Review: Skate 2

Though legions of fans mourned the dissipation of the Tony Hawk franchise, I am one of the few who will proudly usher in a new age of skating titles, which began back with EA’s smash hit Skate, and continues with the equally satisfying Skate 2. It can most definitely be said that this is the definitive skating sim, as Skate 2 brings with it an impressive bevy of improvements to the original formula as well as some comfortable sameness that one would expect a successful sequel to provide.

Before you can begin the game proper, Skate 2 asks you to create an avatar, much like many other sports sims out there today. You can choose to be male or female, neither of which are particularly attractive, and with your sex you can alter height, weight, facial features, clothing, body shape, and even tattoos on the skater’s body. There aren’t a whole lot of options to begin with in the clothing department but as you will see upon starting the game and browsing through all of the options that will be open in the future, there is a lot in store. Choosing clothing and accessories eat up your in-game money, so be a frugal spender and prepare to save money to buy more along the way! Your newly-customized skater has just broken out of the big house and is looking to get back into the skating scene. To do this, your crew and some of the good people of New San Vanelona are looking to film your exploits and get you in with the prime skating bigwigs in the industry.
The meat of the game is undoubtedly the career mode, in which you’ll rise to the top of the skating world. Employing a behind-the-shoulder camera view, you’ll travel to various locations in the city accompanied by an entourage who makes sure to capture your best moments. As you progress through the games you will tackle different challenges, such as skating off certain locations, performing a different trick, or racking up enough points to reach the next destination. As you are performing several different tricks, often you will be photographed or videotaped, and compensated with money according to how sick your trick was. A replay will feature your skater in various poses and degrees of motion, spotlighting how rad your tricks were. Though the career mode is varied in missions and what you are asked to pull off, the story does wear a little thin, as you rarely do little more than perform on command to appear in magazines or to impress enough skating fans to make a name for yourself.

Missions are placed throughout the map at various checkpoints throughout New San Van, and whenever you’re ready to try one, simply skate over. If you’re too far away, you can access any available missions you have yet to complete via the game’s menu. The free-roaming element is an enormous draw, as you can practically skate anywhere you want to within career mode, just starting out. The freedom this allows is refreshing, and allows players who may not be skilled enough to unlock different areas the pleasures of sightseeing New San Vanelona without too much of a hassle. One big plus to career mode is the fact that you can bypass certain challenges that you may not be ready for at any point in time, and return when you feel like you can hack it. Concerning missions’ difficulties, many run the gamut between extremely easy to considerably tough. Unless you’re a seasoned Skate veteran, you will find yourself skipping over certain opportunities for quite a long time.
Never fret, though – if you find that you absolutely cannot nail a certain trick, there may be hope yet. Skate 2 has implemented the option to move different items around. Is there a ramp you wish were just a bit closer to a ledge for maximum air? You can move it. You can only move items that would be feasible to move in real life, say, ramps, dumpsters, and other random bits. Though the ability to move items that may or may not be in the way or just a smidge away from where you want them is nice, it is a bit awkward. Since the game allows for little free control of the camera, it’s difficult to attain the sweet spot for where the items should be. Not only that, but the controls are extremely touchy, and you could fight with an item for a long time before it’s exactly where you need it to be.
When you’ve completed career mode, which can take anywhere from 6-10 hours depending on your skill level, you can own spots via Xbox Live with friends, which basically entails the choosing of a location and determining who can rack up the most points by performing chains of tricks. If that’s a little too competitive for you, you can always opt for a free skate session with some buddies, which is quite relaxing and can prove for a nice little bonding experience, as there is no real objective. If you’re feeling a bit more sadistic, tackle “Hall of Meat” mode, which provides you with several challenges to punish your skater as much as possible. This proves quite entertaining, as Skate 2’s austere physics ensure your character gets as thrashed as possible.
The Skate franchise has always been known for the way you initiate skateboard tricks, and for good reason – they’re all performed using a very intuitive system. The right analog stick is the most integral part of each trick, as well as the face buttons and triggers. Basic building blocks such as ollies and Pop Shuv-Its are performed using a simple flick of the stick. To differentiate between the tricks, it’s as easy as changing the direction in which you bring the analog stick back up. The same controls can be molded to fit any situation, whether it’s getting big air off a ramp, grinding down a rail, or performing a “coffin” where your skater lies completely flat on the board. There is such a wide variety of moves that it’s impossible to find each one until you’ve played for a good 5-10 hours, and if you get bored with those, keep changing up your routine. The “Flick-It” control system works extremely well with the Skate franchise, and the versatility it provides is second to none. Movements of the thumb on the analog sticks and shoulder buttons mimic the manipulation of real feet on a board, so if you happen to know a thing or two about skating, you’re already ahead of the game. This particular control setup is what makes Skate 2  so unique and what puts it so far ahead of the pack. However, newcomers to the series may find it difficult at first to conform, and this may turn some off. If you have the time to practice and an open mind to practice with, then you’ll absolutely love how simple it is to perform a myriad of different tricks.
Though, just because the tricks are simple to perform, that does not mean you won’t be bailing every few seconds. In fact, just the opposite seems to occur. New San Van is riddled with real locations that can bring you to your knees if you hit them just right, which will land you a score in the Thrasher Hall of Meat. The better the bail and the more bones you break, the higher your score will be! Not that it’s an incentive to intentionally screw up your moves, but it certainly adds a dash of variety when you’re throwing yourself in front of cars and over ledges just to see the score add up. As difficult as the game can be though, I’m sure that a good portion of bails will be unintentional. If you’re not spot-on with every single move, a fall is in order. This does tend to get old, especially if you’re just starting out, but give it some time and you can overcome it.
New San Vanelona is just what the name implies – a new city, risen from the ashes of disasters occurring in the spinoff Skate It. While the original Skate featured a paradise for many of the different inhabitants, police are now keeping the best parts of the city safe for skaters to enjoy. New San Van is where you will be spending all of your time for the game’s career mode, and is it gorgeous! Lush cityscapes, gorgeous coastal areas, and congested neighborhood areas promise tons of ramps, rails, and other various structures to get your skate on with. With the ability to go wherever you like, it’s great to just pop in the disc tray for a bit, relax, and cruise the city to take in the sights, much like in the GTA  games. Trick animations are fluid and realistic, but bails leave the character in humorously contorted positions.

Bringing a further level of customization to the title, you can also create your own custom graphics to add to boards, clothing, or anything that strikes your fancy. While they’re nothing more than glorified decals, this is a welcome touch.

Skate 2 brings a densely populated soundtrack that is all but wasted on the menus and in various locations, so that most of the time all you’re hearing is the hustle and bustle of the city. Character voiceovers are appropriate, but laughable in that no matter which gender you choose, you’re always referred to as a “he” or other variants thereof. This, to me, seemed like a very lazy design decision – how hard could it have been to include the proper pronouns for either gender? This is only a minor gripe, but it must have been anticipated that few female skaters would be created. Silly, but it could have been taken care of quite easily.

My real gripes with Skate 2 are very minor, and hardly detract from the overall package, save for iffy controls and placement of items, as well as dodgy voice acting in terms of gender relations. However, these can most definitely be overlooked, as the total package is so polished, open-ended, and just plain fun that it’s hard to complain. Skate 2 has upheld the extreme sports sim legacy now and it’s going to be hard to tough the franchise with its innovative controls, open-world setting, and ease of play. However, if you don’t have the patience to learn the control scheme and play around with how everything works, you may want to give the game a pass – it’s not for casual gamers. For everyone else, Skate 2 is a must-play if you’re a fan at all of skating or even excellent sports titles.

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