For years the Tony Hawk franchise was the king of skateboarding games. With a plethora of titles spread across every platform available, and no competition in sight, it seemed as though its dominance would keep spreading for years to come. But competition is healthy; developers can no longer sit on their laurels and continue to spew out sequels year after year; they need to innovate and push the genre to its limits to keep the crowds coming in. EA Black Box did just that with their 2007 title, Skate. Its ground-breaking control system and realistic take on the skateboarding genre proved to be a huge success, and its sequel, Skate 2, looks to continue the trend. Does it succeed?
Before I answer that question, I feel a little history lesson is in order. If you’ve never played Skate before then it’s worth noting how different it is from the Tony Hawk series. Their philosophy was for big thrills and spills, creating an arcade experience that focused on massive combos and out-of-this-world tricks and stunts. Sure, it was fun, but it wasn’t what skating is all about. If you’ve ever watched any skateboarding videos, or are a skater yourself, then you know it’s not all about pulling off one hundred move combos, it’s about nailing maybe one or two tricks in quick succession and using your environment to pull it off. It’s about getting a big grind down a set of stair rails, or just making it over a gap. Skate embodies this realistic nature, and by and large it’s a much more rewarding experience when you nail that perfect line or pull off a particularly hard trick on your fiftieth attempt.
“The innovative Flickit controls remain at the heart of the game, and there’s now an overabundance of new tricks included in your repertoire.”Skate 2 is largely similar to its predecessor. Of course the innovative Flickit controls remain at the heart of the game, and there’s now an overabundance of new tricks included in your repertoire. Whilst the original focused on flip tricks, grabs and grinding, Skate 2 opens things up with hand and foot plants, no complys, finger flips and even hippy jumps, just to name a few. The sheer amount of moves you can pull off is overwhelming at times, and it’s here that the Flickit controls’ main fault lies. Pretty much every trick is mapped to the right analogue stick with other buttons, like the right trigger, allowing you to tweak these moves. This is fine when you’re casually skating around, but when it comes to certain challenges where you need to pull off a specific trick, it can get frustrating. There are so many moves mapped to the right analogue stick that slight adjustments in any direction will produce different results. You’ll be failing a challenge because you’re moving the analogue stick a tad too high for the particular trick you need to perform, and just trying to get the right movement can prove tiresome after you’ve bailed for the thirtieth time.
However, while this may be the biggest fault of the control scheme, it’s still a minor complaint when you consider how well it can work. Performing a basic kick flip has never been so rewarding, and it’s a compliment to the Flickit controls that it’s managed to remain just as refreshing and exciting as it was in the first game. If you’re a Skate veteran it’s easy to come into Skate 2 and begin owning the streets just as you were before. Only now it’s just a case of mixing in the new tricks into your repertoire. While it’s not the big change people were waiting for, the new tricks do fit in well; you’ll just need to adjust to using them, and remember to include them when roaming the streets.
The big new change this time around is the addition of actually getting off your board. Sadly, the controls are pretty terrible. I would call them tank controls, but it’s quite possibly worse than that. Don’t panic though, because it’s not all bad. While the controls may be horrendous, they prove useful for navigating to hard-to-reach places, and just mounting a set of stairs. The lack of a climbing button does hamper the experience when you can’t get over a four foot wall, but it’s much better to have them than not.
It’s gonna cost ya!One of the most popular aspects of Skate was the user created movies. At any point in the game you could go into the video editor and create whatever you wanted using different camera angles and effects, and then upload for everyone in the world to see via the game or Skate website. It’s back in Skate 2, but thanks to micro-transactions all of those cool film effects are gone unless you’re willing to pay for it. A disappointing turn of events when you consider it’s something that should really be included on the disc in the first place.Especially when it allows you to manipulate objects in the world. See a high wall you want to jump over, but can’t see a way of getting the height? Easy. Just grab that bench over there, move it into position, and you have a perfect launch platform. There’s a profusion of moveable objects scattered around the fictional city of New San Vanelona, all there for you to move around and create your own, unique lines. A lot of the challenges require you to position objects, so you better get used to it and the controls. Luckily they aren’t as bad as the other off-board controls – they’re actually quite easy; just go up to an object and you can easily grab it and move it in any direction, or even rotate it how you want. It’s intuitive and makes setting up your own obstacle course an easy task. The problems arise when you consider that they have virtually no weight. Skate 2 is primarily a physics based game, so it’s strange to see this big wooden ramp knocked out of position when some wannabe-skater crashes into it. It makes sense in terms of game design that they’re weightless when you’re required to move them around, but once they’re in place they should be bolted to the floor, per se. In busy areas you’ll constantly have to keep moving objects back into position as the busy streets tussle and turn them every which way and that.
It also makes some challenges harder than they should be. As you well know, in the original Skate, completing tasks was always a trial and error affair – much like real skating. You’d be asked to hit a certain rail whilst performing a specific trick, so it would often take many, many attempts. It was a rewarding system though. The sense of jubilation when finally nailing the line was a terrific experience, and it remains the same in Skate 2. The reason the moveable objects create difficulty here is that you never quite know whether you’re supposed to use them or not. For instance, one challenge required me to gap over a water fountain. It looked doable with a simple ollie, but there was also a set of ramps and rails pushed to one side. I figured that since they were placed precisely in that spot that it was pretty obvious that I needed to use them. So I set the ramp up and had tremendous difficulty making the gap. It was only after I took it away, and tried the gap a few more times that I accomplished the task. Skate 2 is already full of trial and error gameplay, so hinting that you need to use objects even when you don’t just adds to this because you never quite know whether to continue trying it with the objects, or scrap them and try doing it without. Telling you whether to use them or not may take away from the added strategy, but it’s better than not knowing whether you should continue on or try something different.
