also turned out to be the most fun. You and your posse start out at the beginning of a track while a rival posse watches from nearby. When the timer goes off, you have something like 60 seconds to rack up as many points as you can by doing tricks. If any one of you falls of his or her board, your time automatically expires and the other team gets to try and one-up your score on the course. It was really fun — especially when I realized that on one track, it was the experienced developer who fell down and cost us the match, not me. I was being smart and just doing kickflips in a corner.

Hall of Meat Defaults to Off: I loved Hall of Meat because I'm a bad skater so it feels good to see some kind of rewards system for totally wiping out on even the easiest jumps. But the developer told me that people (particularly people who didn't realize you could turn Hall of Meat slow-mo displays off) weren't too fond of it. So Black Box has separated Hall of Meat from the main gameplay and given players the option to pursue it or ignore it completely. I didn't get to see this because the revamped Hall of Meat isn't ready yet, but more details forthcoming.

Not Fundamentally Different: The first two games were really good and mostly accessible games. Skate 3 seems to meet those same benchmarks, so what's not to like?

Final Thoughts
Customization from the community was a huge part of Skate 2, but it's the absolute life blood of Skate 3. From dedicated posses who take on the entire community online to niche artists who get off on designing team logos for other players to use and even on to would-be filmmakers who capture some of the craziest stunts or recreate true machinima, Skate 3 is all about a multiplayer, community-driven experience. So if you want solo skating, I have a feeling you're going to be disappointed. But if you're still thrilled with Skate 2 and ready for more multiplayer, this is your game right here.