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Skate 2 Review

28 January 2009

When the first game in a new franchise turns out to be hugely popular amongst the masses and shifts millions of units in the process, it’s logical that the developer will try to emulate its success with more of the same. Unfortunately, many follow-ups have one overarching common factor: they’re just not as good. Driv3r, Super Mario Bros. 2, and practically every Sonic The Hedgehog game released since the first in 1991 are prime examples of some of the games that haven’t managed to live up to the high standards set by their originals. As Skate was so critically acclaimed in its first outing, we were worried that Skate 2 may suffer a similar fate.

It hasn’t. In fact, Skate 2 is a sequel that stands majestically on its own merit, taking everything good from the original and expanding on it to make an even deeper and fulfilling experience. Combining great animation with solid physics and a streamlined control scheme, Skate 2 once again captures the fluidity of skateboarding as you flip and grind your way around a virtual skater’s paradise. Despite the fact that Skate 2 sports an almost identical gameplay blueprint to the original - filmed stunts, tricking, street and vert competitions, and races through the cluttered city streets - it manages to spice things up considerably by giving us further control and flexibility on the board, while granting us the freedom to make the experience our own through the addition of some noteworthy new features.

Before we continue to tell you why we think Skate 2 is a worth-while purchase for any fan of this particular sub-genre, it’s worth pointing out that there are a few issues that may be a bone of contention amongst some players. For starters, the wishy-washy storyline doesn’t make any lasting impression whatsoever. It could have been much better, although it’s hard to think of how the developer could structure a decent story around the world of skateboarding. Nevertheless, this tale of a corporation known as Mongocorp, who now rules the streets following the devastation of the original San Vanelona, is one that is instantly forgettable. Most won’t care though, as Skate 2 is a game that prides itself on its skating prowess rather than its ability to tell a tale well. Many gamers will quite happily spend their time looking out for and constructing new and interesting skate-lines around the city, while moving from one NPC to another picking up dozens of missions and side-objectives that prompt you to utilize the full arsenal of tricks.

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A more important issue that we feel the need to point out is that some gamers may be put off by the lack of direction in the career mode. There’s no rigid career path to follow. Instead, you’re given the relative freedom to explore the city and pick and choose your tasks. Occasionally, this makes for a rather insular experience that lacks the focus that you’ll find in other games in the action sports genre, Hawk's included. Every trick is available to you from the outset and there’s no leveling system or points to dish out. The campaign is largely about mastering tricks, rather than a gradual and mapped-out career path, which when done well, can be very appealing to those who enjoy structure in their gaming experiences.

Mastering the tricks isn’t very easy either due to a steep learning curve. If you’re straight out of Tony Hawk’s school of skateboarding it’s going to be a struggle to get going as you try and get accustomed to the right stick-wiggling FlickIt system, which has now been enhanced so that you can use the face buttons to control your feet and the triggers to move your hands. There’s even more tricks to master than the first time around -- double in fact -- and it wasn’t that easy back then. Skate 2 is all about inch-perfect positioning, constant concentration, and persistent practice, which are the only way you'll learn to master tricky moves and tough objectives. Impatient gamers may find the going a little too tough. Furthermore, the mastering of the comprehensive move set is occasionally made that little bit tougher by the way the camera shifts at inappropriate times, making it unnecessarily difficult for you to clearly see the path in front of you.

All of these points though, aside from the occasional camera issue (an infrequent problem), are actually only relative to the person who is playing Skate 2. These few topics could easily be deemed as positives for some gamers, who will take great joy in being able to customize the experience to suit their taste and will enjoy the challenge of mastering the moves. The rewards are here for those who have the patience. If you invest the time, or indeed if you have already played the original game and know your way around the basics of the control scheme, Skate 2 is an unrivaled, flowing and fulfilling skateboarding experience.

The brilliantly designed New San Vanelona is an open-world playground of ramps, rails, dumpsters, steps, benches, skate parks, and steep inclines, all enticingly waiting for you to jump, flip, and grind over. Set against a graphically polished and realistic looking backdrop, complete with busy streets with interfering pedestrians, a glistening waterfront area, and dense wooded mountains, the city is beautifully designed. New San Van feels like it has been crafted with the utmost care, specifically to make the most out of the range of skateboarding moves. Furthermore, the city is now interactive. You can design it to your own specification, jumping off your board and dragging around various objects to create new skate lines. It’s an excellent new addition to the franchise that adds endless replay value as you seek to discover new lines and share them with the Skate community, and it fits into the gameplay seamlessly.

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There’s also plenty to do around the city, with hours upon hours of gameplay to be enjoyed. In addition to partaking in trick challenges, races, and filmed stunts as you seek to gain sponsorship and earn yourself some cash, the control scheme has been tweaked, adding almost double the amount of moves to the roster. Ultimately this gives you far more flexibility on the board allowing you pull off a range of new grinds, handplants, finger-flips and one-foot grabs. The only limitations to the boarding experience is your ability to be patient to learn and master tricks. The satisfaction of nailing a complicated trick, knowing that you've worked damn hard to achieve it, is instantly gratifying. Skate 2 has a responsive and intuitive control system, and with a plethora of new and useful additions it's even more rewarding than its predecessor.

Capturing these tricks has also been made easier thanks to an upgraded version of the Skate.Reel, which allows you to make more creative decisions with camera angles and then share your finished production with the Skate community. Further tweaking has also been made to customization options and there's now more that you can do with your skater, buying him clothing, equipment and even property with your hard-earned cash. Ultimately though, it's about the skating and exploration, and that's what Skate 2 does best. Players can now hop off their board and explore the city on foot, but it's a mechanic that hasn't been implemented very well; clunky controls severely hamper the experience. On-foot exploration only really serves a purpose for grabbing and dragging objects around the environment, and while that aspect works well enough, walking around shouldn't be a challenge in and of itself. We fully expect -- nay, demand -- that this messy mechanic be polished in the next Skate.

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And more Skate games there almost certainly will be; it's a franchise that has a bright future ahead of it. What really matters here is the skateboarding, and that has been captured brilliantly. Everything else: the design of New San Van, the objectives, the game modes and the superb online components fit snugly around the excellent skateboarding physics and the finely designed yet challenging control system. Tony Hawk’s franchise had sat perched high upon its half-pipe unchallenged in the skateboarding sub-genre, but when Skate turned up in 2006 it proved to be a refreshing change and an extremely polished alternative for fans of the sub-genre. A new King of the Skate Park was heralded amongst its fans, who lauded the game’s refined and fulfilling control system, slick presentation and cleverly structured environment. That King hasn't changed leaps and bounds since 2006, but it didn't really need to. The changes that have been made, most notably a significant boost to the move set, make Skate 2 as good a sequel as we could have wished for. In our eyes, it's going to take a masterpiece to knock it off its throne.

-The Final Word-

A refined and polished sequel to a brilliant skateboarding game.
  • The increased move-set, which gives you further flexibility on your board
  • The beautifully designed skateboarding paradise of New San Van
  • The brilliant 'Create-A-Spot' mode, which adds further replay value
  • The steep learning curve for "noobs" or the impatient
  • The clunky on-foot controls
  • The occasionally annoying camera angle
8.5
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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