I wonder exactly how the evolutionary gameplay process works? When a new IP is tested, proves popular and is greenlit for a sequel, does the development team and publisher call upon the myriad of reviews such a game underwent? Or do they directly approach the game's inevitable community of players? Is it focus-tested? Or just all of the above to see what needs to be broached?
With Skate 2 I'm inclined to believe it was actually none of the above. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but how this game got through the testers and out the door in the state it's in, is absolutely beyond me.
The first game, which we scored a solid 9/10 in 2007, reworked the tired skate formula the Tony Hawk series had ridden into the ground. It delivered the concept of a truly believable living, breathing open-world to skate, with various spots, evenly spaced and open for your own trick interpretation alongside the most revolutionary control system this side of the introduction of analogue thumb sticks on controllers.
Sure there were problems; like the horrible animations for bailing, the frustration at not being able to get off your board to reach a higher point to nail a spot, and much of the niggly clipping that sent you flying off your board to name a few. But ultimately, Skate was a massive leap forward and it's with gusto I've been waiting for the sequel.
Skate 2 does not approach any of the problems I or anyone else - community and journalist alike
- had with the first outing. Instead it adds more 'cool' factor, too much to skate in small spaces, absolutely horrific off-your-board third-person controls and way too much in the area of superfluous game-world impediments.
Things kick off - in career mode
- with you being led from your cell (you were arrested at the end of the last game) by the legend himself, Danny Way. Like the first game, Skate 2's intro video includes all the skaters involved with the product in a tongue-in-cheek roll out. Mixed between prisoners, guards, wardens and visitors, the cast all hilariously reveal themselves and you can't help but feel hopeful.
Unfortunately as soon as the game starts proper, things go intensely downhill. Whereas Skate immediately gave you a park to play in, Skate 2 makes you traverse your way there to refamiliarise yourself with the old controls and introduce some of the new ones. Now while this might not necessarily sound bad, it also introduces the fragmented feeling of the game. You're kind of told all over the place how to be the next big skater, and even though Black Box have, in theory, given you more tools to create a far more organic experience, Skate 2 feels like a constant tutorial.
What's equally beguiling about this (in a negative, surprising sense) is the first game never once treated you like some gromit kid watching a channel 10 try-hard surf show at 9am on a Saturday morning - it was a skating game made by skaters for people interested in skating
. Here, however, it gets sickening, and fast.
The 'gnarly' capturing of urban youth, 'dude', is through the roof (of course, that is
sarcasm). In fact, along with the over-the-top use of the innovative "skate-cam" from the previous version, the whole product just feels too try-hard. Tricks seem a bit more over-the-top with lighter physics which in all begins to lump this in, dare I say it... Tony Hawk realms.
Well, it's not necessarily that dire yet, but it feels like someone is telling Black Box to make the game 'cooler' for a youth market they have no concept of or about. And if it's not the cheesy stuff that'll have you initially pulling your hair out, it's in other elements such as the annoying and completely unwarranted authorities constantly chasing you out of areas and just generally exasperating your freedom. If I wanted to be chased by security guards, I'd go down to a real shopping centre and start skating through K-Mart or something. It just feels like the sense of freedom we got with the first game and what most skaters ultimately hope
for in the real-world, has been stripped bare here.
So moving on from Career Mode, which models itself off the first game only with far too many cumbersome bells and whistles, Skate 2's only other real avenue of fun is to jump into Free Skate where you can actually manage the amount of traffic, pedestrians and security you'll tackle.
What's interesting is turning these all the way off reveals just how intensely massive the skate-world of San Vanelona actually is, and how ridiculous it seems to then litter such an awesomely creative area with maddening impediments. I can see why - on a gameplay level
- they have, but it's just a little too much to bear in the face of just wanting to nail tricks and explore.
I found myself rolling around for hours and hours in Free Skate just exploring everything the city has to offer, and with no stupid pedestrians to add to my frustration, I even didn't mind getting off my bird to fight the third-person control system to reach cooler points for mad rails and the like (though I should point out, even on-foot you can't step in sand - super annoying).
For anyone who played the first game, there are some cool additions beyond the crummy ones.
New tricks include hippy jumps, handplants (these look awesome, by the way) one foots and more. You can also (skilfully) perform some crusty old-school moves now, and linking these together makes it all the more rewarding. You're also constantly being filmed now, which means you don't need to turn the camera on at any point which is good because most of the awesome stuff I did in the previous game happened on-the-fly as opposed to setting up my trick and spot - sort of like in real-life.
On top of being able to jump off your board, you can also move most objects in the environment that aren't bolted down. Often (especially in Free Skate) this can work on your favour and you can set up mad spots with table-tops, bench seats, bike racks and more. But like the third-person control, it's slightly clunky, and its requirements for use in Career Mode just add to the fragmented idea I mentioned earlier. It's clearly meant as a tool for more freedom and a more organic skating experience, but most of the time it just seems unwarranted (which is why it's cool to use in Free Skate, because it's based on your own creativity).
Skate 2 is still an enjoyable game. The Flickit controls are still top-notch and the size of the game-world and freedom you have within it (in Free Skate) are all still awesome elements, it just seems as though EA and Black Box forgot what it was they crafted with the first game. More isn't always necessarily better, and giving us rudimentary tasks irrelevant to skating or skate-culture negate the freedom the sport promotes. Career Mode just feels too forced and treats the player like an idiot most of the time, leaving Free Skate one of the key reasons to play, and thankfully there's just enough
new to warrant a look if you've already explored every nook and cranny in the first game - just don't go expecting the same magic as the first offered.