52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 50
Release Date: January 21, 2009
Developer: EA Black Box
ESRB Rating: Teen
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Just a few years ago, gamers looking for skateboarding action on the console had only one outlet to choose from and that was the latest offering from the Tony Hawk franchise. That was till Skate made its debut in 2007. The start-up game from Vancouver developer EA Black Box took the skateboarding world by storm and left Tony Hawk in its dust. Reaching the top is never an easy task, staying there even more challenging. Does Skate 2 have what it takes to stay on top?
Skate two takes place five years after the events of Skate. The fictional city of San Vanelona is once again the playground, but the city has undergone radical changes. The city is now called New San Vanelona and city officials have made skateboarding illegal is most of the city with the exception of a half dozen skateboard parks. To enforce this rule, they hired the Mongo Corp to crack down on skateboarders. Of course such actions will not stop our delinquent skateboarding enthusiast in his/her quest for skateboarding stardom.
At first glance Skate 2 does not look or feel any different than Skate. The game starts off with quirky intro movie then proceeds to the skater creation screen. This time the virtual skater can be either a male or female character. I opted to create a skater girl, well more like struggled to create a skater girl. The “female” model left a lot to be desired that is for sure. I do applaud EA Black Box for not simply creating supermodel on skateboards, but not every female skateboarder looks as hard as the board she rides. After carefully moulding her face as much as possible, I was able to create a skater that at least appeared somewhat feminine. Still I had to dress her in skimpy clothing to allow casual observers to identify her as a girl. Well not exactly, as my wife assumed I was playing a cross-dresser. Surely the in game character would identify my girl as a girl. Nope. She constantly got referred to as “dude” and “man” during every conversation. It became painfully obvious that the female option was a last minute toss-in as all character models, videos and game dialogs were recorded for a male character. EA Black Box was so sure that female characters would never get picked that they even linked an achievement to selecting one.
Once the game actually starts, gamers will find themselves in New San Vanelona trying to establish a name for themselves by completing a few simple moves that serve as a tutorial on how to play the game. Veterans of the first Skate will be able to start this skip (or breeze through) these simple challenges and go straight into exploring this new city. Well that is if they desire to do so. In Skate, players took public transit systems to move from location to location, but then had to actually skate to each event. Not so this time as events and locations can be selected from the map and the player warped directly to the event location. Exploration is no longer a requirement.
The controls are still centered on the same Flick-It control mechanism that gamers loved (and I disliked) from the first title. Skate 2 does introduce a few new moves such as hand/foot stands and grabs that can be formed with the press of a button, but these new moves also appear tacked on and are not as intuitive as the other moves. With the exception when these special new moves were required, I ended up playing this new game the exact same way I played the first Skate with no apparent repercussions.
Not really a new move, but more of a new control options is the ability to have the skateboarder get off his/her skateboard and walk up stair as a normal person would. I use the word normal loosely as the character movement is anything but normal. Trying to navigate a skateboarder on foot should not be more complicated than doing so on the skateboard, but this game made it so. While on foot our skater friend can move some of the game object around allow them to access specific areas. This is a nice addition to the game, but, just as the new moves, will see limited real usage as the hassle of moving object around due to the poor controls do not outweigh the potential payoff. A side effect of the new moveable objects was to exposure the poor physics in place in the game. A skinny female skateboarder bumping into a large dumpster should not cause the dumpster to move. I have witnessed first hand the results of a skateboarder slamming face first into a dumpster and thrust me it was not the dumpster that moved. This same physics causes a scrawny female running on foot to knock to the ground a huge man by barely bumping into him.
It is not just the controls that have made the migration over from Skate, so did the visuals. New San Vanelona is larger, but does not really feel newer. One would be hard pressed to pick out the Skate 2 screenshot from a series of Skate screenshots. Now to be completely honest, the visuals in Skate were above average and the character animations superb, but if Activision can squeeze more juice from the Xbox 360 with Modern Warfare 2, I expect the same with EA Black Box. They needed not recreate the wheel; simply enhance the poor textures from Skate. Instead it appears they just decided to save time and simply reuse most of the models and texture for Skate 2. And since cut & pasting the graphics worked so well, why not do the same to the audio portion as well. Besides the obvious recording required for new dialog, all the other sounds are taken from Skate. This is most obvious with the enjoyable street chatter from the first game, causing it to lose its appeal when simply repeated again this time.
After a few days of playing Skate 2 I had to wonder what if anything did I receive that was new and worthwhile for my thirty five toonies?
The good news is that there is some new content to the game. The biggest additions to Skate 2 have been in the online portion of the game. Jam sessions, races, S-K-A-T-E and own the spot challenges have all returned allowing players to compete against other players, but the game does introduce some great non-competitive multiplayer action. The game world is filled with group challenges that require up to six players to complete. This could be as simple as getting all players to grind a rail at once, to more complex multi-trick obstacle course runs. Another new mode is the ability challenge the online community by “creating-a-spot”, skate the newly created spot to establish a score to beat and then uploading it for the community to enjoy and attempt top the established score.
The clip creator has also returned. This allows skateboarders to create a short clip of their favourite tricks or crashes and upload them for the world to enjoy. The movie editor added a few new cameras allowing for dramatic angles. It appears that each time EA gives a little, it takes a little back. Gone are all the cool film effects. Where did they all go? Why to the Xbox Marketplace of course. Yep, the same film effects that were once a part of the game now must be purchased separately. What gives EA? It’s just not cricket.
I hope the overall negative tone of this document does not dissuade anyone from the title; Skate is a great game, just one filled with flaws. Maybe EA will finally get it right with Skate 3. Till then, Skate 2 is still the best option for gamers craving skateboard action on the Xbox 360 console. But for those who have already completed Skate and are now looking to move beyond the title, stay away from Skate 2 as there is nothing new to see here.