OverviewPlatform: Xbox 360
Two years after re-inventing the skateboarding genre, EA build on one of the most exciting sports games of recent memory.
EA Blackbox took advantage of a downbeat genre to release ‘Skate’ back in 2007; a critical darling which dumped arcade high-scoring gameplay for a more realistic trick-centric approach. Though the first game received oodles of praise for its innovative design, it wasn’t without some obvious flaws and Skate 2 does its best to eradicate most of them.
Story wise, Skate 2 continues a few years after the conclusion of the first game, 5 years to be exact, all passed away incarcerated in San Van prison. Upon your release your introduced to New San Vanelona; a similar but different urban sprawl built upon the ruins of the earthquake-ravaged former skatetopia.
The benefactors of this new city, MongoCorp, have made provisions to stop skaters from taking over New-San-Vanelona. Security Guards are more plentiful, grind-stoppers have been bolted onto rails and ledges and worst of all, most of New San-Vanelona’s pools are full of some nasty blue teleport liquid. So the premise is basically Saints Row 2 with skateboards in place of casual racism.
Like this review, the game introduces the story early on and never really touches on it in any meaningful way during the course of the game. So onto the important question, how does the game actually play? The good news is, Skate 2 is a pretty excellent sequel.
First of all New San Vanelona is simply the best skateboarding world we’ve ever played. Every area of the metropolis is littered with spots, gaps, rails and parks. Though the city still rests on a sharp decline, the hills are positioned further apart to induce you to explore more. Its larger too, with loads of hidden parks, alternative routes and dynamic areas which change as you progress through the story. As your notoriety in the skate world increases you unlock a number of contacts including some girl who drains pools, a guy who prises off grind-stoppers, and the number one In skateboard security; Mr Big Black himself (oh wait, there’s the casual racism).
Pacing has drastically improved also. Skate 2 embraces its open-world core by allowing much more variety in the sequence you approach the games challenges. Better still the variety and sheer amount of challenges on offer has been wildly improved too. These include street and vert competitions, downhill races, video and photo opportunities & location challenges, most of which are extremely clever in their execution. There really is a loads to do in Skate 2.
The repertoire of tricks on offer has opened up too. Skate 2 expands on the flip and grab trick-set with a selection of plants, tweaks and lips while the D-pad exclusively manages a selection of taunts & emotes. There’s still so sign of complex flatland tricks or dark-slides, but then again I’m sure this wont be the last in the series. Besides, you’ll spend most of your time attempting to hippy jump benches and cars.
The essential session marker from ‘Skate’ makes a welcomed return, allowing you to transport your skater back to a preset marker to attempt, and re-attempt gaps quickly. The issue in the first game was the area in which you could teleport back without incurring the wrath of the load screen. Thankfully the streaming world has been tweaked to allow much greater distances to be skated and transported back to instantly.
One unforgiving gripe many had with the first game was the inability to step off your skateboard. In Skate 2, a simple button press and voila, your walking…Daddy’s so proud. Unfortunately you walk like a 1920’s robot who can’t turn unless standing completely still or sprinting at terminal velocity. The mechanic works fine when you’re moving pieces of the game world around, which incidentally is one of the best new additions to the game, but is otherwise useless unless your stuck at the bottom of a stair set. Another new way of getting around is by sketching on the back of one of the any hundreds of cars meandering the streets of San Vanelona. Pulling away from the car can whip you across areas at high-speed for awesome high-speed trickery or awesome high-speed collisions.
That’s right, when you bail in Skate 2, you really bail. Most gameplay sessions involve a number of impressive tricks spaced in between YouTube type bone Ownage. The games ‘Hall of Meat’ feature makes sure you know just how much damage you’re doing, but it pales in comparison to how the engine makes every fall, snap and crunch almost too hard to watch. Skate 3: Limb dismemberment – you heard it here first.
Graphically Skate 2 has changed quite a bit also. The de-saturated look of the original has been dumped for an expanded colour palette. Texture resolution is sharper; the framerate can be glorious at times and the effects such as lens-flare and speed blur are fantastic to watch. In the same respect not enough can be said about the audio design. Wheels rumble, scrape and pop depending on the surface you’re moving across, wind rages pasts at high speed and ambient effects such as chatter, birds and cars give the city a tangible depth. The soundtrack is another skater-friendly playlist which stays clear of chart toppers in favour of hip-hop, soul and rock classics. It may not be as memorable as many other skateboard game soundtracks, but the music is perfectly serviceable.
Off the board Skate’s replay editor makes a welcome return even if its scaled back to force editing fans to buy a DLC pack. As ever you can upload your favourites to your EA account with mixed results. ‘Create a Spot’ allows you to create your own score-area with its very own online leader board. Friends and strangers alike can download these spots and compete to beat your score. As it’s totally based on community input, only time will tell if this feature picks up.
Online, the game takes more than one trick from Burnout Paradise. Freeskate activities are suggested and voted on by the gamers in the lobby, many are competitive such as ‘best trick’ contests, while co-op activities add flavour to proceedings. If this style of online is your cup of tea, there are hours of activities here that will help you burn away that midnight oil.
Fans of the first game will eat up Skate 2. It’s a safe but refined sequel that looses the chaff of the first game and expands on what made it great. If you’re on the fence or unfamiliar with the series, a quick playtest of the Xbox Live or PSN demo will be enough to turn you on or off. What’s sure is Skate 2 is so packed with features and stuff to do that it’s hard not to like it. EA Blackbox have delivered a polished, feature-packed experience that is not only the king of skateboarding games, but still the benchmark for innovation in any tired genre.