Skate 2 Review
It's been about a year and a half since I reviewed EA's first foray into the world of skateboarding, Skate. Up to that point, skateboarding video games were all about Tony Hawk and Neversoft, and admittedly, they deserved the monopoly they held on the genre for the better part of a decade. But Skate, a newcomer and challenger to the longtime series held its own and in some ways, even surpassed the Tony Hawk series, both through its new approach to the world of skating and Mr. Hawk's steadily declining freshness and quality. In the year and a half since its release, Skate, like Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 on the PlayStation did for so many years, constantly found its way back into my 360. Naturally, when I was asked to review the sequel to the game that unseated the great Tony Hawk in my mind and the gaming world's minds alike, I jumped at the chance. Could the sequel correct a few of my complaints with the original? Would EA further humiliate the past heir to the skateboard throne? Was there any possibility that the game's licensed soundtrack would contain more than just the same old, radio-rock crap? Would I be able to quit playing for long enough to actually type up this review? The simple answer to all those questions is, well, yes, and anyone who ever enjoyed the sport, enjoyed the original game, enjoyed the Tony Hawk series in its golden years or even enjoyed an occasional skate video or whiny mid-90s punk rock band should put Skate 2 at the very top of their shopping list.
Before you read any further, there is one thing you need to know before I start checking off Skate 2's every amazing feature – this game is HARD. Not "I died at the last boss" hard, but "Dragonforce on Expert in Guitar Hero III" hard. Even a seasoned Skate player like myself is looking at a solid afternoon of practice before even the smallest trick or combo is executed perfectly; Skate virgins are looking at much more than a couple of hours of "get used to things" time. Things are even more obtuse for Skate virgins who are also Tony Hawk players; you're going to need to forget EVERYTHING you know about Mr. Hawk's flagship series, from the gravity, to the less-than-plausible abilities of the super skaters who, for whatever reason, seem to be able to stick to rails like they're magnetic and defy every last law found in a high school physics textbook. Breaking those habits can seem impossible at first, but if you're willing to put in the time, Skate 2 will treat you just right.
Now that you know things are going to be tough as you adjust to and play Skate 2, you're probably interested in WHY things are so much more difficult in this game than in past skating titles. It all boils down to one absolute – perception. If you're only tuned in to the gaming world of skateboarding, you probably think that actual skaters are capable of much, much more than they actually are. In reality, tricks are rarely strung together in any significant number and if they are, the combos are there and gone in the blink of an eye. Grinds are fleeting things of beauty, not miles-long, balancing board tricks. And real skaters fall down. A lot. In Skate and Skate 2, EA went for a level of realism not found in past skateboarding games, and it works to the games' advantage in all but one way: casual skateboard fans and casual gamers alike probably won't have much use for this game or the original. That isn't a slight to either demographic, but in the same way gamers prefer NFL Blitz over the true blue football fan's love of Madden, Skate is geared directly at those who know and love the real life sport, not the moon gravity and impossible stunts of the Tony Hawk games. If you are still interested, I'll let you in on a little secret – if you put in the time, learn the game and train yourself to play the way EA demands, Skate 2 is one of the most rewarding games you'll play this or any year.
This sequel picks up five years after the events of the first game, with the main character being released from jail and heading back to the fictional city that hosted the original's man-made obstacle courses and cityscapes. Like a lot of other Skate fans, this set up left me puzzled. To be honest, I'd forgotten the original had a main character and a story and thankfully, it's easy to forget about their existence while playing the sequel. Playing Skate or Skate 2 for the story is like playing Street Fighter for the Shakespearean dialogue and plot twists – either way, you'll be disappointed. After a short introduction, you'll create a skater and be back on your board where you belong. From there, the world is your oyster. The city of San Van is about 85 percent accessible from the very beginning of the game, so you can choose to either plod through the career mode's goals or simply explore the various too-good-to-be-true skating spots hidden all over the impressively large metropolis.
And career mode or no, exploration is a very big part of Skate 2. Unlike the first game, you can actually get off your board and move around on foot, which makes setting up some of the very demanding tricks and combos much easier. The on-foot controls aren't all that great, sadly, but they aren't completely unworkable. If the game were called Walk 2, muddy on-foot controls would be a grave sin. In this game, the skating is the focus, so the frustrating time you spend off the board won't intrude too much on all the other amazing aspects of the gameplay.