Welcome to Best of Xbox Game Pass where each week I’m going to pick out a game available on Game Pass and explain why I think it is worth playing. While I’ll certainly include some of the bigger titles available on the service, I’ll focus more on other games that you might have overlooked in the hope of leading you to a hidden gem.
Ideally, I’d be recommending Skate 2 here, easily the best of the skateboarding trilogy published by EA. But sadly Game Pass only offers up Skate 3, which while still good doesn’t have Skate 2’s excellently designed open world. Don’t let that put you off, though, because Skate 3 is still excellent, regardless of whether you know your kickflips from your heelflips. Let me tell you why.
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Tony Hawk games dominated my early years, even though my interest in skating only extended as far as cruising around on a board occasionally and never once even managing to pull off an ollie. Myself and skateboards have roughly the same relationship as whales and desserts; probably best not put together. But skateboarding videogames were a whole different story, and the Tony Hawk series appealed to me on just about every level. There aren’t many games I claim to be great at, but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 are amongst the few I’d say I’m bloody good at. And then EA came out with something different: Skate, a whole new take on skateboarding in videogames. Suddenly, Tony Hawk had competition.
Skate’s control scheme has you flicking the right stick to pull off ollies, kickflips and every other trick in the game. An ollie is as simple as pulling back on the stick and then flicking it straight up. A kickflip is the same, except on the upwards stroke you push the stick just a touch off-angle. Grinds are handled simply by the way you land on a rail, wall or curb. In the original Skate I found this a nightmare at first; coming from Tony Hawks games I couldn’t even ollie up a curb and ended up quitting the game entirely in a fit of rage. It took me weeks before I went back and patiently retrained my brain to Skate’s unique way of handling a board. It was worth the effort, though, because once you get good at Skate you feel like a king. The control system that once felt weird becomes intuitive and natural.
While Skate doesn’t go as completely over-the-top with its physics as the Tony Hawk games, it’s still fairly arcadey. Skate 3 in particular can let you get away with some spectacular stupidity, especially as you learn the ins and outs of how it will try to automatically twist you into wall rides and such. But there’s a hardcore mode if you felt like something more challenging, tweaking the physics to be more unforgiving, taming the speed and being far less generous ollie height.
The singleplayer story mode is worth playing and is enjoyable in its own way, and features a bunch of real-life pro Skaters, plus Jason Lee (former professional skateboarder) of My Name is Earl fame. But really, the best way to play Skate is to just head out into the open world and look for cool stuff. Via a simple button combination, you can drop a session marker wherever you are which lets you instantly teleport back to it whenever you want. By sticking one at the top of some stairs or at the start of a long run you can simply let yourself enjoy the challenge of nailing a cool gap, specific trick or a complicated combo without all the faff of getting back to the start when you inevitably plough into a car.
Some of the best times I’ve had with Skate has been handing the controller back and forth between myself and my best friend, challenging each other to try to land an awkward jump or find new ways to hit a line we found. But when playing solo there’s a zen-like quality to Skate 3. There’s no pressure to do anything except the pressure you put on yourself. It’s a nice game to play while you listen to a podcast or an album. I often wonder if this is what skateboarders love so much about their chosen hobby, the mix of chilled out riding, coupled with those moments where you push hard to land something tricky.
And nothing beats that wonderful sense of elation when you barely manage to land a trick in time, making it look smoother than the Rock’s shiny bald head after he’s waxed and polished it. Even failure brings a little joy thanks to the ragdoll physics and meaty audio making every crash and bail a proper wince-worthy moment. God, the clank of your skater’s customised head hitting a metal pipe will probably make you cringe and grin at the same time. I’ve honestly had some hilarious bails in Skate 3 that had me cracking up.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a director there’s a decent suite of video editing tools to play with as well. While the controls can be a little cumbersome and the options aren’t all that advanced, there’s still enough there to create some great little montages. Check out this video for an idea of what can be done with it.
There’s also a heap of park creation tools so that you can spend time designing your dream skate park, and there are heaps of awesome parks to download. Despite the age of Skate 3, there’s still an active community keeping it alive.
It’s a bit of shame that the developers never did manage to get the hang of letting players walking around, mind you. You can jump off your board and even climb a little bit, but it’s more cumbersome than attempting to lead a bull that’s just been castrated around a china shop. Thankfully most of the missions don’t rely too heavily on walking around. You can even drag objects like tables and rails around to make better lines, but that’s like trying to get the bull to walk backwards through the china shop.
While games like Session and Skate XL have carried on some of the fundamentals that Skate introduced, we’re finally getting a true sequel in the form of Skate 4. Not a lot is known about it, though. It was announced in 2020 without even so much as a sneak-peek at gameplay, so presumably, the game is a long way off yet. For now, then, Skate 3 on Game Pass is the easiest way to see what made the Skate games so special, and I highly recommend giving it a go.