After years of tired Tony Hawk sequels, 2007's Skate was a refreshing change of pace. Black Box's interpretation of the sport was a far more realistic one. The innovative "flick" control scheme better emulated the experience of performing ollies, nollies, grabs and assorted flip tricks. Players were dropped into the fictional city of San Vanelona, a massive virtual playground where anything and everything could become the starting point of a skating line. So how will Black Box attempt to improve the experience in its follow-up, Skate 2? By giving you new things to do without your skateboard.
Skate 2 no longer glues your character to the board. With a simple press of a button, you can get off your board and start exploring the environment. New San Vanelona is a mix of old and new, and the city begs to be explored. No longer will you have to attempt to "glitch" the system to get to interesting skate points. You'll be able to walk up a set of stairs, for example. You'll be able to jump on top of a ledge. It's a simple addition, but it allows the world to be explored in far greater depth than before.
Not only can you get off your board, you can move things around. Objects can now be grabbed, encouraging players to set up their own ramps and rails. For example, you can move a picnic table to connect two seemingly random rails to perform one extended grind. Maybe you'll be able to set up some boxes to create a launchpad that leads to the top of a building. There's a ton of possibilities waiting to be exploited. The incredibly patient can drag a ramp from one part of the city to the other -- just set aside a few hours to do so. (Next Skate, give us a vehicle, please ... or the ability to fly.)
For Skate nuts, this newfound freedom is reason enough to justify a purchase when the game releases in January. Those that spent hours editing videos in the original Skate will be glad to hear that the feature returns with a few improvements, too. There's much more freedom with the camera in Skate 2, as players have near total control over its placement in the editor. The presets are still available, but they can now be changed. Want a shot from below your skater as he jumps over a gap? You can do that. Want to keep your camera fixed on high, as it follows your skater through the city? You can do that too. While there's much more flexibility in how you shoot your videos, you won't find any of the visual effects found in the original game. The fish-eye lens, for example, was infrequently used and appeared "gimmicky" to the most devoted of fans.
While being able to create personalized skating lines with movable objects is fun, we're unsure if the changes will be appreciated en masse. For the most part, Skate 2 is the same game it was in 2007. The "flick" controls still work incredibly well, but the sequel certainly doesn't have the fresh, innovative feel as the original. Many of the smaller changes are thoroughly unsurprising; the in-game camera is a good example of this. Players can now choose to have a camera that's further away from the floor for a game experience more akin to Tony Hawk.
It appears there's other concessions made to the Tony Hawk players that crave a more "Xtreme" approach to the sport. While Skate 2 is still, for the most part, about performing "real" tricks, there are points in the city which encourage some truly ludicrous stunts. Go to the top of the mountain to find one spine-tingling challenge. Or, unlock the skate park to try your hand at tricks that would undoubtedly kill real human beings. If you want massive air, you'll be able to find it here.
While the PS3 version suffered earlier this year, we're glad to report that the PS3 version of Skate 2 is now running extremely well with a steady framerate. For those who are curious, the PS3 version does have Trophy support. And for those who are really curious, you do unlock a Trophy for switching genders.
It may not be as innovative as its predecessor, but Skate 2 still excels without clear competition. More of the same, yes, but dedicated fans will find much to do and appreciate in this upcoming sequel.