Cruising down the sloping steeps of San Van, the dimmed rays of a shaded sunset tickling my face as I coast downhill. Bearings spinning, wheels turning, road hurtling past beneath me. Coming up to the ledge, I crouch, crouch, crouch and release! I am airborne, no more road, yet the wheels still turn. Racing towards the ground, I bend my legs again, taking the full impact. I roll away, satisfied...Well, I say "I", I really mean my character in Skate 2. The crux of everything above is to explain how immersive Skate 2 is. When you use the controller to send your board spinning, it feels real. When you experience the glory of landing a 900, it feels real. When you reach your tipping point in frustration and give up, it feels real. Skate 2, for better or for worse, has captured the essence of skateboarding. All of the essence.
The original Skate set out to remove the arcade feel that the Tony Hawks franchise had applied to skateboarding games, to restore the gritty reality behind skateboarding and faithfully portray skate-culture. In this, through its film-grained graphical style and vein-bursting difficulty, it succeeded. Well Skate 2's purpose was to improve on its predecessor, teach the old greybush some new tricks.
Ripping through the packaging like a frenzied beast, I practically threw the disk into my console out of sheer impatience to get skating. As in the first game, Skate 2 opens with an extended introductional short featuring all of the game's pro skaters. Decidedly reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption, I watched happily as the minutes ticked by. Knowing myself, I also know that I am not always one to sit through an introduction - or even a cutscene - but the original nature of Skate 2's enthralled me until the game began. Now, while this may seem a rather trivial feature to comment on, the introduction is what gives a gamer their first impression of a game's presentation and quality. After seeing a high quality intro, I am more inclined to think the game is made to a high standard, and that, I most certainly do.
After rushing through the menus, I wait for my new game to load. Notable in this sequel is that it has improved the loading times over the original, which used to take long enough for me to build my own skateboard and become X-Games Champion before I could grind a rail in the game. The introductory missions allow me to reacquaint myself with the control system and explain some new features, such as stepping off my board and moving scenery objects. After this brief detour, I am introduced to the basic mission types of the game in a wonderfully varied skate park before journeying out into the brand-Sacktapping-new San Vanelona.
The graphics, unfortunately, have not improved much over the first game. That is not to say that the game is ugly, far from it, but with the original setting a fairly high bar, it appears that Black Box have focused their efforts elsewhere when making improvements. One of these target areas being the 'skate-ability' of the city and all encompassed environments. Offering a wide selection of banks, roll-ins, verts, half pipes, fun boxes and rails, there is opportunity for every style of skating, evident from your first step out into the city. Black Box apparently decided they had made the game's environment too easily skate-able, as to counter your prolific advancement, they have introduced Mongo-Corp security men - stronger, better, faster versions of the security men in Skate - and small metal blockers on rails and grind spots to force you to think outside of the grind to complete your objectives. These, however can be removed. For a price...
Another area where Skate 2 succeeds is with its interface. The goals of current objectives are shown clearly, while the other graphical components look clean and layered over the glint of truck-metal in the sun and the bending of bones after a huge bail. On the subject of bones, a feature to return is the Thrasher Hall of Meat, a feature which is enhanced with a journal documenting your bail statistics and even leaderboards where the player can compare whose character is the most screwed up.
Certain animations in the game are fairly questionable and look as if they may have been added in late in the game's development. Most prominently, the off the board animations, including a jump which looks like someone who just got too angry with attempting to 360 Laserflip 3 stair-sets and is proceeding to stamp on the game. This leads me nicely, if not somewhat violently, onto my next point.
I explained at the beginning of this review that Skate 2 had captured the entire essence of skateboarding, and I wasn't lying. As someone who has done their fair share of real-world skateboarding, I can honestly say that Skate 2 perfectly replicates the frustrations experienced after nearly nailing a big trick or after slightly mistiming your ollie. I think that it is through its realism that the game manages to create its addictive factor, again as with real skateboarding, Skate 2 manages to pull you back even after frustrating the life out of you. It would be unfair to label Skate 2 a frustrating game, as it offers a great quantity of satisfaction when success is achieved, but it should be noted that to get good, practice is a requirement.
Skate 2's audio is fantastic, one of its stronger features. The sounds of skateboarding are captured to the greatest accuracy and the game supplies the noise that allows you to fully immerse yourself in truly shredding the concrete waves of New San Vanelona.
The roster of pro skaters is renewed and expanded, even featuring riders formerly featured in the Tony Hawks games, such as Eric Koston. With the impressive roster comes an impressively stocked shop, bearing all of the best gifts from the skateboarding world. It's licenses galore when it comes to shopping around for new kit and board with an army of major skating brands offering their wares for you to dress your virtual avatar with.
Impressively, Black Box have opted to go with a fairly simple character creation system, offering pre-set options and basic sliders to change facial features. While this may seem limiting, it draws the focus away from what is a very inconsequential portion of the game and points the player directly toward the skateboarding. The art that the game is trying to immortalize.
Finally on my specification for a good game is the soundtrack, and with Skate 2, Black Box have hit a winner. The enticing mix of the deep grooving beats of reggae, the whine of the electric guitar on the rock tracks, the contemplative hum of alternative, the rebellious leanings of punk and the purposeful rhythms of Old School hip-hop provide what has been labelled an "eclectic" selection of songs.
After everything, Skate 2 is skateboarding on the Xbox 360. That is the best way in which to summarize the massive achievement Black Box has made. Needless to say, as a sequel, it can never be counted as being as innovative as the original, but Skate 2 has taken the very best offered in Skate and ironed out most of the creases. Whether you're a skateboarder or a school teacher, Skate 2 offers the very best playgrounds in which to pop your board. And best of all, it offers them to everyone.
- Great soundtrack
- Rewarding gameplay
- Realistic representation of the sport
- Grizzled graphics
- Some jerky animations
- Liable to be very frustrating