by Phil Kehres
Skate 2 (rated T for Teen, available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation3)
Review based on demo. Full game release date: January 21, 2009.
When you pick up a skateboarding game, the first thing you want to do is bust out some mad tricks. Skate 2’s biggest flaw is its high learning curve. It’s not an entirely terrible experience, but there’s not much there to motivate you to master the game’s awkward right analog stick-based tricks.
Like many games from Electronic Arts (EA), Skate 2 suffers from focusing too much on style and presentation and too little on core gameplay. One of the first things you’ll notice when you fire up Skate 2 and head into the character creation screen is the obscene amount of product placement. Every item you can purchase for your created skater is licensed apparel. From Adidas shoes to New Era baseball caps, your avatar is basically a rolling billboard. It’s not all bad, however, as the brand names do add a sense of realism and flair to the deep and extensive create-a-skater tool. You could spend hours on character creation, but unfortunately, this is one of the more fun aspects of the game.
When it gets down to the meat of the game, however, Skate 2 falters. After spending several hours with the demo, pulling off tricks was hardly easier that it was when I started. You get the sense there is the potential there for a deep and rewarding system of combos and gnarly tricks, but figuring out how to guide your character with the left stick while timing and pulling off tricks with the right stick is burdensome and frustrating. And then there are totally superfluous actions like being able to get off your board to walk around and move items in the environment. According to the official website, this function is supposed to allow you to “create your own spots” for “sick new game play.” In actuality, it is completely pointless and smacks of lazy programming — why not just, you know, build good tricks into the game? The “off-board” controls and camera are awful, and the whole exercise takes away from the game much more than it could add even if it was well-implemented. Then there’s the so-called “story” which is half-baked — something about your character getting out of jail and having to skate to raise money to free the city from some evil corporation trying to ban skating. It’s just… ugh... terrible. Amend that: Pointless in a skating game, and terrible.
That’s not to say there aren’t any redeeming qualities to the game, though. If you can manage to master some cool tricks, there is a pretty nifty little replay mode that allows you to edit, save upload and share your best videos. The character models and environments are well-done graphically, and the physics engine is quite good. Tricks look smooth and natural when you manage to pull them off. Crashes look realistic, though there is the occasionally occurrence of a crash that doesn’t look that bad but, for whatever reason, the physics engine goes crazy and leaves your character writhing in pain for too long, as if he’d just fallen off a building. The physics are best showcased in the “Hall of Meat” multiplayer mode, which allows players to compete in scenarios where the most brutal wipeouts garner the most points — it’s sadistically gratifying, and probably how I would spend most of my time with this game. There’s a decent soundtrack full of licensed music and a good selection of pro skaters in the game (though obviously lacking the big names of Tony Hawk and his crew) as well.
In the end, unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good. The biggest knock on the game is that too much attention is paid to capturing the skating culture — the clothes, the attitude, the trite and overblown jargon — at the expense of time that should have been spent creating a more natural and intuitive control scheme. A game like this needs to be fun and playable out of the box in order to be successful, and this is where Skate 2 fails. Sure, you can create a kickass skater decked out in a Volcom hoodie, but it’ll take you hours before you can get him to do anything fun.
The best games ease you in and make you want to keep playing much longer than you should. Skate 2 breaks your spirit and makes you want to throw the disc in the garbage after fifteen minutes. Okay, it’s not that bad, but unless you’re a veteran of the previous Skate title or just really dedicated to skateboarding and yearning for a new virtual expression for your fandom, I’d stay away from this one.
Final verdict: 2.5/5
(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)
(Promotional screenshot of Skate 2 provided by Electronic Arts. To see a trailer for Skate 2, please check below.)
video game review
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by Phil Kehres