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Skate 2
Score: 83%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Black Box Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Sports/ Sports (Extreme)/ Free-Roaming

Graphics & Sound:
The camera swoops over the entire market square and you see a line of tricks that would definitely put you in the top spot of the competition. You approach the first gap and reach deep into your bag of tricks and pull out a 360 Laser Flip off the stairs into a feeble grind down the hubba rail. It is exhilarating. The accomplished feeling of nailing it on the first try rushes over you in an instant. There has never been a game that captures the emotions of being a skater like Skate 2.

You ollie off of the rail to finish your line and waiting for you down at the bottom of the stairs, sprinting around a corner 100 feet away, is a security guard. You land the perfect line and all the hopes and desires come crashing down as the security guard smashes into you with the force of ten cars and sends you flying off your board, ruining your score.

That is pretty much the long and short of Skate 2. Filled with plenty of highs and lows, Skate 2 manages to be a great sequel and step forward for the franchise, while remaining firmly planted in the virtual world of games just enough to screw with your high score.

The overall look and tone of Skate 2 is very different than in the first game. Most of the areas from the original were bright and colorful while you spent 2 hours getting the trick just right. In Skate 2, everything is overly saturated and somewhat darker to convey a sense of... darkness. I really can't think of a good reason why it would be so dark; there are no in-game settings to change the video levels, just a few bars that tell you how to adjust your TV's settings for optimal conditions.

Color levels aside, the characters and environments look spectacular, (except for the cars.) The character editor creates a believable representation of you, while all of the pros in the Skate 2 seemed to be mo-capped (motion captured) and had their images and voices scanned into a computer for ultra realism. The way the environments transition from steep mountains to bustling city streets is really smooth and doesn't feel like two places tacked on to one another, even if the framerate is a little erratic at times.

The sound of the wheels clicking over the gaps on tiles or the sound of your trucks scraping against a metal rail as it slides down are impressive to say the least. What really seals it for the audio is the soundtrack. As your score meter gets higher and higher from landing tricks, the music becomes louder and more focused. It is something that it easily missed, but the music sounds like it is playing from a boom box in the world as you start in a new area and as you land tricks, the adrenaline rush focuses in more and more on the music to bring you more in the moment.

Skate 2 starts off with a fantastic live action intro movie in a prison, where all of the real life pros are acting in different roles as they introduce you to the characters. Your character is in jail and released shortly after that movie into the city San Vanelona. It is the same city from the first game, but it has been a few years since you were arrested and many parts of the city have changed. You are followed by your buddy/manager Reta and he says that you are a bit rusty and should reclaim your position as Skater of the Year in San Vanelona.

This means that you need to meet a lot of people with an icon above their head so you can have fun and play the game. Skate 2 has an open world structure with nothing forced on you after the first introduction section. This is the skating equivalent of last year's Burnout Paradise. Many of the events are scattered throughout the entire city and you can warp to any of them anytime you wish to keep the progression moving.

Mission styles range from simple event challenges to downhill races, street competitions to official sponsored events, Pro-specific challenges (Rob Dyrdek's are the worst) to playing a game of S.K.A.T.E. The amount of stuff to do at any given time is impressive and the open world nature means that you can take it all or leave entire parts of it aside for later.

The main changes that developer Black Box added to Skate 2 were the improved online play, being able to get off your board, and moving objects in the environment to create your own lines. At any moment, you can pause the game and go online instantly wherever you may be in San Vanelona.

Being able to get off of the skateboard and move around is the most promising new feature, because that means navigation is so much easier when you want to find really cool and gnarly lines. It such a shame though that moving around without your board feels worse than controlling your avatar in a session of Home.

You are restricted to the same movement axis as your board when walking on foot. So, to turn your character around by holding back on the left stick, you have to wait until he turns around completely before moving in the original direction you wanted. Grabbing objects while on foot suffers from the same dilemma. It is great that they added both of those features into Skate 2, but they really need to be polished before they release another game.

Skate 2 doesn't have any modes of difficulty to speak of. You just play the game and some challenges are harder than others. Depending on which event you choose next, Skate 2 can either be very smooth in its difficulty curve, or it can be downright obnoxious and insane when it spikes to a ridiculous level.

The most difficult thing about Skate 2 is trying to do the very specific tricks that it asks of you. Most of the game is filled with generic "go here and do 3 flip tricks" events. That is when Skate 2 is at its best, but when it asks you to do very specific tricks in very specific situations, the biggest problem is going to be the controls. It just isn't easy enough to do specific tricks under pressure. There is no finesse or forgiveness in the "flick-it" control scheme.

Game Mechanics:
Which brings us to the love/ hate relationship of the "flick-it" controls. The fluidity of being able to string together moves with the flick of the right stick is immensely satisfying, but the biggest pitfall is that it devolves into a new form of button-mashing. The basic motion to do an Ollie is pull down and then straight back up, and what happens is that your stick slightly skews to the right or left and your skater pulls off a kickflip instead of an Ollie.

This may not seem like that big of a deal if all you want to do is fool around and skate the whole city by yourself. But when the challenges require the dexterity and precision of a surgeon, as well as a quick sense of timing, it starts to fall apart.

The best way I can illustrate how tough the controls can beat times is to paint a picture of one event that I attempted at least 50 times before I nailed it. At one point, you are supposed to hit three huge jumps onto an embankment in quick succession without bailing and in under 30 seconds. The catch is that you have to perform a flashy gesture before each jump in order for it to count.

So, the approach gets two pushes on the (X) button to get up to speed, steer with the right stick while pulling down on the left stick to pop the Ollie. While crouching, I had to move from the left stick to the D-pad to use one of the gestures to show off. Then pop up on the right stick to get the air I need before hitting (R2) or (L2) to grab the board in air so it won't fly away. Stick the landing, and get massive speed only to realize I have about 20 feet before I have to do it again on the next gap, and then once more to finish the session. I have the trophy to prove that it can be done, but I don't want to do it ever again.

Skate 2 is secretly an intense game for hardcore gamers. But as far as the franchise goes, this is the best step forward that EA and developer Black Box could have taken. More tricks, more modes, and a huge open world make Skate 2 a game that is going to be really hard to put down. If you grew tired of the last efforts of the Tony Hawk franchise, give Skate 2 a try and see how much fun a more realistic skateboarding game can be.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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