Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Savior of the Skateboarding Genre Gets Refined... The Skate 2 Review

The original Skate was considered a savior to the skateboarding genre of video games two years ago when the Tony Hawk franchise is fading out. Its innovative controls and being a better representation of the skateboarding lifestyle gave new life to the genre and fans of the sport as well. Two years later, the sequel is finally here and while San Vanelona underwent some changes because of a natural disaster, the core game is still fundamentally the same with some additions that weren't in the first game. That same satisfaction of skateboarding is still there as well of nailing the perfect line or consistently executing harder flip tricks. Skate 2 is definitely what the first game should have been in the first game, but it does not have the same impact as the original in terms of establishing the innovation and originality.

Your character in the first Skate just got out of prison after a long stint ready to ride once again in New San Vanelona. Most of the city is generally the same from the first game, but it is definitely changed enough to be fresh for returning players such as new skateparks and mountains. Those who played the original will feel right at home with the controls as the core mechanics haven't changed significantly. New players may take a longer time to get adjusted to the flick it system, but it is still simple enough to learn fast. The new gameplay additions control-wise deal with tricks that weren't in the first game such as inverts, one footed tricks, hippy jumps, and finger flips. These tricks are easy to pull off being mapped to buttons that weren't used at all in the first game. They indeed add more gameplay depth to the already deep trick system in which you don't have to resort to the same tricks from the first game to succeed. Other nice additions to the gameplay are skitching on cars, grabbing while grinding rails, curbs, etc. as well as footplants and fastplants. Another big addition is moving objects around for custom paths, which requires getting off your board and going on foot. The off-board controls and animations feel mostly sluggish getting to a new area that your skateboard can't reach and for moving objects as well trying to get the perfect angle to complete a certain challenge. With all the new moves at your disposal, skateboarding does feel fully represented in Skate 2 tricks-wise.

The career mode in Skate 2 is fundamentally the same as the first game as there is an open city to skate around filled with challenges to complete. These range from specific tasks for Thrasher and Skateboard magazines, street and vert competitions, and those difficult pro challenges. Like the first game, the single-player portion can be difficult at times, but definitely beatable even if it has to take millions of tries to complete a specific challenge, which is really skateboarding in real life. EA Black Box has managed to replicate the skateboarding lifestyle very well in Skate 2 from deathraces, being chased by the cops, finding awesome spots to skate on, and more. Due to being in an open world, you can just free skate or complete sets of challenges in any order, which is nice to have. Eventually, the later part of the game does ask for specific tricks to complete certain challenges, which can be frustrating just like the first game not getting the flip trick or specific grind you want to execute, getting hit by a car, or bailing millions of times. There are many side tasks to do as well from emptying out pools, letting Mike cut out a path for you to grind easier, and complete Hall of Meat challenges, in which you have to bail in specific ways to complete them. Speaking of bailing, that mechanic has improved and sort of became its own metagame getting a high score for the worst bail braking as many bones as possible. 

As a single player game, Skate 2 does have infinite replay value due to its community features like the replay editor and the new Create-A-Spot feature. Speaking of the replay editor, the Skate Reel makes a return more improved adding more camera angles like a tripod view. Unfortunately, if you're into making clips of your skating skills, you have to buy the Filmer Pack for more options to mess with. The Create-A-Spot feature is basically your own Own Your Spot in areas that are used as spots where you can set a score for others to beat once they downloaded it. Even though Skate 2's single player is still as good and challenging like the original, the multiplayer has improved and perhaps the best part of the game.

Multiplayer consists of local Party Play games and online with a maximum of eight players. Local mutliplayer is nice to have around if others want to play on the same TV taking turns on modes like Spot Battle and S.K.A.T.E., but the online is where the multiplayer truly shines. The online is split up into freeskate and competitive modes. Freeskating online reminds me of Burnout Paradise as other players in the same room can just skate together as well as complete specific objectives. If freeskating is not up your alley, the competitive modes are the meat of the multiplayer with the same modes like Spot Battle, Jam, and Deathrace from the first game as well as Hall of Meat for the best bail. New features have been added which are cool like rating your competition whether or not they had a sick line. In addition, uploading replays and photos to the Skate Reel return as well as being able to rate them YouTube style. The level progression for the online multiplayer is the same from the original as long as you are consistently doing well getting 1sts, 2nds, or 3rds for more experience points. The online multiplayer can be as addictive as the single player competing online against others just like a random real life skate session.

New San Vanelona does look like a beautiful city graphically that is filled with diverse locations. From the Downtown area, the beach, the school, and the mountain overlooking the San Vanelona Hollywood-like logo, the game definitely feels more diverse to skate in unlike the first game. Unfortunately, the framerate consistently does not stay stable at any point of the game which is expected from Black Box considered they never fixed the framerate issues from the first game and the recent Need for Speed games. When the game runs at 60 frames per second, the game runs and looks beautifully, but at a consistent 30 frames, it does not recapture the same feeling playing it at 60 frames. The framerate issue as a whole can be distracting at times, but does not make the game unplayable. Some animations can feel sluggish, but that it is a nitpicky flaw. The characters look great as this game is filled with customizations from your own skater, your board, and even having custom graphics on your board. Skate 2's graphics are indeed good, but if it runs at a consistent 60 frames per second like Burnout Paradise, then it would be a remarkable achievement.

As for the sound, the licensed soundtrack is a mixed bag as expected for a game by EA. There are definitely some hits and misses, but at least all the tracks are tolerable to listen to. The characters' voice acting can also be hit and miss with the pro skaters saying their usual cheesy lines either by normal conversation or trash talk. Your camera buddy Reda can also be annoying at times, but he is not a huge distraction. All the other sound effects are accurate enough to the skating experience, which is fine by me.

Despite being a flawed experience, Skate 2 is still a great skateboarding game and being the only one around till the competition makes an attempt of a comeback. It is definitely what the first game should have been with more tricks that complete the core skateboarding trick list even though there are probably more tricks like flatland moves that could be added in a future installment. After a two year wait, it is nice to return to the innovative control system in a redesigned city that revitalized the genre to a new direction. The core gameplay still feels fresh and not yet stale with all the new additions. The career mode is still good and challenging, but the online multiplayer is the true shining point of the game with the freeskating, competitive modes, and all the community features that are filled with customization like the Skate Reel and Create-A-Spot. If the developers are able to fix the flaws like improving the on-foot controls and having a stable framerate at 60 frames per second, then the Skate experience would be perfect. Skate 2 does not suffer the sophomore slump as it is still the best representation of skateboarding in gaming for now.

Score = 8.5/10

  • The core gameplay still feels fresh and innovative with more tricks at your disposal.
  • The career mode is as good and challenging for newcomers and fans of the first game.
  • Online multiplayer is as replayable as single player with freeskating and competitive modes.
  • The community features also make the game infinitely replayable.
  • Still the best representation of the skateboarding lifestyle in gaming.
  • Framerate doesn't stay stable between 30 and 60 FPS.
  • On-foot controls and animations feel sluggish.
  • Doesn't have the same impact as the first game had establishing the control scheme.

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