Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
100% 'boarding, 0% boring
During the five years of my childhood I spent in Southern California, I was obsessed with skateboarding. I can’t say that I actually skated all that much, but I spent hours hunched over pieces of paper, drawing skateboarders wiping out on half pipes. I memorized all the trick terminology I could. The very mention of pro skaters such as Tony Hawk caused my little 4th-grade pupils to dilate. Skateboard culture provided a heady fantasy world. Watching videos of pro skaters, it seemed as though every object in the landscape—benches, railings, walls, etc.—silently begged to be incorporated into a trick. The world was nothing more than a sprawling skate park and a few broken bones was simply the price of admission.
Like the delightful, metal-twisting arcade racing of Burnout Paradise, Skate 3 brings to life its own fictional, sandbox city in which to endlessly muck about with challenges or just cruise around and listen to tunes. Port Carverton is skateboarder heaven. Every manmade structure seems to have a nice, clean ledge to grind or a curved surface that slopes seamlessly from the ground into a makeshift ramp or pipe. Every other house is a foreclosure (finally the real world intrudes!), but these vacant properties boast empty swimming pools in which you can skate to your heart’s content without the cops ever chasing you off.
After I finished customizing my skater—a lanky Danger Mouse clone with Adidas kicks and a ghost tattoo askew on his forearm—I got right to work learning how to get my skate on. Coach Frank (voiced/mo-capped by actor and former pro skater Jason Lee, sporting ‘headband and short-shorts’ athletic-garb retro chic) put me through my paces and, in no time, I was out tearing up the street with my newly learned bag of tricks. Port Carverton's airwaves also happen to be full of great music, tickling your ears with music from the Pixies, Animal Collective, Beastie Boys, Clinic and loads of other great rock and hip-hop acts.
Even though I typically hate games that ask you to memorize a litany of input combinations, Skate 3’s controls are so nuanced that you can do an impressive number of tricks by only slightly varying the same general movement of the right analog stick. From there, I had a blast experimenting (read: earning the equivalent of a doctoral degree in Ragdoll Bail Physics). Even though the game has a special challenge mode called Hall of Meat, which is devoted to staging the most painful, bone-splintering wipeouts imaginable, I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying the hilariously epic fails scattered throughout my experiences elsewhere in the game. Skate 3 is what the dismally executed turd Jackass: The Game should’ve rightfully been.
There are loads of features packed into Skate 3 that I couldn’t really be bothered with. You can form co-op teams with your friends online, build your own custom skate parks, even jump into a fully built-out EA social network. But those features feel vaguely superfluous when all you want to do is soak up the relaxed, free-skating bliss that sunny Port Carverton provides. Grappling with the game’s numerous challenge modes—downhill races, 1UP challenges (the skating equivalent of basketball’s 'Horse'), film shoots, etc.—can easily begin to stress you out. Stress ought to be reserved for the workplace. And isn’t work what we bought into the skateboarding fantasy to shirk in the first place?