Imagine you are eating dinner with a friend at a nice restaurant. The steak was a little overdone, but otherwise it was a very enjoyable meal. Out of convenience, you put the meal on your card and ask your friend to pay you his share with cash. He produces a fresh twenty, and then immediately and unexpectedly sneezes on it. He seems just as confused as you as he shakes the sensation from his head, offering the bill to you. You take it because hey, twenty bucks is twenty bucks. The good outweighs the bad.
Take that premise and multiply it a bit. Say that an eccentric old man is leaving you his entire estate in the form of a huge sack of money. Unfortunately, this old man was quite senile, and mistook the sack of money for a urinal shortly before passing. You can bet you’d still take that giant sack of money, hauling it over your shoulder and laughing Santa-style all the way to the back to get the bills changed out as quickly as possible.
If the restaurant exchange is Skate 1, the soiled sack of money is Skate 2. The game amplifies the experience of the original in every way which means better visuals, events, and online modes, but also offers more frustrating challenges and unpredictable difficulty. However, since there are more goods than bads in the mix, Skate 2 ends up with a large net positive over its predecessor, and is undoubtedly the best skateboarding game to date.
Skate 2’s story is just substantial enough to provide the minimum framework necessary to skate around a lot. The player is released from an unexplained prison sentence to find an event – referenced in the game as the disaster-too-gnarly-to-be-
The dual analog setup, Skate’s most defining feature, has returned with a few minor changes. The left stick still controls the skater’s body while the right controls the board. Some of the face buttons have been shuffled around, and for the most part the tweaks are an improvement. On the visual side of things, Skate 2’s San Vanelona sports that lived-in vibe reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto 4’s Liberty City. Every area in the game oozes atmosphere, from gritty back alleys to picturesque mountain paths. Player animation is just as excellent as the original, and after the inevitable spills characters will even get dirty clothes and grotesque looking cuts and scrapes.
Black Box also tweaked a number of gameplay elements that work to varying degrees. As one of the characters proclaims early in the game, “Since you were in prison we all learned how to walk!”
Players can now dismount the skateboard and walk on foot, which was perhaps the single most wanted feature in the first game, but it’s not quite everything we could’ve hoped for.
On foot, the player moves like a tire, which means he/she can either rotate in place or turn while moving forward. This makes it easier to go up stairs, but escaping from enclosed areas or vert ramps is still as clumsy as it used to be. The relative ease of moving around on foot also opens up line customization. Players can drag around ramps and rails to create a custom line, and even upload the created spot so that other players can download it and attempt to beat their score. Uploading / downloading custom areas is incredibly easy and a great feature for those that dig player created content.
Downloaded spots, career challenges, and bonus objectives are all accessible through a challenge map, which does an excellent job organizing the game’s events and allowing players easy access to their event of choice. Players can even teleport right to an event through a menu. Black Box was very considerate to save players the time to travel to every event, because players will certainly burn away enough of their lives in events just trying to clear them.
Skate 2’s repetition of challenges will be the determining factor for most players. Those that love to knuckle down to a good challenge and don’t mind excessive repetition just to nail one impossible trick will love, or at least tolerate, some of the more ludicrous challenges. Players with a few broken controllers under their belts, however, will need to avoid the game lest they suffer heart palpitations and brain aneurysms. It’s mystifying why Black Box, while improving so many other aspects of the game, would still include challenges that need to be cheesed just to clear. Just as in Skate 1, the player is ever only responsible for 75% of what goes on in any given challenge due to errant pedestrians, minuscule pebbles in the road, and misalignment of stars and planets.
Several other niggling annoyances from Skate 1 return as well, with little change. Skate vets will gnash teeth to hear that pro challenges over the game S.K.A.T.E. are again in the game (though the 540 trick still works). Pumping on vert ramps is still a nebulous affair, as is actually exiting ramps without the use of stairs. Races are back as well, though that at least has been tweaked to force CPU racers to bail more often.
Even so, the adage “misery loves company” has never been proven more thoroughly than by Skate 2’s multiplayer component. Up to six players can jump into an online freeskate in a subsection of San Vanelona through an in-game menu very reminiscent of Burnout Paradise. Once in a freeskate session, players can attempt challenges that range from manageable to viciously insane. Attempting an impossible gap or grind with friends is an entirely different experience though, as players can discuss how best to approach a gap, when to ollie, or tips for building speed.
The collaborative effort makes co-operative play almost as satisfying as seeing friends’ characters bail and fly headfirst into a dumpster (with the accompanying THUD and expletive in voice chat). Competitive multiplayer also offers most event types from the career mode, with separate experience trackers associated with each event type. Completing all of the 149 co-operative challenges and leveling up each competitive track to the max will provide players with enough to do until Skate 3 (knock on wood).
Even though there are some obvious and confusing flaws in the game, Skate 2 is an all-around improvement on its predecessor, and a great swan song from the now-closed EA Black Box. Players that enjoyed the original will find purchasing the sequel a no-brainer. For the rest, their enjoyment will depend entirely on their ability to enjoy the proverbial sack of money despite the intermittent waft of elderly urine.