Developer: EA Black Box
$59.99, £39.99, €59.99
Skate 2 Review
A revolution is often pretty hard to follow-up. Does Black Box manage to improve on their skating masterpiece or merely mimic forgotten competitors?
Even those who were particularly devoted to the Tony Hawk series couldn't fail but recognize the quantum shift that Skate introduced into the skateboarding genre. Black Box introduced flick style controls, as seen in games like Fight Night, to give the player a brutal connection to their board and their skater. A little more than a year on and heavy expectations have fallen on the sequel, surely it's just a matter of tidying up loose ends and throwing together new content? Unfortunately not.
Skate 2 should be, by all fair measures, a great game. The trouble is that it fails to ollie over the level of achievement set out by the first game. Several new additions to the way you control your character all seek to offer more trick options and avoid the frustrating moments of the first game. When they succeed in doing so Black Box provides a game perfectly suited to free skating and experimentation. The games structured content just doesn't lend itself to the control scheme that changed skating games forever.
The developers appear to have made the very same choice that Neversoft have over the years. That very same decision that so many feel forced Tony Hawk into a stagnant little corner. They've tried to go bigger, tried to go harder and tried to go crazier than their previous game. Now, given the restraint they showed with Skate we haven't quite entered the territory of backflipping over helicopters. We have however stumbled into the world of mega-ramps and ridiculous gaps.
One particularly poignant example is a mission where you are asked to skate down a hill before leaping over a large gap with the climax being an attempt to hit a height marker off the back of a half pipe. The task itself seems somewhat out of place in the world of Skate but its execution might as well be from another dimension. San Vanelona never revolved around you and your desire to “shred”, this hasn't changed. So, whilst you try and build up enough speed to tackle the jump it's 50/50 as to whether or not a car will take you out at the bottom of the run.
This situation is indicative of the issues that plague missions throughout the game. Handplanting on a rail above a half pipe? Fine, just don't put another skater in there purely to knock me down. Want me to hit a gap that will involve a bit of trial and error? Fine, just don't force me to erratically endure 3 seconds of restart time in order to try again. Skate 2 just strikes you as a poorly managed project, one where the best of intentions forced everybody to forget the core strengths of their first game.
It's just as well then that while bugs and obstacles ruin every third mission enough of that original experience is left intact. “San Van” has become “New San Van” and that means new spots, redesigned favorites and entirely new sections of the map. This creates a uniquely engaging dynamic whereby something familiar is also a fresh challenge. Further joy is garnered when an old spot links into a new area and a whole world of new possibilities opens up. Some of the new areas are a little too contrived – the waterside having far too many convenient curves and slopes which at once stand out like a sore thumb and fail to add much to the potential experimentation that space offers.
The demo made it appear as though the game was becoming story focused with security guards ready to knock you down wherever you chose to grind. Fortunately it avoids coming through on both accounts with the only real story being that you have returned from prison with the goal of repairing the cities reputation as a great place to skate. In fact, the security guards actually hang around fewer of the best spots than they did in the first game and unlocking areas that have been closed off only involves an insignificant cash transaction with a friend. These changes are a shining beacon in a product that seems to have jumped off the “right path”.
One of the other big changes you may have noted from the demo was the ability to hop off your board and move things around. Some expressed concern that this would send the game down a wacky route of on-foot exploration. Again, these fears can be put to rest. The walking mechanic only really serves to avoid those few particularly frustrating moments where you'd forgotten to set a session restart marker (a feature which remains) and had to thrust yourself back up a slope. It adds very little else with your ability to jump being entirely useless and an inability to grab edges failing to open up new heights. Actually, its uselessness means you still can't hop out of a pool with ease. Moving things around is limited mostly to specific components required to complete specific challenges and again this fails to introduce anything positive to the existing formula.
The new bailing challenges add so little they are barely worth mentioning so I will keep it brief. There are a set of goals you can attempt to achieve by falling off your board in tragic and painful ways. The inclusion of these challenges is, I would imagine, an attempt by the developers to alleviate any disappointment you may feel when you come crashing to the ground. It doesn't achieve that, it's simply another screen to try and avoid before you dust your shoulders off.
Putting together your own videos to share takes a total back seat in this follow-up. In a move that will only piss off fans (as it did me) EA have deemed it necessary to have many of the effects and options assigned to DLC. It's not cheap either nor was it launched in conjunction with the title. This move has all but killed the community that should have arisen around sharing cool moments with other commited Skate fans. The online modes haven't advanced much either. With Criterion able to create a seamless world where you and friends can all inhabit the entire city you would hope some of this technology could be shared. Unfortunately it's all limited to a chosen area so you and your friends can't cruise between the various spots you've all discovered.
The recurring theme would appear to be that nothing Skate 2 does differently makes it an improvement over the original. This stands true for almost every aspect of the game. However, while it may be a pain to endure the various broken challenges the reward for doing so is great. After completing various runs for magazines, the death races down hill sides and the innocuous challenges offered by pros the city around you becomes a wonderful arena for play. It's worth pushing yourself through the hard times simply to drop down into a dam or grinding a high ledge in an new and interesting manner. The cruel truth that EA will have to face is that have you not played the first game there is no reason to recommend its inferior successor. For fans of the original there's enough here that's worthwhile to call it a decent expansion pack.
Score: 3 out of 5
- When you are free to experiment the trick system remains an absolute joy.
- The interplay between the new and the familiar provides exciting new options.
- Presentation remains immaculate and the music choices better suit the game's laid back attitude.
- The additions of bail challenges, on foot travel and moving items adds nothing to the overall experience.
- Character customisation options are now severely limited.
- Slappy's is no longer your hub and it's departure invokes a feeling of separation from the in-game skating community.
- Extremely broken and buggy challenges that block your road to the best aspects of the game.
- Charging for video editing options is downright despicable.