When Electronic Arts first announced their intentions of releasing a skateboarding game I was skeptical. While I love skateboarding video games, the idea of having yet another franchise vying for top honors felt unnecessary. But Skate proved to not only be the best skateboarding game of 2007, but also the game that forced Activision's Tony Hawk to take a year off to retool. Here we are a little over a year later and EA has given us Skate's first official sequel (assuming you don't count Skate It for the Wii), and while it's nowhere near as innovative as the first game, it's definitely worth a look for both fans of the series and those who have yet to experience its charm.
Apparently Skate 2 takes place a number of years after the events of the original game, or at least that's what your buddy tells you on your way out of prison. That's right, prison. It seems as though your character has just spend the last few years isolated away from the rest of the skateboarders in the state pen. In that time, a number of major catastrophes have befallen the fictional city, including that pesky earthquake that plagued Skate It on the Wii. On top of the natural disasters, an extremely wealthy businessman has rebuilt much of the city, added a lot of skateboarding deterrents and upped the police presence to an all time high. And that's not all, in the past few years San Vanelona has had a name change, to New San Vanelona (or New San Van if you want to be a cool kid).
For a normal person all of these changes would spell certain death to a skateboarding career, but not so for our hero. Instead of being down and depressed, the main character decides to fight the power and take back New San Van for the skateboarders. And hey, if you get your face plastered on to a few skateboarding magazines along the way what's the harm? Beyond the interesting set-up, Skate 2's story proves to be largely unchanged from the first game. Most of the time you aren't really worried about fighting the man or taking back the power, instead you would rather show off your moves, win a few races and become the best skater you can be.
Veterans of the first Skate will feel right at home in New San Van, and for good reason. While this game certainly adds a lot of new (and much-needed) elements, at its heart this is the same game we saw 16 months ago. Electronic Arts has wisely decided to keep the game's unique control scheme, giving wannabe skateboarders a chance to perform tricks using the two analog sticks. This was certainly the biggest selling point of the first game and one of the main things that set it apart from the competition. If you are one of those people who fell in love with the first game and played it to death, then you'll be tricking off of everything in sight within the first few seconds of the game.
But don't let me convince you that Skate 2 is a pick-up and play sort of game, because there's definitely a steep learning curve for those who are new to the series. While it's true that you can pull off basic moves with great ease, it's going to take quite awhile before you start to warm up to all of the intricacies involved with the controls. What's more, the game is often punishing for the same of being punishing. While other skateboarding games will cut you a little slack if you don't land just perfect, Skate 2 is a stickler for perfection. The mere bump against a curb will send you flying off of your skateboard, which can be really annoying when you're trying to complete challenges and finish races. Still, if you give the game some time you will find yourself overcoming some of the game's imperfections, but I have a hunch that casual skateboarding fans are going to give up long before they discover why Skate 2 is so much fun.
One of my biggest complaints about the first game was how imprecise the trick stick (the right analog stick) was. While it's easy to pull off simple tricks, many of the more difficult tricks were a little too similar. The difference between one trick and another may be nothing more than moving your analog stick in a slightly larger circle. When you are skating around for fun this wasn't a concern, but the moment the game starts to ask you to link difficult combos you would find yourself fighting the controls more than anything. Thankfully EA has gone back and improved the trick controls, making the analog stick a little more precise. Still, as much progress as the developers have made, I still get the feeling that the controls aren't nearly as perfect as they should be. At this point I have to wonder if maybe the problem lies with the Xbox 360's analog sticks, but whatever the problem is you'll run into many of the same control problems you found in the first game. There are less problems this time, no doubt about it, but you'll definitely run into a few frustrating control situations.
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