Skate 2 Review

Lee Abrahams

I think it is fair to say that Tony Hawk has dominated the realm of console skateboarding games for many a year, however, all of that seemed to change with the release of Skate. Here was a grittier, up and coming pretender to the throne and it has so far managed to pretty much blow everyone away. With sales to back up all of the hype it was only a matter of time before a sequel would be in the works (we are talking about EA after all) but would it be as carefully crafted or would it just be the first in a long line of games that would simply cash in on the originals success. There is only one way to find out and that is to get my hands, feet and knees dirty and bloody. Hopefully I won’t get ... board (I am sorry. I truly am).

EA developer Black Box, did a lot of things right the first time around so the main question here is; what can they do to make the game better? It is always hard to follow up on a great game but, after the beating they took last year, you can bet the next Tony Hawk game will be bigger and better than ever so it is up to Black Box to deliver. The beauty of games like this is that it makes unattainable sports look relatively simple. My own personal skateboarding odyssey ended at quite a young age, as a merrily rolled down a hill, realised I had no idea how to stop and then had to bail out as my board rolled under an oncoming car. The deck was buried (well, chucked in the bin) with due solemnity but my dream was pretty much in ashes. Let us hope that I have more success in the virtual world.

It is mainly about looking cool - like this.

The control system sees you using the right analogue stick in order to pull off moves as was the case in the first. This "Flickit" system is pretty intuitive but may be hard for newcomers to the genre to pick up at first; as a skateboarding novice I really did not know what the hell an ollie, grab or manual was. The game does provide a tutorial at the start to help break you in but for the most part you are left to your own devices, which for me was the main attraction. Here you can create your own skater from scratch and then set them loose on the city, with every trick available to you from the get go it simply boils down to you mastering them and pulling them off when you feel like it. The controls are tough to master at first as you will need to learn the right combination of the analogue stick and a variety of buttons in order to do what you want, plus you may often find yourself sure you were going to pull off one trick only to hit another. Though with enough practice you can pretty much do what you want, when you want. On the plus side, losers like me can also get kudos for bailing out of spectacular tricks too and there is a certain satisfaction to be had for breaking multiple bones.

One of the major additions is the fact you can now hop off your board and wander around should you so wish. This also ties in with the fact that you can move certain objects in order to set up obstacles to trick and grind from. While the idea is a good one the implementation is a tad lacking. Once off your board, your skater moves with all the grace of a cow on a unicycle and the camera doesn’t help matters. Moving objects is a neat trick but getting them to go where you want to is often frustrating. Put up with a bit of trial and error though and you will be able to set up some awesome skating opportunities. Fancy jumping over that statue? Drag a ramp over and make a go for it. Want to grind your way down the street? Drag over some rails and do just that. It allows for a superb range of freedom which really makes you feel like you can skate exactly the way you want to.

Josh estimates how many bones he'll break when this fails.

Whilst the freedom of the city gives you the perfect insight into the life of a skateboarder, the career mode seems to take that away somewhat. With an evil corporation ruling over the city it is up to you to save the day – by getting your picture on a magazine cover; not exactly the stuff of legends. The career takes the form of a number of challenges and goals that you'll need to fulfil in order to advance. The range of difficulties on offer is quite surprising but people who played the first title will probably have less of a struggle. Another neat ability lets you warp straight to your next objective via the map, which saves you skating over half the city to get there. As with the first game this might, in some way, spoil your enjoyment and diminish the experience but, for me, if you want to just skate around the city then you are more than welcome to do so at any time, so this just saves time for those wanting to progress the story.

The overall look and feel of the game is one of remarkable polish too, the skaters animations are amazingly fluid and aside from issues with the off the board camera there is barely a hiccup in sight. Some of the textures do leave something to be desired but it is nothing too serious and would not be enough to have you snapping your controller in half through rage (unless you operate on the shortest fuse imaginable). As you would expect with EA the soundtrack is spot on and all of the in game effects make you feel like you are just spending the day skating around your own neighbourhood. The whole experience just drags you in and makes you feel like you are the one cruising the streets and owning the spots.

The replay option has been spruced up a bit too with extra cameras letting you film your most audacious efforts from a number of angles before letting you unleash them online for all to see. For some reason EA have seen fit to remove special effects that were present in the last game, but if your skills are good enough do you really need effects to impress everyone?

Replay your awesome tricks, and destructive failures.

While the single player adventures are immense fun the online mode really stands out, a lot of the options are what you would expect in terms of the competitive nature of the game such as S.K.A.T.E, Best Trick or Death Race. My own preferred option is the Hall of Meat mode which sees players trying to outdo each other if terms of injuries, as even the worst of us can excel at that. The really interesting aspect of the game is the ability to create your own ‘spots’ in the main game and then upload them online for other players to have a crack at; it is a great addition and one that can see you and your friends try to out do one another in your own personal playgrounds. You can also just laze around in free-skate with your pals and take on any number of challenges with them should you so desire. The scope outside of the single player experience is pretty damn impressive and adds a good deal of longevity.

Looking down the achievements list is something of a mixed bag, but in a good way. There are plenty of points on offer for just following the story but players are also rewarded for going out of their way to pull off tricks in certain places or helping your fellow boarders out. Not to mention trying to damage yourself as much as possible, which is always fun. You should not struggle too much with any of the offline components of the game but once you step onto Live it is a completely different story. You will be required to complete all 149 free-skate challenges in order to get all of the points and some of them are decidedly tricky to do. Not to mention the fact that in order to complete the majority of them you will need a team of skilled players rather than going for it solo. It is more a case of time and effort than difficulty really, but throw in the fact you have to co-ordinate a number of people and you may get the feeling you have bitten off more than you can chew.

This game drew me in and never let go. As someone with very little experience of the genre I can honestly say that I was impressed, sure the game has not made great leaps forward from the original but as an overall package it is hard to find many faults. Being able to jump off the board was a good idea but could have done with a touch more refining to make it fit smoothly with the rest of the game but, that aside, this game will be a treat both online and offline. Perhaps not the best starting point for novices but veterans will lap this up.

EA seem to be the masters of a kick ass soundtrack and they do not disappoint. The sounds of the city are also top notch and once you start pulling off some tricks you will think you are actually there.

Your boarder looks superb and the animations are pretty slick. However, off the board things take a turn for the worse and if you look at things up close, the textures can be a disappointment..

The controls may be tough to master but once you nail a complex trick you will never look back. With a whole city as your playground it is hard to ever get bored.

This is what a skateboarding game should be. It has all the complexity you need but at the same time is highly accessible and, above all, fun. Be prepared to lose yourself.

A pretty decent list that will award you for story progression while at the same time allowing you to do your own things. The online challenges may prove trickier as they rely on you having a solid team to help out.

I thought that I would never get into a skateboarding game but thankfully Black Box have proved me wrong. This title is going to be tough to pick up for newcomers but if you persevere with the controls you will soon be pulling off tricks like a pro. I may never understand the lingo but I know fun when I see it.

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