In a genre that has long been dominated by the Tony Hawk series, EA’s Black Box studio created an impeccably presented and technically outstanding alternative skateboarding game that reportedly and impressively outsold the competition, ‘Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground,’ by almost two to one. With the second game in the Skate series due to hit stores on January 19, there comes with it high expectation that it will improve on the solid foundations laid down by its predecessor. Whilst Activision remain tight-lipped on a release date for its next dose of Tony Hawk’s action, Skate 2 comes grinding into the New Year unchallenged and with high hopes that it can lure in as many skateboard-loving fans as possible with its big feature set, technical prowess and sharp visuals.
Hawk should be worried. The future is looking extremely bright for the Skate franchise. In Skate 2, it’s not a bad thing that the gameplay feels instantly familiar, with the right-analogue stick-flicking control scheme making a welcome return, but the series also makes great strides in its second outing thanks to an enhanced control scheme, that allows for substantially more trick variety, and a whole host of new customization options and user-generated content that should extend its replay value well into 2009.
Despite the fact that Skate 2 offers more variety in its gameplay than a KFC Big Box Meal, with choices galore at your fingertips and a more complicated control system to boot, the fluid and technically strong gameplay that we enjoyed in Skate hasn’t been compromised one bit, far from it. Skate has been improved on and its sequel is shaping up to be a worthy successor that looks set to thoroughly entertain old and new fans alike.
Skate 2 returns to the cluttered streets of a radically re-designed San Vanelona, which has undergone a significant transformation following a series of devastating earthquakes. Along with a visual makeover, the politics on the streets have also changed dramatically and now a rather nasty corporation, known as Mongocorp, has cracked down on skateboarding and outlawed it in certain areas of the city, where cops and security guards keep an eye out for your board flipping exploits. Whilst Pedestrians go about their daily business, which you can enjoyably interrupt with entertaining effect (watch out for passers-by armed with tazers), you can jump on your skateboard and partake in dozens of challenges by follow the main story mode as a skater who is trying to resurrect the skating scene in New San Vanelona. Do this by taking part in a series of photo and filming challenges, as well as sponsored events so that you can raise money and earn influence across the city.
Alternatively, you can branch off from the main mission and enjoy a number of other activities, including race and trick challenges; throwdown events, where you compete for cash against the pros; or street and vert contests. Don’t like to be restricted by rules? Well, you can simply free-roam across the city taking in the sights, including new areas such as the glistening waterfront, or the wooded mountainous region, as you use handily-placed architecture to get to grips with some of the new moves the game has to offer. This includes the likes of hand-plants, hippy jumps and the highly entertaining skitching maneuver (the act of hitching a ride on the rear bumper of a car).
Aside from the skating challenges, there’s also plenty of optional side quests, for example, you can meet up with Rob Drydek, where you are tasked with creating some films using his special blend of comedy and drama. There are also services that you can hire to counteract the crackdown on skating, such as calling in Sammy who will happily drain any pool or fountain with water in it, or Mickey who removes any caps that have been placed on rails by the authorities. We’ve only just brushed the surface here, but there’s more than enough content in Skate 2 to keep you busy for a long time.
The fact that you can now walk and explore locations on foot has also opened up the opportunity to jump into ‘Create-a-Spot’ mode, a brilliant addition to the series that allows you to hop off your board by pressing ‘triangle’ and drag objects, such as ramps, benches, picnic tables and rails across the environment to create your own skate lines. By jumping off our board, walking up to objects and pressing ‘R1’ we were able to place objects practically anywhere across the city and use them in conjunction with existing ‘nailed down’ street furniture in order to create multiple objects to trick off. Once you set your skate line you need to set a score for the course and you can then, if you wish, upload it to the servers so that the Skate community can try and beat your high score. If they do, they’ll own your track. Not all objects can be moved in the city, but there are more than enough to ensure that they'll be some challenging skate lines created and some fierce competition in the online arena.
There are also a number of challenges where moving objects in the environment comes in extremely handy. What better way to achieve a high score trick challenge than by moving objects around to create the perfect skate line? In one objective that we completed, we met up with Danny Way and followed him around some of the craziest spots and drops across the city where his challenge required us to creatively use movable objects to discover secret paths.
Aside from the wide variety of objectives offered, user-generated content and customization plays a big part in Skate 2. Not only can you now customize the look of your skater before you hit the streets, but by using a web-based graphics editing tool you can go a stage further and personalize the skater by creating your own graphics, which can then be imported into your game profile. This gives you the freedom to change the look of hats, shirt and boards in the game, a feature which, although we've yet to test out, looks set to give Skate that personal touch. There’s no doubt that EA will have its work cut out to ensure that offensive and copyright-infringing images don’t make their way into the game, but we can look forward to seeing some creative efforts and bold statements as gamers bring color onto the streets of New San Venelona with their imaginative creations.
The Skate.Reel feature has also been improved from the last outing with a more advanced video editing functionality that allows you to be more creative with camera angles and gives you more visual control over the footage that you take. Keeping in with the community spirit that EA is trying to uphold, there’s the option to upload and share photos and videos with the community which can be viewed online.
Customization and user generated content is all well and good but if the actual skateboarding sucks then it’s all been a big waste of time. Despite a few glitches though, which seem to occur when pulling off one-foot tricks (we're assured that these will be ironed out before the final build), EA Black Box has successfully built upon its right stick-wiggling FlickIt system which we enjoyed in the first outing. Now things are a bit more complicated, but even more enjoyable and challenging, thanks to a wide variety of new moves and variations of tricks that you can pull off. Multiple button presses are used more frequently, which in conjunction with the triggers that control your left and right hands, and the face buttons which control your feet, there’s a lot of new moves to get your head around. Pulling off the likes of a double grab followed by a coffin, for example, requires you to press ‘Square’ or ‘Cross’ to do a Boneless or a Fastplant, pull down the left stick to powerslide, then hold both triggers for the double grab, and end by pressing ‘Cross’ and ‘Square’ simultaneously to do a Coffin. Initially, we spent plenty of time chewing concrete whilst trying to string together some of the more complicated moves, but it didn't take too long to grips with some of the new tricks and thanks to fast response times and the fluidity of stringing these tricks together, there's a nice sense of achievement and gratification when you pull of some of the more complicated moves.
The added moves and the upgrade of the control scheme obviously makes Skate 2 more a challenge than the previous game, but the rewards are there for your efforts. Aside from enjoying the satisfaction of pulling off the likes of a Lip-Trick and Crailslide while competing for high-scores and taking part in some scintillatingly fast downhill races, there's the added incentive of trophies. These range from the ridiculously simple, such as 'Skater Evolved', where you have to simply get off your board in career mode, to more time consuming ones, such as the 'Taste The Mongo', where you have to Mongo Push 5000 times in career mode. Really want a challenge? Then try and gain a gold trophy by achieving legend rank online! Not forgetting local multiplayer, which includes the Hall of Meat mode, where you compete for the scariest wipeout against your friends; and online multiplayer, which includes Deathrace - a mode where you need to survive dangerous downhill challenges, there's also co-op activities, spot battles and best trick battles to get stuck into.
Despite the wealth of content in Skate 2, it's still the actual skateboarding that steals the show as you Ollie, grind, board grab, hand-plant and finger-flip your way with smooth frame-rates across the skater's paradise that is the brilliantly designed New San Venelona. There's a lot to look forward to when the game arrives in the New Year, and we'll be bringing you our definitive verdict shortly. Based on the preview build we've played, it would be a disaster if Skate 2 didn't score extremely highly.