EA's reentry into the skateboarding genre with the original Skate was viewed by many as an uphill challenge. Its last attempt – the ill-received Street Sk8er on PS1 nearly 10 years earlier – and the fact that Activision's Tony Hawk franchise was the firmly seated king of the hill didn't help. Still, the game's innovative trick controls and return to a more "pure" skateboarding experience proved a huge success, outselling that year's Tony Hawk title nearly two-to-one by some accounts.
Now EA Blackbox is looking to recreate that success in Skate 2 ... not through the usual addition of modes and various novelties, but via some basic evolution of the gameplay fundamentals of the original game. This sequel is about two things: an all-new, modifiable environment to skate in and more ways to show off in it. We went hands-on with Skate 2 to bring you our first gameplay impressions, which you can continue reading after the break.
As alluded to in the first teaser trailer for the game, Skate 2 is "set" several years after the first, following a major earthquake which has made necessary the rebuilding of San Vanelona. For our hands-on, we got a look at four areas within New San Vanelona: the waterfront, a school campus, a "'70s skate park," and San Vanelona Mountain. All of these areas – in fact all of the game's locales – are entirely new.
The waterfront skate spot and San Vanelona Mountain were the two standouts of the bunch. The former was a wide-open civic area with lots of fancy, curvy architecture to skate, along with a dedicated skateboarding section. The latter was a true mountain run with some thrilling downhill areas. Developer EA Black Box admitted that this location was inspired by their own backyard – Vancouver, BC.
Apart from the new areas and a revised plot (an "evil megacorp" has been brought in to rebuild San Vanelona and it (gasp!) doesn't take kindly to skaters), the real advances in the game – as we mentioned before – are purely gameplay-centric. Chief among these is a new mechanic that lets players take one or both feet off the board during tricks.
"Foot plants can be used to spring off the environment from one trick into another."
Fairly soon after receiving a rundown on the controls, we were getting footloose with ease. It was particularly fun to pull off foot plants, which, if you're really good, can be used to spring off the environment from one trick into another. It's also possible to leap up off the board completely; we tried jumping over a picnic table while our board passed underneath and, after a few tries, had it nailed.
A new button has been added (RB on 360; R1 on PS3) which is the "hand" button. This is used in tricks to hand plant (which can be tweaked with the right analog stick, and you can take a foot off the board during them as well) and to interact with movable objects. That last bit is the game's other major advance.
Essentially, as EA says, anything that looks like it should be movable in the environments, is. You can get off your board, run around, and move tables, rails, and other objects to create your own lines. It's something unexpected and a mechanic that really opens up the experience.
"The Xbox 360 version was hitting the 60fps mark most of the time, and the gameplay feel was definitely better for it.
EA is touting another major improvement in Skate 2 – frame rate. The final game will run at a locked 60fps according to the developer. The Xbox 360 version we played was hitting that mark most of the time, and the gameplay feel was definitely better for it. The PS3 version, on the other hand, was having a hard time staying near 30fps. It also suffered from some gnarly texture filtering problems which made it look inferior to the 360 build. At its best on 360, the game looks about on par with the original at this point, save for a new screen effect that's intended to make the action look more like it's being recorded on a handycam.
It's worth noting that the official screens EA has distributed are not indicative of what the game we saw looked like. In fact, they appear to have been retouched quite a bit. The video below is definitely a more accurate look at the state of the game. That said, from what we saw and played, we nevertheless have high expectations from the finished game.