Is it (kick)flippin’ good?
In 2007 we saw the release of the original ‘Skate’, a skateboarding game with excellent ideas towards improving the whole genre, and successfully knocking Tony Hawk off the videogame throne. The whole gimmick to the game, making it different to the previously reigning champion, was the use of the ‘TrickStick’ where you use different movements of the right analogue stick to pull off different flip tricks.
So here we are, at the beginning of 2009, and Black Box has released the anticipated sequel to their genre defining hit. The story of the game, or what there is of it, picks up from where Skate finished, with your character now finishing the prison sentence you earned at the end of the last game, and hitting the streets of San Vanelona once again to reclaim what was once yours. Well, that’s all there is that resembles a storyline, as the game is then structured around pulling off numerous tricks and stunts to work your way onto the covers of SBM and Thrasher, and beating the pros at their own game. With this vague outline of something to achieve, you’re given free reign over the whole city to do as you like, from wherever your seemingly impaired legs can take you.
I say this as a new addition to this sequel is being able to dismount the board, and run about
Luckily, for about 85% of the game, you’ll be using the board, which is where the game really shines.
on foot. As many new opportunities as this opens up to you, the actual act of doing so can be infuriating. It seems like the developers here made the decision to not create a separate control scheme for running around, instead making the extremely odd decision to recycle the board controls for on-foot movement. This was a bad decision, as instead of just being able to simply change direction, to pull off a 180 degrees turn, you have to stop running, rotate yourself, and then start running again in the new direction.
Luckily, for about 85% of the game, you’ll be using the board, which is where the game really shines. The TrickStick controls are still being used from the first game, however hand plants, as well as a large number of smaller, minor tricks, have now been added to the arsenal you can whip out to up your scores. Another addition to the game is the ability to move certain objects around. This is used a fair bit in the challenges of the main game, usually to make some of the more impossible looking tricks possible. However, this also plays a large part in the ability to create your own ‘spots’, which can then by uploaded to EA’s servers, giving your friends the chance to play the spot, and attempt to beat your high score on it.
The online play of Skate 2 is one of its strong points. Amongst some of the more expected game modes such as ‘Skate’, ‘Spot Battle’ and ‘Jam’, we also get treated to the delights of ‘Death Race’ and ‘Hall of Meat’. The latter of which is a highly amusing battle of doing the most physical damage to your skater as possible, by hurling yourself down sets of stairs, bailing on grind rails, or just simply flinging yourself off the top of a building to do a straight pencil dive head first into concrete below.
As great as the flow and variation of the whole gameplay is, there are a number of niggles which I found ruined the experience. As well as the above mentioned off-board controls, the graphics are also quite average for a current-gen game this far into the lifetimes. The AI of other skaters and pedestrians can also be quite frustrating when you’re in the middle of something important. I have never found anything more irritating than having another skater decide to grind the same rail as me, and then causing me to bail as they continue smoothly along. As well as this idiocy, the AI also occasionally decides that it should be completely awesome, and suck the fun out of games of Skate by never having the AI fall off for about 7 rounds of tricks, building up an annoying contrast in AI consistency.
Although the average graphics remain throughout the game, the other problems I had did not crop up enough to ruin the whole gameplay for me, and I did very much enjoy kick-flipping my way around the streets of this city clearly built with skaters in mind. If you’re the kind of person that likes showing off your achievements, the game also gives you an in-depth film editor, which allows you to crop down pieces of footage, single out parts you like, apply different camera angles, and mess with slow motion, which was all much more than I was expecting, and can all be shared with the Skate 2 community through EA’s Skate reel servers.
With the open world skating, and increased range of tricks you can pull off, there is a large improvement over Black Box’s last installment, however, I still think there is a long way to go before they get the whole formula right, and I’m looking forward to when they manage to stop pushing mongo and powerslide to perfection.
The Bad: Awkward off-board controls, stupid AI, lack of a story.