The good news: Not much has changed in the skating department. There's a large open-ended world in which you pull off various tricks based on right-stick movements. You can now do dark slides (grinds where the board is flipped upside down) and dark catches (flip tricks where you stall the board mid-air and flip it back around) but it's largely the same solid experience Skate fans have come to expect.
In Skate 3, you're a boarder at the top, looking to create a label and form a crew. Every completed challenge, both online and off, increases the number of skateboards you've sold -- it's the metric for your worth in Port Carverton. With each sales milestone you hit (your first 1,000 boards sold and so on), you unlock more challenges, gain more merch to customize your crew and earn popularity, which lets you in to the social circle of Carverton's elite class of skateboarders.
The problem is that promoting your team doesn't feel particularly satisfying. You take some photos, you make some team films, but there aren't any guidelines or requirements that you strive to meet. When it came to team billboard photos, I took pictures of the ground, the sky and random citizens going about their day -- the game had no problem with that. For team films, where I had to film my crew doing tricks, all I did was land five ollies and that's the easiest "trick" in skateboarding. The team promotional stuff is a good idea in theory, but EA failed to execute it properly.
And this is the feeling I had throughout most of my time with the game. It's like EA Black Box knew where it wanted to take me, but it had never considered how it was going to get me there -- maybe if the developer had just a little more time, there'd be more polish and some of these oversights would've been addressed.
Significant problems, things that should be addressed in a sequel, have been carried over from prior Skates. For example, the in-game NPCs -- both skaters and civilians -- are still a big issue. People got in my way constantly and would find themselves mysteriously glued to objects, blocking my path to grind a certain bench or hit a ramp for some challenge. I'm talking about the third game in a series here; how is this still a problem?
Some of the events forced me to skate in an enclosed area with other NPCS, which made for the same experience it did in Skate 2: chaos. Not only was it an issue because of all the collisions, but some of the NPCs would get stuck in a looping glitch, clipping with a barrier or wall until I was finally forced to restart the event because my teammate couldn't perform. It was all needlessly frustrating.
I also ran into issues with the Pro challenges. In previous Skate games, these were the toughest of the tough, and have been (mercifully) toned down here. Some Pro challenges were clever -- trying to out-trick Danny Way at the Mega-Park was one of my favorites -- but others were simply follow-the-leader events, where I had to maintain a certain proximity to a pro while they skated around doing tricks. But since I wasn't required to trick along the way, I was able to just hop off my board and run around. It was almost impossible to fail the challenge.
That's not to say the entire game is a mess. Creating skate parks is a fairly simple process. In fact, using multiple objects and layering them onto one another, I was able to create some really unique structures not found in Port Carverton. I'm anxious to see what the community comes up with once the game's on shelves.
The online multiplayer also worked well. There's the pride of seeing your team on the leaderboards, of course, but the real fun came from hooking up with friends to do Hall of Meat challenges or talk a little trash trying to top each other in a Spot Battle.
But in the end, Skate 3's positive attributes just aren't enough to save it from feeling like an iterative failure. The series has been coasting on its fantastic engine, which still presents the most realistic videogame skateboarding, since its inception, but it's just not enough anymore. Without much positive innovation to give it momentum, it's becoming increasingly difficult to resist the temptation to bail out.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 retail version of Skate 3 provided by EA.