For many years, the Tony Hawk series of skating games pretty much had the market all to itself. In 2007, Black Box not only dropped a spanner in the works with their game Skate, but almost burnt the factory down. It sold by the bucket load and gamers lapped it up. Now in 2009 Black Box have release the sequel Skate 2: it’s time to ensure that medical insurance is paid up once again.
The player starts the adventure by creating their skating avatar. Building a character to suit your own image can be a lot of fun, so it was a bit disappointing to find that the options here are rather limited. The face-maker system from other EA published games are far more tweakable; much of what’s on offer in Skate 2 seems to have limited affect on the player’s appearance. There is plenty of clothes and bling to choose from though, even if some of these look stiff; the gold chain, for example, seems to sit oddly on the neck, rather than flow succinctly around it. From here it’s off to the city of New San Vanelona, and into the amusements proper.
The first few hours of the game act as an extended tutorial. This does give the appearance that there’s not really a lot to do, other than skate around completing the odd challenge. This is however far from the truth. Skate 2 gradually encourages the player to extend their skating credentials, by introducing the core game concepts at a not unreasonable pace. After the basics have been understood, and the initial video objectives completed, the game opens up to reveal quite a lush and rich map of waypoints and markers of interest. Not to the extent of say, Burnout Paradise, but certainly enough sandbox to make impressive castles. The downside of this is the story, what there is of it, lacks the driving narrative that urges the player from place-to-place through the game.
The challenges that are scattered about the city require the player to travel there under their own steam, in order to complete them. This is a great thing as it enables the discovery of new areas to skate in and own; there are a myriad of tests that require the player to score a set number of points, by performing moves on a piece on industrial furniture, and this is fun. Make no mistake though, Skate 2 is not without it’s level of frustration. Some of the goals are very hard to achieve – particularly when a sequence of moves are required, leaving very little pace or room to make that final flip or grab. Skate 2 necessitates doggedness determination.
Veterans of the first game will be able to jump right in to Skate 2 without much fuss. It is slightly prettier than the previous iteration, but certainly not evolutionarily so – in fact there is noticeably more slowdown in this digital environment, and there is still the odd ugly texture on display. Yet, when in the zone, and things are flowing along nicely, these criticisms really don’t matter very much. Leaping gaps, grinding curbs, performing grabs, all happens fluidly and give that smug, satisfying feeling when properly pulled off. This is largely down to the Flickit control system, and this is where Skate 2 excels.
At first it can seem quite awkward and clumsy, as many of the different tricks have very similar stick movements. There is the need to learn and practice both the direction shifts and the timings, but once mastered, judging the right strength to ollie on to a railing or bench for a grind becomes artful and easy. By building on these, it’s possible to pull of some complex and daring moves, it’s just a matter of persistence and patience.
These great controls regrettably don’t extend to moving the player about when off the board. Sometimes it is necessary to pick up your deck and wonder about the place on foot. Quite why the controls should respond like being sucked in to a sand pit is anyone’s guess. Turning when on foot takes forever, and the sluggish and awkward response really does start to grate, particularly when moving the furniture about the scenery.
Crashing, which happens a lot, has been given a bit of a twist in Skate 2. Whilst it is still irksome to have to restart from the beginning of a challenge the moment you mess up, general skating about the place before hitting the deck is rewarded with the PAIN system. It’s possible to control the way in which the skateboarder bails, earning cash from the number of bones crunched and broken – the nastier the better. The aim is to try and break everything eventually, as displayed in the Hall of Meat, meaning messing up isn’t as much of a mental trauma as it could be.
All of the skating heroic stunts, and bruising bails can be editing within the game and uploaded online to share with your mates. It is a bit of a kick in the balls however, to have to pay for the “Filmer Pack” DLC to get some of the more feature-rich aspects of this. As it is, there’s a perfectly usable, if basic, editor that’s easy to work and play around with. The videos uploaded by other gamers shows what can be achieved in the game, especially with some dedication and a wallop of raw talent.
Outside of the single player side of things, Skate 2’s multiplayer includes a cooperative element, presenting goals that can only be achieved with the help of a buddy or two. There are some really neat challenges here, such as having to grind the same rail at the same time, or get a set score without ever slowing down. This compliments the trick competitions and scoring battles seen in the previous game, but perhaps misses out on extending the Burnout Paradise concept of ranking every street corner or area of the city.
Whilst Skate 2 isn’t polished to a gleaming shine, sporting issues with the environment, both getting stuck on it and manipulating items within it, it is an accomplished game. The open-ended scope of these playgrounds, and the overall control the player has interacting with them, makes Skate 2 a lot of fun to play. So go quickly now, and find something awesome to grind on.