Not so long ago the genre of skateboarding video games was entirely dominated by the Tony Hawk series. But after what seemed like eighty-three Tony Hawk titles, EA Games finally had the cojones to introduce “Skate”.
The original Skate came out in 2007 and changed the way a lot of players looked at skating games. It offered a more realistic approach to what was, by comparison, an arcade time-waster filled with cheap thrills and spills. The Tony Hawk series was known for its gravity defying physics, skateboards reaching speeds of 80km/ph and what seemed like super-glued shoes to your board. Agreeably it made for some great moments back in the day, but I think it’s safe to say that the genre has now evolved for the better.
Skate 2 has built upon its predecessor and it appears that EA and the developers at Black Box have listened to their fans. Now there are some welcome improvements on top of the innovative formula that made it so popular in the first place.
The game opens up with a slick real-life movie sequence that shows your faceless character on their last day in a minimal security prison. It turns out that the city of San Vanelona has changed a lot since we last saw it in Skate. The City Council and Chamber of Commerce are trying to stamp out skaters in their proud city – resulting in you spending some time in solitary for trespassing and disturbing the peace on your deck. After the Council failed to maintain law & order from their skate ban, the city of San Van was in a worse state than ever from the rebellious urban uprising. Enter Mongocorp (brilliantly named), a great big mega-corporation who stepped in and bought out most of the CBD. Mongocorp introduced skate-proofed structures and are the salary keepers of some of the toughest security guards in town – employed to keep skater-punks like you off the streets, permanently. What was once a skating paradise is now a skating war-zone with the crack-down causing the local skating populace to find safe havens around town. One of these is Slappy’s Skatepark and here you’ll get to run through a tutorial and learn the tricks of the trade.
Before you hop on your deck though, you get to create your skater for career mode. Unfortunately the complex customisation levels that we’ve seen in previous games isn’t present here. But it still possible to create an almost virtual you using the preset face and body shapes and then a limited array of tweaks to fine-tune your character. You can choose a male or female skater too, although you can tell that EA checked their target market as the female selection of customisations are severely limited when compared to the bro man dudes. There is an impressive selection of branded clothing, including t-shirts, shirts, hoodies, hats, glasses and jewellery. But the choice of decks, trucks and wheels are really where the skaters will get their jollies off – ranging from all the leading brands including Mystery, Almost, Baker, Blind, Element, Girl, Flip and heaps more. The wardrobe, range of accessories and boards will keep you busy trying to earn some moola out on the street for sure.
Despite New San Vanelona being run by youth-hating corporates, the city is still packed full of perfect skating areas if you know where to look. Many rails in the central areas have been capped or bracketed to prevent grinding but as you meet fellow skaters you will discover that some of these obstacles can be removed. The security guards have increased in numbers, but are also a bit more intelligent now as well. Often signalling other guards further up to try and block you and so fourth. Getting nailed by a guard results in an instant bail, sometimes some cash taken off you and possibly the area being skate-proofed.
Control-wise the game is instantly familiar to those who played the original Skate. The left stick controls your movement and the right stick is used as a “flick” styled controller to signal tricks or special moves. For example holding the right stick down and then flicking it upwards results in a kick-flip. It takes some getting used to but these controls really give a sense of realism to the game as opposed to a simple, non-rewarding button press.
One of the most irritating things that any player of Skate will agree with was the fact that you couldn’t get off your board – apart from being launched from it accidentally. Which meant that if you were stuck in front of some stairs or in a grassy area – you had to keep kicking out, trying to jump and basically getting no-where fast. Thankfully the developers have heard our cries and now in Skate 2 – you are free to get off your board and run around on two legs as God intended. Pressing Y allows you to ascend stairs, drop your board to move obstacles around for a better trick or to get past security without a possible scuffle (they’ll only care if you’re skating). Despite this feature being totally awesome, it still isn’t perfect. It almost seems that the off-board action was a last minute add-on with the movement controls on two-feet being clumsy and awkward. Especially when trying to move ramps or to line-up a trick before hopping on your board. To be fair though, you will spend most of your time skating anyway so possibly this dodgey control system was intentional to encourage onboard action.
Another welcomed addition is the camera angle setting. The original game had a stylish cinematic low-angled camera that rode next to your knees allowing you to truly get a sense of speed and to see your foot-work. Unfortunately it meant that trying to see obstacles coming up almost impossible. Now you have the choice of either High or Low angled cameras and personally the High camera makes a dramatic difference.
EA Black Box have also kept the amazing replay editor intact too, allowing you to replay a killer Frontside 360 Nollie trick, or just watch you face-plant into the pavement. The spills in Skate are just as rewarding as nailing tricks thanks to the slow-motion replay and the Hall of Meat awards you for serious injuries. The bigger the mess (ie: broken leg, fractured skull and destroyed knee-cap) all give you bigger pay-outs from Thrasher magazine so you are enticed to try everything no matter how suicidal. I managed to break every-bone in my body by jumping off a look-out point, losing my board, doing a kung-fu kick and then landing in front of an on-coming car before coming to rest next to a fire hydrant with my feet up around my ears. It was wicked.
Just hooning around breaking yourself is good fun, but the city is packed full of activities and challenges to check out too. On top of the Career mode (you trying to get famous and respected) you can partake in street races, trick contests, a mode called Own the Spot where you prove your worth on a particular area with the best moves and heaps more. Getting around the free-roaming city can be time-consuming but your on-screen radar lets you find your way around the map. You can even hitch a ride with cars by grabbing onto their bumpers but the rides are often short-lived and end painfully. You also have the ability to place a marker anywhere on the map that allows you to be teleported back to it at any stage in the game. Perfect for trying to land that seemingly impossible jump.
Skate 2 is pretty much that perfect skating game that should keep both hardcore skater fans and casual gamers entertained and passionate about the under-ground world of skateboarding. The game has a great soundtrack of both new and old tracks that fit the game’s tone perfectly. Even the voice narration and acting is excellent – with an on-going commentary on all of your actions in the game. Skate 2 is also promising some downloadable content (probably in the form of customisations) and the multiplayer is fairly solid too. Online up to 6 skaters can enter an area and all compete amongst themselves to the best tricks, or just hang-out and laugh at your rivals self-mutilate themselves. The Hall of Meat makes an appearance online as well, turning the game into a “Pain” like simulator where the object is to totally wreck yourself. Overall the multiplayer both online and locally is heaps of fun. EA are even supporting a growing community for players to upload user-created spots for others to try and out-trick, with high-scores and custom video clips all online to share with others.
Sure, there is still room for improvement with Skate 3 with regards to the customisation and off-board controls, but it looks like the days of the Tony Hawk reign might be finally gone. Whoop!