Support Andy, click to buy via us...
Skate 2 returns to the table with a refresh rather than re-invention. but whilst I could bemoan what might have been, it's hard to deny the quality and innovation that remains here from the first game. Those who missed it previously, or die hard skater fans - both will lap up more from the Skate stable.
In case you missed it, last year saw a revolution in video game skate boarding. So much so that the previous title holder, Activision's Tony Hawks, is yet to comprehensively respond. The premise was simple; make a game that brought the focus back to the skateboarding - rather than outfits, button combinations and complex mission structures.
Skate took the game camera down to street level. A simple change that focused gameplay on the contact points of board, rider and street. As you trawled the open world there was a real sense of being followed by a friend with a handy-cam. Not only was this a great way to communicate movement and motion, but it seemed to fit the gung ho do or die skating ethic.
Skate swept away previous skate boarding control conventions. Rather than other games' complex combinations of button presses, modifiers and directions, Skate uses the left analogue stick to control the board and the right stick to control the skater. From here you execute jumps, flicks and pops with simple flicks and rolls of the appropriate stick. What results is an instinctive skating mechanic that encourages the player to experiment with various combinations, rather than memorize preset patterns.
This was all wrapped up in an open world environment full of skaters, pedestrians, traffic and of course skating hot spots. Players could work through particular achievements or simply go for a skate to rack up a high score. The environment seamlessly moved from suburbs to down town to slums without lengthy loading or immersion breaking transitions.
As you can tell, I was something of a fan of the game. The question today however, is how does the sequel hold up? Skate 2, in a nutshell, is more of a refresh than a true sequel. Perhaps it is more Skate 1.5 than Skate 2. So all of what we have said so far holds true for the sequel as it did for the original.
What results is an instinctive skating mechanic that encourages the player to experiment with various combinations.
But that's not to say the game is without improvement or innovation. For a start it runs a lot smoother, holding solid at 60 frames per second, and although it's hard to tell precisely (without getting the stop watch out) it seems to load quicker to load to me. Generally it feels a snappier all round with Black Box getting a bit more horsepower out of the PS3.
The environment is largley the same, although now it has been decked out with various anti-skating measures. This means that you need to look a little harder to find a good spot as old favourites now sport knuckles and rivets to hamper their miss use.
Then there are gameplay tweaks. The biggest of which is the ability to grab ramps, benches, bars - anything in fact that isn't nailed down - and move it around the environment. This provides a completely new pursuit in Skate 2 that of setting up the street furniture to best suite a particular trick. And it works pretty well, simply walk (we'll get to that in a moment) up to a ramp, hold the right trigger and manoeuvre as required. It's no Little Big Planet, but it gets the job done and provides a lot more freedom to us the environment how you want to.
It could have been a chance to continue the innovative approach so well sketched out with the initial outing.
Now to that walking around. One of the biggest touted innovations is the ability to get off the board and walk. This works best to add realism to the overall experience. You can use this to position your self perfectly for a spot run, or walk up steps to avoid lengthy detours. Along with this you can also perform jumps that temporarily separated player and board, another nice touch that really adds to the sense of connection between player and board.
Once off the board though, I found I quickly wanted get back on it again. The walking is clunky to say the least. At times it feels like you are driving a bull dozer around the streets rather than a pedestrian. I had also hoped to be able to combine step off tricks into my repertoire, but the janky nature of the implementation means a sharp distinction between riding and walking modes, and never the two shall meet.
Last, and perhaps least, of the improvements is a greater focus on skater damage. You have always been awarded for breaking a particular number of bones. Skate 2 though increases this aspect of the game and encourages you to go for broke, jumping off the board at inopportune moments to leave your character sprawling into the fast approaching concrete. While initially distracting, this seems like a step too far for the game. It feels far too comedy driven, something ill fitting with the easy instinctive nature at the heart of Skate.
The whole package certainly doesn't detract from what made Skate great. In some areas (like the moveable furniture) it adds interesting enhancements, whilst less successful innovations can simply be ignored. But what it fails to do is to keep the momentum of the first game. Skate 2 is what we have come to expect from a Tony Hawks style yearly refresh - when it could have been a chance to continue the innovative approach so well sketched out with the initial outing.
On this basis Skate 2 is great value for those who hadn't splashed the cash on the first game, but for us who have sampled EA's skating wares before, there isn't really enough here to justify spending again.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: