By Stephen Heller
In 1999 Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was released and the world was set on fire. Never before had we seen such a display of button mashing, such a varied skillset, and ultimately the start of a influx of "X-Game" type titles. Soon after we had Dave Mirra's BMX, Matt Hoffman's BMX, and more Tony Hawk titles than you could kickflip into a 50-50 grind into. The years kept going, and the Tony Hawk formula of crazy runs, button mashing and totally unrealistic skateboarding began to grow stale. Sure it was a lot of fun, but we didn't know any better.
We skip to 2007, Tony Hawk Project 8 was the biggest and only Skateboarding title out at the time. EA Blackbox stepped up to the plate with their newest title, Skate. Skate totally re-invented the genre, boasting an innovative control system, a living breathing city for the player to roam in, and a focus on realism rather than button mashing. Skate was a near perfect title, and it paved the way for other games such as Shaun White Snowboarding, so to say that EA had their work cut out for them with their follow up Skate 2 would be an understatement. The good news is, they delivered!
Skate 2 picks up as your character is released out of jail, you hook up with Reda, your trust camera man as he shows you how much San Vanelona has changed since five years ago when you were put in the slammer. Instead of the Skate Utopia that it used to be, San Van is now riddled with security from the Mongo Corp, the corporation that was responsible for rebuilding the city after it was devestated after some horrible earthquakes. This is a skating game, so it's not going to win any awards for it's story, but it get's the job done. Skate featured the best intro movie I have ever seen to a game, so it was nice to see Skate 2 keep that tradition with another clever and genuinely funny introduction video. It goes to show just how passionate not only the developers are, but the multitude of celebrity skaters that are featured in the game also care about the game.
So once laughs have been had during the intro video it's time to hit the create a skater screen. The customisation is basic and to be honest, a little disappointing considering the amount of customisation that is available in other EA games. This can be overlooked as the player models are gorgeous, and there is enough options here to create a skater who resembles who you are in real life. The amount of accessories and clothes more than make up for it, and with the abillity to make your own graphics online and import them into the game, you will be changing your threads to keep looking fresh.
Now it's time to hit the streets and after your typical tutorial like challenges to learn the aspects of the game, you are off to free roam across the city as you please. The city is HUGE, you can go right to the tops of the mountains, right down to the ghetto streets of downtown. Across the whole city there are a multitude of "spots" to be owned, challenges to be completed and beautiful things to be seen. San Van is back and bigger than ever! You will find yourself getting lost in the culture of the areas, you can tell when you are skating in the well off part of a neighbourhood, it has distinctly nicer roads, nicer houses and nice dressed people walking around. This time round the city feels more populated, and there is a larger spectrum of different pedestrians so it feels even more diverse than the original. It's a nice touch and really makes San Van feel as real as Liberty City.
The controls are tight and intuitive, but don't expect to jump on here and be a master at the game. Skate 2 is best described as easy to learn, hard to master. The "Flick-it" control system fits the game perfectly, but in order to pull of that double Kickflip to Nose Manual to Nollie Heelflip is going to take some time, paitence and practice. Skate 2 is frustrating. Not in a way that detracts from the experience, frustration IS the expereince. Just like in real skating, you aren't going to nail every run first time, some challenges might take you a thousand times before you complete them. You will get into such a state where you are ready to throw your controller, but when you finally land that perfect run as sense of true accomplishment comes over you, you feel proud of what you just achieved and you feel like you can take on the world, until you begin the next challenge that is. This is why Skate 2 is such a unique experience, if you have the time and dedication to put into the game, it will provide one of the most rewarding experiences you are likely to gain this generation.
On the flipside some of the new features are a hinderence. While it's a great aspect to get off your board and walk around this time, the controls while off your board are rather stiff and to be honest terrible. Being able to walk off your board is something that was sorely needed in the title, yet the controls let the experience down, and more often than not you will find yourself trying to stay on your board as often as you can.
The trickset has been doubled this time round, featuring suck moves as handplants, one footers and the ability to control each foot and hand while in the air. This makes for some interesting combos and increases the depth of the game. The abillity to move objects in the game world to setup for some crazy gaps, or a perfect run is a fantastic idea, and you will find yourself creating some sick spots, which can be shared over Xbox Live with all of your friends.
The multiplayer aspect has been given a much needed overhaul, and now we are treated to a stable and fun online experience. Pick a spot and invite some mates and you will be free skating along. The game works well with minimal lag, and this is truly some of the best fun you will have in the game. In what seems to have become the fashion for online games such as Burnout Paradise or Shaun White, by hitting the select button you are taken to a Multiplayer menu where you can invite members of your game to compete in challenges and contests. This ramps up the competition and proves for some truly exciting gameplay, and is a fantastic new addition to the franchise.
Graphically Skate 2 is spot on, it captures the look and feel of a skater. Animations are fluid and realistic, bails look gnarly as hell and you will even notice sweat or blood appearing on your shirt, and cuts and bruises on your arms and legs. Player models are sharp, but what really stands out are the fluid shadows. Players will find themselves getting lost in the glare of the gorgeous red tinted sun, looking at the shiny monuments in the downtown district, and even getting caught up at some of the fantastic achitecture. Cars look dismal, but this is a skating game, we aren't here to look at the cars of the city, but the city itself looks fantastic. Frame rate is very rarely an issue on either the PS3 or Xbox 360 version, btu I did notice during my testing the Xbox version does run a little more fluently. This isn't a deal breaker as the PS3 version runs fine, so rest assured that some of the speculation about the lag on the internet seems to be false, at least from my experince with the game.
Skate 2 cannot be beat on the audio front, this is the most entertaining and realistic soundtrack I have heard in years. Each and every sound on your board sounds exactly as it should, right from the scrapes of a powerslide to the perfect 360 Pop-Shuvit. The voice acting is top notch once again, the bone snapping crunches make you wince in pain and the passing cars actually sound like they are right there in your lounge. Topped off with a fantastic soundtrack mixed with classic Hip-Hop, some staple Punk-Rock and even a bit of Rock, Skate 2 is truly an aural delight
Featuring more challenges than Barack Obama is going to face in his first term, a comprehensive and solid Mulitplayer experience, and ultimately some of the best fun you will ever have in a free roam city, there is no doubt that Skate 2 is offering some good value for money. You are going to have to practice to be able to complete some of the later challenges, and if you are a completionist and want every Achievement or Trophy, we'll be talking to you in a couple of years from now. Skate 2 is a hard game, but it needs to be to capture the real feel of the sport.
The Final Verdict
Skate 2 builds on a near perfect game, and manages to come out on top offering even more than the original. Featuring a real living and breathing city, backed up with an impressive online experience and gameplay that is near flawless, it makes you wonder where do EA take the series from here. Skate 2 is the ultimate skating game period. It is bursting at the seams with features and offers an experience that is unique to any other extreme sports game on the market. If you are a fan of the sport, or want to simply try something new, Skate 2 is well worth a Kickflip or two.