Electronic Arts Skate series was born of a desire to grab a piece of the Tony Hawks’ pie, the more cynical gamers may protest. Yet, entering the arena seemingly rather late in the game – far beyond the peak of the aforementioned Activision series’ retail success – the very first instalment carved a distinctive path for the series. skate. was the skater’s answer to Neversoft’s once cherished depiction of an easily acquainted yet tough to master sport, asserting the “tough to master” aspect above all else.
Skate 2 follows the same path set by skate.; a series of traditions prescribed by the Tony Hawks’ series based upon a control method excelling in simulation, as opposed to stimulation. The basic control is delivered via the Right Analogue Stick, and could be compared to the Total Punch Control delivered in Fight Night Round 3, but to which has received a marked improvement.
The game begins in a rather unexpected manner, with a Tarantino-influenced intro sequence concerned with one particularly unlucky individual, his acquaintances, and some offbeat locales. This individual is you, and upon leaving prison you are given the requisite Character Customisation options. Though the ability to tinker your appearance is extensive it remains predictable, but the ability to tinker with your board is also immediately at your disposal also. While experts will relish the opportunity to get stuck straight into the fine-tuning of their skating, to newcomers this option will be relatively unintelligible until having actually played with the default set-up.
The Single Player game consists of Challenges marked by glowing orange beacons throughout the arenas. Offered in a very similar manner to Tony Hawk’s later instalments, a player can begin a Challenge once arriving at its location – either by travelling themselves or selecting the Challenge from the Map. Details of the Challenge are often offered in the form of a stylish Cut-Scene, and completion will unlock further Challenges and arenas.
Challenges begin simply, with the player taught the basics of control and environment adaptation within the first ten minutes of gameplay. The environment adaptation is an incredibly nice addition in theory, though in practice creates a tedious level of repeated labour like that seen in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts to newcomers, with only expert players and those with the dedication to finding the perfect line will benefit from. The player is able to step off their board, unlike the first title in the series, and reach locations with superior trick opportunities. However, it could also be stated that such an option has allowed the design to become a little flabby: if the player can traverse inclines or other obstacles freely, why bother to work around them?
Skate 2 brings a lot of new additions to the series – the tricks repertoire in particular has been expanded exponentially. The addition of the Thrasher Challenges will please those enamoured with Saints Row 2’s Insurance Fraud escapades, and the extended city offers more than enough depth for fans of the first title to become lost for months. However, it the online play in which Skate 2 excels.
Taking it’s cue from BurnOut Paradise, online play is accessible at any moment in-game with a press of the D-Pad. Co-Operative Challenges are undoubtedly pick-of-the-bunch – asking six players to simultaneously grind a rail or simply accumulating a High Score within a Time Limit – though unfortunately offline play is limited to a pass-the-pad basis.
The game’s presentation is very slick, and while the Character Models and environment may not appear top-tier, the game’s quality lies more within it’s technicalities than it’s visuals – an expensive playpen with minimal loading delay, and no featureless tunnels. The sound quality is fantastic, with the bone-crunching and metal scraping pitch-perfect and a soundtrack featuring the likes of Electric Light Orchestra, Public Enemy and The Clash.
Despite its flaws, Skate 2 is an easy recommendation. The market has become light of competition and those which remain in the bargain bin fail to compete with any level of technical competence. Undoubtedly leading the genre, the series now has to make the same decision Tony Hawk’s faced – is accessibility worth the cost of accurate simulation? Skate 2 clearly doesn’t think so, and with Neversoft pacing the mantle, Electronic Arts are most certainly set to change the path of videogame skating with this decision.