The first Skate title opened with a fantastic video sequence that introduced the huge roster of skaters who featured in the game, and Skate 2 begins the same way. After your incarceration at the end of the first title, the new video takes place in a prison, and also introduces New San Vanelona, the spotless city that you’ll now be wrecking in the name of ollies, kick-flips and totally bodacious moves, dude.
A lot has changed since the first game, though. The new town is markedly different from that of the first game, taking clear inspiration from San Francisco, Barcelona and Vancouver, and a new security force – with the suitably childish name of Mongo Corp – has made it their mission to take skaters off the streets. That means that they’ve gone around and welded metal chunks to potential skate spots, and that you have to be a little more creative to show off your moves.
The big innovation for Skate 2 is the ability to get off your board and walk around – an ability that Tony Hawk has possessed since Tony Hawk’s Underground, released in 2003. Once dismounted, your character – who can now be either male or female and dressed with the usual hundreds of items from dozens of real skate brands – can grab and manipulate hundreds of objects around the city to enable your skating. An early challenge, for instance, has you attempting to trick over a couple of dumpsters to film a good clip for a video. You can’t do it, though, unless you drag the obviously-placed ramp into position first to ensure some good air.
There are other changes, too. Your moveset has seen a big increase (the developers, EA’s Vancouver-based, and now closed, Black Box studio, claim double the number of moves) and your skater can now handplant, perform lip tricks and skitch – grabbing onto the backs of cars to hitch a ride. One crucial element – the ease at which you can land tricks – seems to have been tweaked, too. When compared to the first Skate, which eventually became an exercise in repetition and falling over until you were lucky enough to land a trick, the new game seems a tiny bit easier. Not by a huge amount – there’s still the steep learning curve and down-to-earth aesthetic when compared to Tony’s OTT titles – but by enough to make Skate 2 more enjoyable when you’re on your board, as you’ll spend more time landing tricks than faceplanting into concrete.
The new innovations haven’t got in the way of the gameplay, which is comfortably the best of any skateboarding title around today. Tony Hawk may have the huge tricks and massive air, but Skate is far more enjoyable to play thanks to its intuitive controls that mirror real skating. The left stick controls your body and the right controls your board, with different manoeuvres resulting in different tricks. The shoulder buttons can be used to tweak your moves, too. It’s difficult to get the hang of initially but once you’ve cracked it, hitting a simple kickflip is infinitely more satisfying than nailing some ludicrous trick that no-one could achieve in real life.
As well as the lifelike controls, the sheer accuracy of Skate 2’s physics makes it incredibly playable, too. Your skater moves around as you’d expect – except when you get off your board, when he looks clunky and uncomfortable – but, for the most part, the excellent physics and animation go some way to making Skate 2 far more absorbing. It’s even evident when crashing: the numerous ways in which your skater bounces off the environment mirror a million bail videos and are almost as entertaining as landing a trick itself.
It’s a good-looking game, too. The realistic bent of the Skate series means that it’s not particularly flashy, but the various districts of New San Vanelona look good and are bursting with possibilities. The animation is top-notch, too, and the numerous ways in which your skate can come a cropper is always entertaining – especially with an extended Thrasher Hall of Meat to record your best bails for posterity. The Skate 2 aesthetic continues to the extensive soundtrack. It covers similarly diverse ground as the original game – there are dozens of songs from artists as diverse as ELO, Dragonforce, Suicidal Tendencies and Judas Priest, and the songs are grouped into five large playlists. It’s just a shame that there’s no option to have one huge playlist with every song shuffling.
It looks great and plays fantastically, then, but Skate 2 falls down in key areas – and some of the new innovations just don’t work. For all of the joy of skating with such an intuitive control system, this hasn’t translated to movement when you jump off your board. It’s a normal third-person affair – movement with the left stick, camera with the right – but response is sluggish and lazy. I often found myself frustrated because my character just wouldn’t go where he was intended and I had to literally take several steps backward to take a single step forward. Pulling and arranging scenery elements suffers from the same sluggish response.
The realistic, down-to-earth looks of Skate 2 also go some way to denying New San Vanelona the personality that is injected into Tony Hawk’s titles. The various districts may look excellent, but they aren’t exactly bursting with the same infectious enthusiasm that other titles offer – and this is one area where the OTT style of Tony Hawk pays dividends. The weak plot doesn’t help, either – a dull tale of your skater working his way back to the top after a spell in prison – and the various segments, challenges and competitions feel disjointed and in no way connected, even if the short vignettes that introduce them try to persuade you otherwise.
Some of the new innovations don’t work, then – getting off your board is often more trouble than it’s worth, and the realistic graphics don’t exude the same style and atmosphere as those in Tony Hawk do. Don’t let that put you off, though. Thanks to its tight, focussed and expertly-handled core gameplay – including excellent animation, accurate physics and an effective and realistic translation of real skateboarding – Skate 2 is the best boarding title available on any platform today.