Review: Skate 2

Chairman of the board
By MITCH KRPATA  |  January 29, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Skate 2

Skate 2 | for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 | Rated T for Teen | Developed by EA Black Box | Published by Electronic Arts
January 22 should have been a day for celebration at Electronic Arts' Black Box development studio. That was the day Skate 2 hit stores, a sequel to the sleeper hit that had dethroned Activision's once indomitable Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise. Instead, as the industry site Gamasutra reported, by January 22 as many as 200 of Black Box's 350 employees had been laid off. That's a harsh lesson for other EA studios: make a good game, one that's sure to be a hit, and your reward is a pink slip.

A sad story, to be sure, but all involved can hold their heads high over the quality of Skate 2. This isn't the type of sequel that rebuilds from the ground up. Although it tweaks a few things that didn't work in the original, for the most part it's an identical experience in a new environment. Given the strength of the core skateboarding mechanics, that turns out to be good enough.

Skate's appeal comes from its gradually increasing complexity. Your job is to travel around the bustling, fictional city of New San Vanelonia, completing skateboarding challenges to build your cred and blow the squares' minds. Challenges take many forms: downhill races, duels in skate parks and pools, nailing picturesque tricks in a public spot. Sounds easy. Then you begin to appreciate the full potential of the control scheme.

Instead of mapping your character's actions to button presses, Skate 2 relies on adept use of dual analog sticks. The foundation of all tricks is the simple ollie, a straightforward jump accomplished by pulling down on the right stick and then flicking it up. Flick it to the side and your character will perform a kick flip or a heel flip. This control scheme feels just right, and it rewards experimentation. As the tricks get trickier, other features come into play. The left stick controls your skater's physical orientation; the trigger buttons allow him to grab the board. Landing a high-risk trick is a matter of delicacy and precision.

The good news is that during most challenges, you can try again and again. Skate 2 makes it easy to set a marker for where you want to start your line, and if you mess up — which you will, repeatedly — you can teleport right back to where you started. Even better, the sequel includes a feature that was sorely missing from the original. This time, your character can get off his board and walk — which means that staircases and even curbs are no longer impenetrable barriers.

Skate 2 still insists on being anti-authoritarian: your antagonists are sniveling, pot-bellied security guards in bright-yellow polo shirts. One of the best features from the original, the ability to edit and upload your own replays, now offers fewer camera angles. If you want more, you have to download them, a feature that wasn't available at the time I played and that I imagine will cost money. Worse still, when I tried to edit my own videos, the slow-motion feature never worked. Maybe I can pay for that, too?

Nevertheless, Skate 2 takes what worked before and polishes it to a slightly shinier end product. This is the kind of game that Nintendo used to make, a game in which all the challenges seem to live right at the edge of your ability. What at first looks impossible starts to seem barely manageable, and after dozens of tries you finally nail it. Let's hope all those former Black Box employees follow a similar arc in their search for new jobs.

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