Long domination of the skateboarding sub-genre by the Tony Hawk licensed series came to a spectacular end when EA Black Box produced Skate. A refreshing new control system and different approach to point scoring made it – in many eyes – the best skating sim ever. The sequel: Skate 2 is now with us, but will it keep its audience interested without resorting to the incremental gimmickry that finally slayed THPS?
Unlike the ageing vert skaters that Tony Hawk’s titles parade year after year, the EA Black Box team selected some more up and coming, more ……cool skaters to use in their license. All of which are introduced in a brilliantly self-indulgent live action sequence at the start of the game. The presentation retains its rough-around-the-edges stylistic influences from the underground skate film scene and licenses from Thrasher and Skateboard mag are used to give it authenticity.
Career mode is set in New San Vanelona, the same fictional city first introduced to us in Skate, your character has just been released from a lengthy prison sentence. Possibly a reference to the tragic case of the real-life skater Ali Boulala (currently serving time for his involvement in a fatal motorcycle crash), possibly a convenient setting to have your character work his/her way back up the skateboarding ladder. A lot has changed whilst you were inside, security has been stepped and the city’s best spots have been capped by the man. Luckily your trusty cameraman has got your back and is going to help you get back in the game.
There are stacks of challenges to occupy you, but Skate veterans may get the feeling they’ve done it all before and are just going through the motions: sweet, addictive motions. I get the impression a little less love and attention has gone into the production and design of challenges, the most memorable of which involves doing stupidly big (ok, gnarly) drops to satisfy Danny Way’s insatiable blood lust. The majority are just extensions of what you could do in Skate, little creativity seems to have gone into the goal-setting and little is required of the player to accomplish them. Meeting new pro skaters who set challenges no longer induces an effective skate-vid style cut-scene, now, in Skate 2 you just get on with it.
The ‘flick-it’ control system was an innovative reaction to the frantic button-bashery of the Tony Hawk series and once again the perfectly balanced, calculated analogue movements require a lot of skill and is a pleasure to use. There are a host of new tricks to test your technique including: one foot airs, hand plants, foot plants and finger flips. These are welcome additions, the foot and hand plants in particular allow you bring some old skool style to your lines.
Arguably the biggest weakness of Skate was the inability to get off the board. This often lead to bizarre and frustrating encounters with curbs and steps that could block your progress. Thankfully in Skate 2 you are free to get off the board and walk to your heart’s content. Or as your in game cameraman/narrator puts it “We’ve learnt how to walk!”. Strangely enough the walking is clumsy to control, characters turn sluggishly and stutter slowly up stairs, almost as if after spending so much time on a board solid ground feels quite alien to the skaters. This, however, is of little importance as it serves as a means to access daring new heights, and to more easily direct your skater towards a choice line.
Having both feet on the ground means you are now able to grab, move and rotate objects around. Ramps, rails, dumpsters and picnic tables can be moved into position to help create that perfect line.
In fact, certain career mode challenges are only made possible by adjusting nearby obstacles in your favour. This usually involves moving an obviously placed ramp to aid your take off or landing, which feels slightly pointless and creates more down time between the action. This ability does become interesting in freeskate mode when used to move and tweak objects to create that perfect line or customize a particular San Van spot. These spots can then be uploaded to the ‘Create-a-spot’ library for others to try, a pastime surely, only for the devastatingly bored.
A noteworthy consequence of being able to dismount via ‘hippy jump’ is that the board continues to roll along and bump into objects without you, this opens the possibility to run alongside the board and jump back on, the online community have already captured some outlandishly unlikely sequences on the shared webspace: Skate reel.
New game mode ‘Hall of meat’ has been added, which involves bailing and causing the most severe injuries possible. Getting rewarded for watching your character rag doll off wince-inducing drops is a gleefully shallow but entertaining addition to the game. Whilst airborne you are able to form various body shapes, and make gestures for extra points. New San Van contains some bigger, badder drops which creates chances for more impressive tricks and more death-defying falls alike.
Graphics are largely unchanged from the original, wandering around the detailed New San Van is still a visually impressive experience. Exploring different regions reveals a varied colour palette that helps to give different regions their own atmosphere.
All the sound effects of a board rolling, scraping and stomping around a city are replicated brilliantly. The soundtrack used is less memorable than Skate’s but there is a still great selection of tracks that dare to be different but are still great to play to. Music dynamic is effected by proximity to good skate spots, a nice feature that shows off the games full sound-scape. Skate-lingo laden voice acting is often able to raise a smile and there is enough variety that the same sound bites won’t get on your nerves.
Overall the difficulty bar has been raised from Skate to ensure there is sufficient challenge for those who have already mastered the flick-it controls, but level of challenge can fluctuate wildly from first time successes to the incredibly tricky. Turn-based, trick-matching S.K.A.T.E mode makes an unwelcome return to the career mode where you have to perform a trick your opponent cannot match, five times. Waiting for computer controlled opponents to post a trick was a time consuming and repetitive task in Skate, Skate 2 sees the chore doubled when you have to take on two opponents in one round, this really should have been included for multiplayer only.
For online mutliplayer options: races, best trick jams, turn-based contests, co-op challenges and freeskate sessions are the order of the day. Major additions include the customizable create-a-spot and the hall of meat modes. At time of press hall of meat competitions involved taking it in turns getting off the board and jumping back on to trigger a physics glitch that launches your skater spinning into the air. Funny at first, but this mode does not nearly have the depth of skill or tactics to warrant sitting through five others players do the same thing and serves an amusing distraction only.
Fans of Skate will enjoying returning to San Van with a fresh set of challenges to knock down and will probably be set on buying Skate 2 anyway. Improvements are not really substantial enough to justify an entire game, more could have been done to create interesting goals in career mode and some challenges are unduly frustrating. Although this is an improvement on a truly innovative title this is probably the game Skate should have been and it just doesn’t quite have the spark second time round.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
New San Van looks crisp and detailed, character animations are excellent.
|How does our scoring system work?|
'Flick it' controls are, again, a triumph as are the new trick options. Career mode could have been made more interesting.
Varied sound track and highly realistic skating sound effects.
Loads of new challenges, endless filming possibilities.
A few key improvements in core gameplay, more of the same elsewhere.