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When it hit the shelves in the autumn of 2007, Skate quickly proved a huge hit, redefining the possibilities of skateboard based gaming. As a result, Skate 2 has been one of the most eagerly anticipated sequels of recent years. The question is, after a couple of weeks of thorough testing, how does your friendly neighbourhood sports game fan rate EA Black Box's second instalment?
There was a time in my life when almost the only things that I did other than skateboarding itself were watching skateboarding videos and playing skateboarding computer games. While it was a series of injuries that put an end to my real-life skating ambitions, my passion for skate games just seemed to die of its own accord. That was, until the release of Skate.
Like many people, I was blown away by how realistic Skate looked and felt and, from the moment I completed it, I have harboured a mouth-watering desire for a follow-up which would take up the mantle and expand on the limitations of the original. It is, therefore, something of an understatement to describe the arrival of Skate 2 in the Kenson homestead as 'eagerly anticipated' - I fair shredded its plastic wrapper with haste and my 360's silvery drive simply couldn't open fast enough.While the key improvements have dominated the promotional literature and internet hype - like the fact that your skater has finally learned to walk - the first thing that impressed me about Skate 2 was how much hadn't been changed.
What makes Skate 2 so brilliant is a quality that is hard to appreciate unless you know well the way that real skateboarding looks and feels.
One of the things I have come to respect about the various EA stables over the last few years is their ability to recognise and the confidence to stick with elements that made a previous title strong - Skate 2 is a perfect example of this. Very few 'major 'changes have been made: the graphics look better (gorgeous, in fact), the physics are smoother and more realistic, new tricks have been added, a brand new city has been developed, a new narrative drives the game forward - however, the key things that define the overall feel of the game have remained pleasingly similar.
This having been said, it is not the case that the work that has been done is of minimal scope or value - all the refinements that have been made seriously add up and Skate 2 gets it right in a way that exceeds anything that I've ever experienced in any kind of extreme-sports game. While I did eventually dive into the sequence of challenges, comps and races that make up the Career Mode, I first spent really quite a lot of time just pushing around, popping simple tricks and gushing over how 'right' everything looked and felt. My wife was patient and feigned interest when I repeatedly drew her attention to how good this kickflip backside nosegrind or that half-cab method looked, but, for me, what makes Skate 2 so brilliant is a quality that is hard to appreciate unless you know well the way that real skateboarding looks and feels.
Not everything is perfect mind you: while being able to get off your board and walk around represents a much-needed improvement, once you do step off, the controls are really sloppy and awkward. Furthermore, while being able to ditch your deck leaves your hands free to move certain objects around (another well intentioned idea with lots of potential) the actual processes of interaction are fiddly and all too often end in your skater being inexplicably flattened by a stationary quarterpipe or picnic bench. Despite the emphasis in the (pretty over-blown) plotline to do with the city of New San Vanelona being overrun with skate-proofing and security guards, it is pedestrians and their litter, not the easily outwitted/outrun/avoided guards or quickly removed skate-caps, that prove to be the most frustrating obstacles.
Another weak element in my opinion is the availability of a teleportation device to move you from one challenge/event to the next. Setting aside the rather obvious discontinuity with reality that this represents, it means that you don't have to become acquainted with the geography of the city until quite late on in the game if you don't want to - something that I found made for a less immersed, 'street-level' feel than I'd have liked.
Like photography, skateboarding is a hobby that fundamentally changes the way you look at the world.
Also, although I enjoyed the Career mode, I found most of the challenges to be pretty straightforward and achievable on the first on second attempt. There are only a handful of scenarios where you are required to perform specific tricks and these are by far the most demanding - mostly due to the fact that many of the available tricks are executed in very similar ways and the 360's analog sticks are not always precise enough to make it easy to pop the exact trick you need. Even after totally completing every aspect of the game, there are some tricks that I still cannot perform every time.
Like photography, skateboarding is a hobby that fundamentally changes the way you look at the world. Besides praising the realism of the experience Skate 2 offers, the highest complement I can pay it is that after playing it I found my dormant skate-senses - the visual imagination that enables the urban landscape of ledges, rails, benches and bollards to become so much more to skaters - became reactivated. Only something that is very well observed and superbly executed can provoke this kind of response.
Between the Career and the well thought-out, neatly implemented online mode there is enough in Skate 2 to interest and sustain the casual fan. However, for those, like me, for whom skateboarding is or has been a life-defining activity, there exists the potential for an experience that I am finding magical and utterly enthralling. Perhaps, if I can write enough reviews, elective double ankle surgery is a realistic proposition. My wife doesn't seem impressed by that suggestion, so perhaps I'll shelve my come-back dreams for a little longer and just play this game some more.
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