“Rather than improving your skater’s abilities, he’ll stay the same throughout the whole experience. The only one improving will be you.”The story mode could have also been improved upon. It remains strikingly similar to the first game with most challenges revolving around nailing tricks for magazines, shooting sponsorship videos, competing in contests, impressing pros and so on. I know there’s not a whole lot more you can do with skating, but it’d be nice to have a little more variety thrown in. You’ll spend the majority of your time shooting photos to get in both Skateboard Mag and Thrasher. It’s always built up that this is your main goal – and I would imagine it’s the same for any skater – but the outcome is a tad disappointing and anti-climatic.
The progression is still a firm favourite of mine, however. Rather than improving your skater’s abilities, he’ll stay the same throughout the whole experience. The only one improving will be you. It’s a brilliant way to progress as you know it’s all down to you. There are no upgradeable stats holding you back, it’s just personal skill. When you’ve played for a few weeks you really get a sense of how far you’ve come and it’s extremely gratifying.
Especially when your skater looks like you. Whether you’re male or female, both sex can be chosen here – although that’s really the only difference. Surprisingly the rest of the features are pretty slim compared to the first game, but there are still a bunch of clothing options to dress your skater however you want him/her to look as you get ready to hit the streets of New San Vanelona.
And it’s “New” for a reason. While there are plenty of landmarks you’ll recognise, there’s now a vast number of new locations as well. These are great, particularly the areas designed around gaining as much speed as possible. It’s an exhilarating experience blasting down a hill, pulling off tricks with little remorse for human life. Skate 2 does an exceptional job of conveying speed so that it never feels like you’re quite in control of your board. It‘s these new locales that are definite highlights, although, for you traditionalists out there, there are still plenty of classic skate spots to enjoy as well. The great thing about San Van is that it never feels like a game world. Sure, it’s built around skateboarding, with rails, empty pools, and the like, littered across the city, but it’s never so obvious that it couldn’t be a real city. It’s testament to the design, and definitely makes San Van a joy to explore. Sadly, the frame rate can slow you down though, especially when overlooking the city. It’s not as smooth as it could be, often dropping when there’s a lot going on.
The visuals aren’t a big step up from the original either. It still has a washed out look, but it fits the skateboarding scene, particularly when you consider that the game is always looking through the lens of a camera. The most impressive aspects are the little details. Your skater will now cut and bruise after bails, and his clothing will get dirty over time. It’s nothing big, but it is something you’ll notice that helps absorb you into this world, and get a feeling of the pain these guys go through.
“The animation throughout the game is outstanding.”And this is none more evident than with the new bailing system. The animation throughout the game is outstanding, but if there’s one complaint that was levelled against the original Skate, was that the bails looked a bit iffy. That has been rectified in Skate 2 as bails look just as painful as you would imagine them to be. It might not fit in with the realistic nature of the rest of the game but the Thrasher: Hall of Meat is an enjoyable and hilarious new addition. At any point in time you can chose to bail out, and then continue to pull off special moves whilst crashing through the air. These will earn you points to go along with the extra points you get for distance travelled, objects hit, bones broken, and so on. It turns into its own game as you try to find the best places in the city to hurl your skater to certain death. You wouldn’t think it’s possible, but Skate 2 actually makes bailing a fun experience, especially when you hear the gruesome cracking of bones all over your body.
A definitive aspect of the excellent sound design. Whether you’re just cruising down the street or flying face first into a vehicle, the sound just feels right. And the soundtrack is of similar quality – although some of the songs don’t lend themselves well to skating. As a collection, the soundtrack has a great mix of different genres and styles to please all, it’s just that some of them don’t really fit in with the skating culture. You might enjoy listening to them on their own, but they’re not ideal when cruising the streets. But really, that’s just nit-picking.
Skate 2 is an enjoyable romp through skating culture. It’s extremely similar to the first game, but the new additions here are a lot of fun, even if they contain some flaws. It’s not the huge step up people were waiting for, and it’s disappointing that some aspects weren’t fixed; but the Flickit control scheme has managed to feel just as fresh and exciting as before, and the plethora of new tricks are welcome. There just seems to be something missing.
Maybe it’s the fact that there seems to be a greater need to play through the story, rather than just skate around in your own time, that’s most upsetting. This was one of the best aspects of the first game, and it really captured the laid back, relaxing nature of skating. In Skate 2, this attitude seems to have been lost in the mainstream. You can now teleport to absolutely anywhere on the map, eliminating the need to explore the city. Sure, it‘s a handy feature to have when you just can‘t be bothered to traverse across the whole map, but a lot of the fun from the original was based around skating to your destination and getting to know the city whilst learning all the tricks on the way.
Regardless, Skate 2 is still a blast. If you’ve done all you can in Skate, then it’s worth picking up to extend your adventure. For newcomers, it may be better to try the original first and just spend time skating around and learning all the tricks on offer. Maybe it was because it was something new, but for me, the original Skate was a much more enjoyable experience. Skate 2 builds on that, it just can’t quite capture the magic. But don’t let that put you off, it’s a hard task matching Skate’s high expectations.