Name: Skate 2
Genre: Sports - Skateboarding Sim
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Two years ago, EA introduced Skate, a skateboarding game that not only knocked Tony Hawk off the top of the video game skating mountain, but essentially re-invented the genre and changed the way we look at extreme sports games in general. As much as people loved Skate’s innovative flick-stick controls and zen skater philosophy, it was undoubtedly a game with issues. Many gamers wanted a bigger trick set and a city with more skateable terrain, and even more hoped for a better online experience. Pretty much everyone agreed, however, that being glued to your board was something that needed to change. Skate 2 aims to remedy these issues with a slew of new features and a new focus on fun.
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Skate 2’s campaign mode challenges players to rebuild their skating rep in a completely redesigned San Vanelona. Just like in the original, players will be challenged to win tournaments, beat pro skaters at games of S.K.A.T.E. (the game’s version of H.O.R.S.E.), and complete specific scoring and trick challenges throughout New San Van. Also returning are the Own-A-Spots, which now have an “Own-it” score to match, as well as a higher “Killed it” score for experienced thrashers. There are plenty of other side challenges that take advantage of the semi-celebrities within the game (Rob & Big), as well as tons of personal milestones to reach while just tooling around the city. These celebs and other skate pros advance you through the game’s story, which is really little more than a way to get you from challenge A to challenge B. The only story element that actually affects gameplay is the new company in town, MongoCorp. Between Skate and Skate 2, some manner of natural disaster decimated the city, allowing MongoCorp to come in, rebuild in their own style, and essentially declare martial law against skaters. By capping rails and filling pools, MongoCorp has put the brakes on skaters all around SV. Fortunately, with some help from friends (and a little cash), these hindrances can be undone.
When last we saw the fictional city of San Vanelona, it was a relatively realistic town with a few skateparks, a goodly amount of rails and the occasional launch ramp. This time around, SV is a skater’s paradise, with halfpipes, hubbas, funboxes and long rails incorporated into the design of almost every structure.
While the original Skate featured a few online modes, the experience felt tacked-on and unfinished, and constant netework issues made playing online nearly impossible. This time around, the technical issues have been remedied, and the multiplayer options have been expanded considerably. In addition to the familiar Spot Challenges and S.K.A.T.E. modes, Skate 2 features a ingeniously designed Free Skate mode where players can issue challenges to each other or even team up to complete area-specific tasks. In a brilliant pairing of online and offline play, Create-A-Spot allows players to mark certain areas in the city as challenge opportunities, then upload them for others to try to beat their best scores. The most notable online addition, however, has to be the Hall of Meat mode, in which players take turns hurling themselves from high ledges and other precarious spots to see who can inflict the most damage on themselves. It’s funny, entertaining an a great way to lose a lot of hours with friends online or handing off the controller in a living room. Editing and uploading videos of your highlights was one of Skate’s greatest features. In Skate 2, there are more camera options for replays, but none of the film filters that helped make videos unique. There have been rumors of new replay features coming later as downloadable content, but out of the box, Skate 2’s replay editor isn’t much of an improvement over the one found in Skate.
When it comes to controlling your skater, Skate 2 takes everything that worked in the original, and adds a few new moves and tweaks that effectively double the amount of tricks you can do. The game’s trademark Flick-it controls are entirely intact, though at times they feel a bit less precise than in the previous game. Handplants, footplants and step-off moves give you new ways to reach and interact with areas that would otherwise be unreachable. The ability to “skitch” on the back of moving vehicles allows skaters to get around the city quicker and hit speeds that were previously unthinkable. There’re a few other minor tweaks, like fingerflips and grind grabs, but by far the biggest addition is the ability to get off your board, walk around and move objects. The new mechanic makes stairways and grasslands less of an inconvenience, but the actual walking is handled terribly. Controlling your skater on foot is beyond clunky, utilizing a control scheme similar to that found in early Resident Evil games. Navigating off the board is in no way fun, but it’s serviceable for running up steps and, thankfully, you won’t have to do it very often. Creating new trick lines by moving ramps and rails can yield some awesome results, but the sloppy walking makes the feature less inviting than it should be. Other improvements, like the ability to set a spawn point in almost every game mode, give that extra layer of polish to an already tight package.
Upon popping in the game, the first noticeable change is in the visuals; specifically, the game’s color palette. The somewhat depressing desaturated look of Skate is gone, replaced with vibrant colors that bring your skater and the city to life. The unusually low camera from Skate has been moved up just enough that you can now see your board, your skater and the environment around you. You can even choose to view the action from a more traditional ¾ overhead view, making the game even more accessible to new skaters. Character models animate far more smoothly than before, and feature more detailed textures and higher polygon counts as well. Despite the decidedly improved graphics, the create-a-skater seems to have taken a step backwards. Customization options are slightly more robust this time around, but creating a skater that actually looks like you is more difficult. There are, however, female skater sin the game this time, and they look as good as, if not better than, their male counterparts.
Skate 2 may not have the jaw-dropping impact of its predecessor. It can’t. It is, however, a far more polished, robust and fulfilling experience than the original. The new features, even the flawed ones, only add to an already excellent formula, and the graphical and design changes to the city, along with the addition of a fully realized online suite, make Skate 2 a game with almost infinite replay value. Simply put, Skate 2 is almost exactly what we hoped it would be. Fans of the original will wonder how they ever played without the new game’s features, and rookies to the series won’t need to play the original to understand or appreciate this second iteration