Make a wish (make a succotash wish), check yourself, and ask “what’s the matter man?” if you’ve never played this game.
Sometimes it’s better to just give up the ghost than to drag out a foregone conclusion: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is a fantastic game worthy of a 10. You know it, your granny knows it, even your little dog Fifi knows it. It a legitimate contender to “best sixth-gen game ever” and to go through this review otherwise, blithely going, “Ooh, wonder how this game’ll turn out?” does it and its fans a massive disservice. However, just because we know “what” doesn’t mean it answers “why”.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was a revelation. The first game was stunning, and for a new generation of kids oblivious to the likes of Tony Alva and the Lords of Dogtown, it put skateboarding on the map. Yet, it had its fair share of flaws such as uncertain level design (it hadn’t quite decided between open or downhill stages yet) and a lack of opportunity for big combos. Activision and Neversoft refined the formula with the addition of the manual (a sustained trick performed by putting all weight on one axle of the skateboard which allows a skater to continue moving: this allows tricks to be linked and thus achieve those big combos), settling on open skate parks, making the engine even smoother to use, and, most notably, including a fantastic licenced soundtrack. The sequel was indeed an achievement: as such, if you’ve never played Pro Skater 3, imagine how good a game could possibly be if it dwarfs even this masterpiece.
Pro Skater 3’s engine is as silky smooth as you could possibly find for any sporting game, extreme or otherwise. The ultimate end-goal of any game type in Pro Skater is to rack up lots and lots of points, and this is a breeze here: chaining together grinds, manuals, flips, grabs, and special tricks is only inhibited by how fast you, the player can put them all together and create a “line” to skate on within your chosen stage. Higher levels of play become all about forming up these lines and thinking ahead: “I can ollie up to this ledge to start my combo, ollie off, manual to the downward facing rail, and do a special grind on my way down!”. These will rack up big points, and thanks to the refinement of the manual and the addition of another “joining” trick, the revert (a trick that lets you continue your combo after getting air in a QP: you’ll fly up into the air, hit a trick, and then revert, which counts as a trick and will allow you to manual into the next one, allowing for essentially infinite combos as you combine any mix of flips, grinds, grabs, specials, manuals, and reverts) and the refinement of the established manual. However, don’t be fooled: just because the fundamental “joining” of tricks is easy and addictive doesn’t mean the game won’t require a lot of you: there’s a steep learning curve as you try to master the tricks in the virtual world, which comes by a lot of frustration: your first few times playing the game might be anger and expletive-filled, but getting to true grips with Pro Skater 3 is tense and orgasmic, and once you “get it”, the joy of smooth skating is unmatchable to most experiences you can buy in gaming.
The Tony Hawk’s series, and this includes any epoch, be it Pro Skater, Underground, even American Wasteland onwards, has always had stellar level design, but the peak of all the games as a whole is this one. There is not a single bum stage in this game: from the grind-heavy competition area of Rio to the downhill-inspired Airport stage (a rare callback to the original game and a real refinement of the downhill stage format, doing it better than ever before), every stage is a winner to skate in. There’s ample opportunity for you to create your own lines within levels, so you’re really only bound by your imagination, which is another layer of this game’s appeal. Everything’s open – you’re not forced into playing Pro Skater 3 one set way. You’re free to rack up combos as you desire, and this only serves to make this game all the more compelling – as “runs” are done in a 2-minute format, gameplay is bite-sized, meaning you will never feel yourself getting bored – you will lose entire nights to this game.
Pro Skater 3 provides a top selection of skaters, both real and fictional. The game’s been out for 15 years at the time of writing, so nobody in the world should cry spoilers: as well as having a full complement of the world’s top skaters circa 2001 such as Steve Caballero, Chad Muska, and Rodney Mullen, who literally invented the ollie, as well as a host of fictional characters like Darth Maul, Wolverine, Officer Dick, and the Neversoft Eyeball. Conspicuous by his absence is Bob Burnquist: Bobby B was sadly contracted to be in the much lesser X-Games Skateboarding that year, meaning we’re left with a little less Brazilian magic in this iteration. That aside, the character selection is a testament to how far Neversoft went to please fans – there is literally something here for everyone, whether you’re a hardcore fan of the skating subculture or you just enjoy the fun of the games. Neversoft’s trademark sophomoric humour is embodied here with the appearances of Private Carrera and X-Ray: the former an attractive bespectacled teacher, the latter a skeleton. What makes this game so lovely is that it’s extremely tongue in cheek – every level is packed with gags, such as a poor chap called Chuck who gets his tongue stuck to a frozen pole in Canada. The solution is, of course, to grind on it. It’s broadly gross humour (characters included) but the package together is oddly sweet and even more enjoyable.
How could anyone review this game and never mention the soundtrack? It’s sacrilege. Pro Skater 3 has a soundtrack that is fantastic when experienced within the bubble of Pro Skater 3. There are some actually excellent additions; from the rock stylings of Motorhead (‘Ace of Spades’), and Ramones (‘Blitzkrieg Bop’) to more modern choices that stand up to the classics, such as Rollins Band (‘What’s the Matter Man’), Guttermouth (‘I Want to Destroy the World’), and CKY (’96 Quite Bitter Beings’). These all make for excellent choices as they fit in with the punk undertones of skateboarding as well as just being actually outstanding tracks to listen to – your musical tastes will expand after playing this game. However, the game contains a couple of tracks that sound great within the game (and thus doesn’t affect the review since this is all that matters) but are just limp and lacklustre if you visit them in your own time. This extends to Zebrahead’s ‘Check’ which is unintelligible garbage, and House of Pain’s ‘I’ma Swing It’ which just feels lacklustre and lame against the more credible hip-hop selections of Xzibit, Del the Funky Homosapien, and KRS One. Still, as a package, Pro Skater 3 may have one of the best licenced soundtracks out there, which is saying a lot, as its competitors are members of its own series; it’d be nice to sit and talk skating and music with Neversoft for a few hours.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pro Skater 3 is its deceptive depth. You might think the career mode in this game is easy: “it only has nine levels!” As with many things, this is only correct to an extent. There are only nine levels for each character, and with all unlockable characters factored in, there’s 25 separate “careers” to do, in which you’ll have to complete nine tasks on each level – collect S-K-A-T-E, get a high score, and other strange goals related to the levels theming; cause an earthquake in Los Angeles, for instance. Getting everything done (once you get to grips with the controls and the art of scoring mega combos) will take about an hour and a half for each character. Do the maths on how long that’ll last you. This isn’t even considering the custom parks you can construct, the (sadly dead) online play, or just the idea that this game is perfect to play with friends. If this game were not part of a yearly release cycle, it could have lasted well past 2002 right into the release of Underground. There’s so much to do and so much fun to be had.
This game is, simply, as close to perfect as a skateboarding game can get, and the perfect “converter” for non-believers. Just be careful about playing this game; you may forfeit your life, partner, and social obligations if you get too close to the flame. Reports have indicated that people hooked this game have weaned themselves off by getting on heroin as it’s simply less addictive.
Verdict: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3? Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 10, more like.