I played Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 for the DP Challenge this weekend. This game recieved a 93.46% rating on Game Rankings.com and a 97 metascore on Metacritic bringing it in at #3 on my top 100 list of games for the PS3, PS2 and PSP. Grand Theft Auto IV and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves are ranked one and two, respectively. To put this in perspective, Fallout 3, 2008's Game of the Year, comes in at #47. Fallout 3 only received a metascore of 90. LittleBigPlanet, another 2008 Game of the Year, comes in at #7 on the list, receiving a metascore of 95. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 didn't win Game of the Year in 2001, although, it did win for Best Sports Game.
I wasn't blown away by Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. The gameplay was smooth. It offered a ton of options for customization and a multitude of unlockables. It has a blistering 60 fps framerate, which, even by today's standards is amazing. BUT, it's not graphically amazing. It might have been in 2001 when it was released. It's not now. Consider the realistic graphics of games such as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
The music in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is rousing and fun and it does a great job at establishing pacing in the game. But, I can play The Ace of Spades on Guitar Hero. It's not as if it has an original score. The tutorial and manual seem to assume you've played before or that you know a thing or two about skateboarding. I didn't. For me, then, the gameplay wasn't intuitive, either. So, I didn't get it. What made this game so great that it hasn't been knocked off the top 10 list of great games on three systems?
I went to look at what the reviewers had to say. Overwhelmingly, I saw the same things over and over. Reviewers liked the soundtrack. Even though it only had one new move, it compared well to the other 2 games in the franchise and the Tony Hawk franchise was popular. Finally, they loved that 60 fps framerate. Some liked that the board was picked up by the player. I agree, that was a nice touch. Some liked that you can skateboard on literally every surface. That is amazing and I'm sure it was no easy technical feat. Is that all it takes to wow reviewers? Have we become so advanced in creating audio-visuals that reviewers just can't be amazed anymore?
What makes a game great? Clearly, better audio-visuals aren't the answer. A game can be pretty and be boring or frustrating to play. Some games just aren't fun, no matter how pretty they are. Re-playability is one answer. A game that keeps you coming back for more is a great game. If it wasn't, you wouldn't come back. Is it the story? Some games are fun even if the story is simple or almost non-existent, but a game that combines great gameplay with a story is more engrossing, isn't it? What about polish? A game that is technically amazing and relatively bug-free is less frustrating to play. User Interface might also top the list for some people. A game should give you ease of control almost seamlessly and great camera angles so that you can see what you're doing. And shouldn't originality count for something? I know that original IP's don't necessarily do well. Franchises sell. But, we're not talking about what sells. We're talking about great games. Innovative play is great.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is probably a great sports game. I can't judge it on that, because admittedly, I don't usually play sports games. It is not original now. It was in 2001. It's story is simplistic. The controls have a decently high learning curve, although I'll concede that this does give the game it's fun challenge level. It's not graphically stunning and the music isn't original. I'm not saying that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 isn't a great game. I AM saying that we've certainly seen better games since 2001, but reviewers aren't rating them as high. Why?