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 youíve never played Skate before then itís 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 wasnít what skating is all about. If youíve ever watched any skateboarding videos, or are a skater yourself, then you know itís not all about pulling off one hundred move combos, itís about nailing maybe one or two tricks in quick succession and using your environment to pull it off. Itís 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 itís a much more rewarding experience when you nail that perfect line or pull off a particularly hard trick on your fiftieth attempt.
ďThe innovative Flickit controls remain at the heart of the game, and thereís now an overabundance of new tricks included in your repertoire.ĒSkate 2 is largely similar to its predecessor. Of course the innovative Flickit controls remain at the heart of the game, and thereís 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 itís 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 youíre 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. Youíll be failing a challenge because youíre 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 youíve bailed for the thirtieth time.
However, while this may be the biggest fault of the control scheme, itís still a minor complaint when you consider how well it can work. Performing a basic kick flip has never been so rewarding, and itís a compliment to the Flickit controls that itís managed to remain just as refreshing and exciting as it was in the first game. If youíre a Skate veteran itís easy to come into Skate 2 and begin owning the streets just as you were before. Only now itís just a case of mixing in the new tricks into your repertoire. While itís not the big change people were waiting for, the new tricks do fit in well; youíll 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 itís quite possibly worse than that. Donít panic though, because itís 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 canít get over a four foot wall, but itís much better to have them than not.
Itís 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. Itís back in Skate 2, but thanks to micro-transactions all of those cool film effects are gone unless youíre willing to pay for it. A disappointing turn of events when you consider itís 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 canít 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. Thereís 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 arenít as bad as the other off-board controls - theyíre 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. Itís 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 itís 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 theyíre weightless when youíre required to move them around, but once theyíre in place they should be bolted to the floor, per se. In busy areas youíll 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. Youíd 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 youíre 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 donít 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 itís better than not knowing whether you should continue on or try something different.
ďRather than improving your skater’s abilities, heíll stay the same throughout the whole experience. The only one improving will be you.ĒThe 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 thereís not a whole lot more you can do with skating, but itíd be nice to have a little more variety thrown in. Youíll spend the majority of your time shooting photos to get in both Skateboard Mag and Thrasher. Itís always built up that this is your main goal - and I would imagine itís 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, heíll stay the same throughout the whole experience. The only one improving will be you. Itís a brilliant way to progress as you know itís all down to you. There are no upgradeable stats holding you back, itís just personal skill. When youíve played for a few weeks you really get a sense of how far youíve come and itís extremely gratifying.
Especially when your skater looks like you. Whether you’re male or female, both sex can be chosen here - although thatís 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 itís ďNewĒ for a reason. While there are plenty of landmarks youíll recognise, thereís now a vast number of new locations as well. These are great, particularly the areas designed around gaining as much speed as possible. Itís 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 youíre quite in control of your board. ItĎs 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, itís built around skateboarding, with rails, empty pools, and the like, littered across the city, but itís never so obvious that it couldnít be a real city. Itís 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. Itís not as smooth as it could be, often dropping when thereís a lot going on.
The visuals arenít 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. Itís nothing big, but it is something youíll notice that helps absorb you into this world, and get a feeling of the pain these guys go through.
ďThe animation throughout the game is outstanding.ĒAnd this is none more evident than with the new bailing system. The animation throughout the game is outstanding, but if thereís 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 wouldnít think itís 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 youíre 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 donít lend themselves well to skating. As a collection, the soundtrack has a great mix of different genres and styles to please all, itís just that some of them donít really fit in with the skating culture. You might enjoy listening to them on their own, but theyíre not ideal when cruising the streets. But really, thatís just nit-picking.
Skate 2 is an enjoyable romp through skating culture. Itís extremely similar to the first game, but the new additions here are a lot of fun, even if they contain some flaws. Itís not the huge step up people were waiting for, and itís disappointing that some aspects werenít 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, itĎs a handy feature to have when you just canĎt 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 youíve done all you can in Skate, then itís 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 canít quite capture the magic. But donít let that put you off, itís a hard task matching Skateís high expectations.
Eight out of ten