Black Box dropped a plague on the Tony Hawk franchise back in September 2007 and now they're back to watch the series take its last gulp of air. The original Skate re-invented the Skateboarding sub-genre by creating the "flick-it" controls; using the right analog stick to flip the board in different directions. It went on to sell double the amount of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, and even though I've been a huge fan for a decade, this amazing sequel solidifies the fact that I made the right choice jumping on the Skate band-wagon.
The fact that the studio hasn't resorted to rediculous add-ons or unrealistic special moves will make many other frustrated ex-Tony Hawk fans happy they switched too. Black Box simply built off the original, adding many requested features such as larger online maps, co-op play, hand-plants, hippy jumps, and the big one—the ability to walk. The years of in-your-face product placement (including shameless self promotion) and adding the natas spin as a feature to a video game are over.
Skate 2 owes a lot of its success to new level design, which has vastly improved simply because the developers have since learned what works and doesn't work with the flick-it control scheme and the related physics. This sequel starts five years after the original, and for lack of a better idea, the story starts just as you are getting off a jail sentence. San Vanelona has also mysteriously undergone massive reconstructive surgery due to some unknown disaster. Some mega-company, the properly named Mongocorp, won the bid to rebuild the cherished skate city and has put hundreds of annoying security guards and skate-stoppers on the property to protect their investment. Your mission is to rebuild your career and revive San Van's skate scene.
In order to succeed you've got a much larger repertoire of tricks at your disposal. But unless directly asked to do many of these additions, you won't find yourself using any of them that often. Things like footplants and hippy jumps don't tend to be beneficial to keeping a high-scoring line rolling or even to keeping your forward momentum. They are nice to try out, and definitely add some variability to trick based goals, but you won't find yourself relying on them that often. If you are a veteran to the series, you'll find the game relies a little more heavily on vert than on street, but mainly the skillset is the same, which felt fine to me as I never felt bored with the gameplay.
Never being bored and never being frustrated are two completely different things though. In Skate 2 you have evolved to finally get those sneakers off the board and onto flat ground. This allows for adjusting rails, ramps, and boxes to create new lines to skate. Goals that rely on this concept and then ask you to do specific tasks such as air up from a placed quarter pipe and hand plant the backboard of a basketball net, will take dozens of fruitless attempts and repositioning. Fortunately there aren't too many goals that require you to do this type of set-up.
There's much to be said about the fluidity of Skate 2. Jumping online and back off again is extremely fluid with the use of an Xbox live in-game menu. You can jump into a game of Jam (most points in a round) or some co-op missions with a friend and then come back to your career in the exact same spot as when you left, no magical warping to the nearest subway stop required. Session markers remember where you placed a couple objects and screw them in place until you start modifying objects in other locations (and start a new session marker). You can also open up the session within the Create-a-Spot editor to share it with friends by uploading it to EA Online. This editor seems quite limited, as you cannot just add objects to increase the 'skatability', you simply share the setup by setting the zone and scoring as high as you can on the objects. Generally the in-game spots are much more fun to take a run at. When you attempt to beat the high-scores on the in-game spots, you can 'own' it, 'kill' it, and then try to beat your buddies uploaded scores as a bonus.
Downloading spots will be quickly passed over by most, but the return of the replay editor and being able to share in-game shenanigans through photos and videos is great to hear. The addition of tri-pod cameras is a feature I was clamoring for, but the lack of film effects really surprises me as this was a cool way to add some customization to shots within the original Skate. But all is not lost for those who wish to purchase the DLC update, which includes more camera options and effects and really should have been included in the first place. This content was included last time, so it perplexes me why Black Box felt it is something people will be delighted or even inclined to purchase separately. The value of providing gamers with the tools to create their own fantastic looking viral internet videos they will want to share with their friends far surpasses the amount EA will gain from the sales.
Much like the first Skate, San Van is at your disposal right from the get go and your skills never really change throughout the story. This adds to the sandbox style of gameplay existentially as you can just forget about leveling up and just skate around and still have tons of fun. By no means is the story weak as there is a nice mixture of goals and seemingly countless more than last time around. The story once again surrounds itself on getting onto the covers of two major skateboard magazines: Thrasher and Skateboard mag. This may disappoint some, but hopefully Skate 3 will have a less cookie cutter method. For now we shall play ball while the story sits back seat to gameplay.
Breaking bones in Skate was almost a past-time for many of those who picked up the game, so adding the "hall-of-meat" challenges was only a natural step for Skate 2. Your skater is at your mercy when you throw them off a stadium flagpole, or down a large dam going mach 10. Doing this with friends online never ceases to amuse either. I haven't decided yet whether leveling up in this online component is a win or a loss for the player at the controls. Technically it means you can bail really well, but at the same time it means you are good at not keeping your skater in one rigid, mildly recognizable human form, which usually is a bad thing. Glitches have plagued many a game online, and unfortunately Skate 2 falls under this category. There are multiple glitches that will throw your skater directly into the air at any given time. Since hall-of-meat scores include total time of the bail and amount of height achieved, these glitches will make a winner out of any player who happens to know the right combination of buttons.
Having the ability to call on a crew to help you out is fun too. Big Black (from MTV's Rob & Big) is there to lay down some freelance smack-down on security guards, others will help drain pools and pry skate-guards from their rails and ledges. Pro skaters not fantasized by the hawk series (minus Koston, who has appeared in both) make up the team once again. The soundtrack is huge, but is a mix-bag of everything from Black Sabbath, to Nas, to WAR. Although diverse and definitely not terrible, these licensed un-original mix-bag playlists aren't for me and so I tend to plug in the iPod and listen to my own mix. I'd suggest you do the same after the first couple sessions with Skate 2.
Overall I find that Skate 2 has put the cap on a series that I have been a fan of since the original THPS came out in 99'. Playing 'Skate' back then meant collecting letters to spell the word, performing 900 McTwists and hand-planting helicopters along the way. The Hawk series never went horribly downhill since then, it's simply been 8 years and grown old. Skate 2 is very close to finding that perfect balance between realism and arcade game play, and that is why I think it's currently the better game to pick up if you're looking to rejuvenate the virtual skateboarding void that was created after becoming bored with the 'other' series a couple years ago. The complete package is incredible, especially the online play, so for those action sports gamers, go shred over to the store and grab a copy.