For the third installment in EA's Skate franchise, the development team at Black Box has shifted its focus toward the team aspects of the sport. If you're anything like us, the first thought that crossed your mind upon hearing this was the idea that skateboarding has always been more of an individual pursuit. And while that may be true for some skaters, it's not the case for everyone--especially the wildly successful ones. As a continuation of the story from Skate and Skate 2, the third game has you at the top of the sport, with nothing left to do but take the recognition you've amassed with your own talents to start a brand that you'll then build a team around.
Let's be clear: You're not exactly playing the role of a cutthroat capitalist who is out to set the world ablaze with the latest mass-produced shoe line. No, Skate hasn't turned into a business management simulator by any means. Rather, you'll be using the custom graphics tool introduced in Skate 2 to create a logo and then go out to recruit some skaters to ride for your company. This works both online and off. Online, you'll play through the entire career in four-player co-op as your team builds its recognition around the city throughout the course of various story challenges. The deeper into the story you get, the more you'll see your logo pop up around the city on T-shirts, skateboard decks, and eventually billboards. Offline, it works just the same--but instead of human friends or people you've recruited through Skate's community tools, you'll be able to craft a squad of AI skaters.
You'll also be able to take the team that you and your friends put together in the Career mode into some more traditional multiplayer modes. A number of new competitive multiplayer modes have been added that pit two squads of four against each other. We played a handful of these, but our favorite was the 1up mode that had the two teams taking turns trying to best each other's scores within a set time limit. The twist, though, is that as soon as one out of the four people bails, his or her team's round is over. More familiar events, such as downhill death races and own the lot, have been tweaked to allow for team-based scoring as well.
Just as Skate 2 introduced a new repertoire of tricks over the original, Skate 3 will offer players an expanded roster of moves. None are quite as hefty as the ability to get off your board and walk up a set of stairs, but there are a number of new tricks that should give fans of old-school skating a nice, big grin. One of these moves is the darkslide, which is basically an upside-down boardslide. Pulling one off is as easy as kick-flipping into a slide and then hitting the right bumper just as your board is halfway through its rotation so that you hold it in place to slide wheels up. Then you use the right stick to flip back out of it at the end and ride off in style.
Another new move is the underflip. In real life, the underflip is a subtle, highly technical trick where skaters do a kickflip or heelflip, but they reverse the rotation halfway through and send the board right back to where it started. In the game, it's done by flicking the analog stick just as you'd normally do for one of these flip tricks (say up and to the right for a kickflip), but you turn that into an underflip by quickly moving the stick in the opposite direction of what you just did while in midair. It's not the most bombastic trick in the game, but it looks slick nonetheless.
A few improvements have been made to your off-board walking abilities as well. For one, your skater's movement on foot looks much, much smoother than the jerky, awkward walking animations in Skate 2. You don't seem to get hung up on the smallest curbs and ledges, either, which is certainly welcome. When you're off the board, you can hit the Y button to automatically set down the tail of your board on the nearest ledge for a quick and easy drop-in move. Like the other moves, this new ability isn't the most revolutionary, but it makes for a fun and potential-filled addition to your existing bag of tricks. For anyone intimidated by all these new moves, Skate 3 will be the first in the series to offer difficulty levels and a more simplified control scheme (which is optional).
Some of the other various additions to the series include a skatepark builder that lets you build and share your own customized skate spot. There's also a new community system that makes it easy to keep track of rival teams and recruit new teammates, as well as an expanded Hall of Meat mode. But most exciting of all is the fact that the entire game is set in a brand-new city called Port Carverton rather than a modified version of the original game's setting as we saw in Skate 2. You can expect to see more coverage on Skate 3 leading up to the May 2010 release.