When EA announced it was making a bid for the skateboarding genre back in 2007, most gamers scoffed at the idea that the mega-publisher could overthrow the juggernaut that was the Tony Hawk series. Much to everyone’s surprise Skate went on to outsell Activision’s popular franchise two-to-one and introduce gamers to a whole new way to enjoy the genre. Skate took a more realistic approach and hooked gamers with a smooth control scheme and simplistic goals to achieve. The end result was a fresh take on the skateboarding game that was long overdue.
With the sequel Black Box has left well enough alone and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel instead focused on complaints gamers expressed about the first entry. Skate 2 is like a greatest hits compilation of everything that made the original so good combined with a few new tracks for the fans. It might not be as fresh as you had anticipated, but if you enjoyed the original game there is plenty here to warrant taking another trip to San Vanelona.
Probably the biggest separation from the Tony Hawk series and Skate were the way the controls were presented. Instead of inputting combos via buttons Skate proposed the method of making the right analog stick control your feet and perform every trick in the entire game. Skate 2 continues this trend with the same Flickit mechanics as the first game while adding a few new tricks into the repertoire. You can perform hand plants, hippy jumps and even grabs during grinds. For the most part these new additions are fine, but overall not a necessity.
There is one new move that does change things up substantially and that is the ability to get off your board and move around on foot. This allows you to easily move up stairs and around objects as well as manipulate the environment to create some sweet lines of your own. Moving objects seems simple enough and for the most part it allows you to create some great spots for tricks or my favorite: wipeouts, but it is also marred by some of the worst controls I have come across in a while. You would imagine making a character walk around the environment would be second nature this day and age, but walking around the streets of San Vanelona is an absolute chore.
Your character will stick to certain walls and trying to find just the right angle to grab a moveable object can require more precision that the trick system. It is disappointing that such an imperative feature is blemished by a poor control scheme. After a while you will grow accustomed to it, which is good considering all you can accomplish while on foot. Skate 2 introduces what is known as Create-a-Spot that allows you to take various objects and make a small section of the world your very own. Bringing up the editor allows you to set the trick spot, and then you bust out your best line and set the score. Once completed you can upload it to the web and share it with the world.
The career mode also makes a comeback for Skate 2, and much like the first game it feels more forced than anything. The intro shows your character being released from a five year vacation in prison. Apparently you tried to skate somewhere you shouldn’t have and ended up paying for it dearly. Once out of prison you get a chance to customize your rider (you can choose female now if you desire) and then the game dumps you into the massive playground known as New San Vanelona. The narrative is pretty meager offering up very little in the way of storytelling, which is fine because it keeps the focus on the important part: skating. There is also very little structure behind the career mode as you will quickly learn. Most of the game consists of skateboarding, earning some cover shots, keeping away from security and making new connections and friends. Skate 2 fits its name more so than just about any other game ever conceived except perhaps RPG Maker.
Of course the idea of skateboarding lends itself more to a social experience and thankfully Skate 2 has upped the ante with its online components. There are a bevy of multi-player options that allow you and up to five other players compete in a host of events. These range from standard trick competitions to races to the new Hall of Meat mode that scores you based on how good you can make your skater writhe in pain. All of these modes offer experience for you boarder as well as cash that can be used to further customize your virtual self.
There is also a freeskate mode that allows you to jump into various sections of the city with other skaters and perform co-op challenges much like those found in Burnout Paradise. The parallel between these two games is uncanny and fans of the open-world style of play will find plenty to enjoy with Skate 2’s online offerings. In our playtests the game ran relatively smooth on both Xbox Live and PSN regardless of which mode we were playing. It is worth noting however, that there are numerous glitches as of the time of this review so expect to get frustrated from time to time until you find a good group of players.
Visually the game is impressive, but it does suffer from frame rate issues that tend to hold it back. The brightest spot is by far the animation system. Unlike Tony Hawk’s stiff transitions Skate does an amazing job of recreating a realistic look and feel between the boarder and his ride. When it comes to the world of San Vanelona everything has a sort of gritty overtone that manages to work. There are certainly some poor textures to be found, but considering the size of the game it is forgivable. The frame rate suffers during random periods and even with an install to the HD on the 360 the game still manage to chug from time to time on both systems. The music is reminiscent of the first game offering a wide assortment of hip-hop and rock tracks from the likes of Public Enemy and even the speed rockers Dragonforce.
Skate 2 is a well-crafted experience that fans of the original are sure to love. If you never managed to grasp the right stick control scheme this sequel is not going to change your opinion of the series. However, if you have been on the sidelines for a while and have never checked out EA’s alternative to the Tony Hawk monopoly now is the best chance to dive in. The game prides itself on simplistic controls and a focus on skating rather than performing inane tasks and worrying too much about a tacked-on narrative. Skate 2 continues to up the ante for genre forcing Activision to really step up for the next chapter of Tony Hawk.