Skate 2 First impressions

   13/01/2009 at 15:00       Phil May       5 COMMENTS.
Things have changed since you've been away.

While you've been dodging shivs made out of plastic cutlery or running through the showers double-quick time to avoid a ritual bumming, your old stomping ground San Vanelona has been rebuilt from the kerb to the tops of its towering skyscrapers.

[THUMB1]Skateboarders once made the city their own, now they huddle in clustered groups well away from the main streets, fearful of a beating (or worse) if they venture downtown. The new corporate-financed San Van is not a place for wayward mavericks who want to get their groove back. So what are you going to do? Sit on your butt or get out there and ollie like a lick'em lolly?

EA's Black Box Studio is a bit of a Jeckyl and Hyde development outfit. On the one hand they provide utter tummy rubbish in the form of Need for Speed: Underground, and on the other hand they put together fine upstanding videogames such as Skate and its sequel Skate 2.

Now a few people have gone hands on with Skate 2 we find out the important stuff. Has the team has fallen foul of "The Curse of Hawk", shoehorning ludicrously over-the-top and unrealistic extreme sports and MTV nonsense into a once well-respected game series? Or have they contentrated on the core elements of Skate - realistic and rewarding skateboard action with a minimum of muss, fuss and ludi-cruss.

[THUMB2]It's safe to say that despite Skate 2 having some sort of a murky back-story tacked in this time round, serious improvements have been made to virtually all of the gameplay elements. In the time-limited demo available on the Xbox Live Marketplace (and later this week on the PSN Store) it'll take you a few moments to remember just how tricky the control method for Skate is, and how you had to basically un-learn all those years of finger-punishing button mangling from the Tony Hawk games and learn how to use a more natural-feeling gesture-based control method.

Gee arr aye vee eye tee why!

Skate 2 feels even more of a shock to the system because you get even less sense of gravity-defying weightlessness than you did before. Now, you really have to work at pulling off the highest ollies, and you need to concentrate in order to achieve the flashier showcase moves.

Control wise, things may be more of the same but those controls feel slightly more intuitive this time round because the chances are that you won't have been distracted by Tony Hawks Proving Ground (unless you're a rabid completist who still bought it anyway, despite it being more than a bit sucky).

[THUMB3]Skate 2's time limited demo begins by breaking you back in gently to how things work. Scooting along with a press of the A or the X button means that you have to realistically build up momentum. Left Stick moves your skater's viewpoint around but it's the all-important right stick where all the serious stuff happens.

If you recall Skate 1's gesture-based move transmogrifier, you'll know that flicking down then up on the right stick will make you jump (or ollie to give it the proper street-slang skateboarding term). Ducking for longer then flicking up on the stick will make you ollie higher, naturally - and if you want to perform a nollie just do the whole thing in reverse, flicking up then down.

Next you are shown how to do a few neater tricks like flicks and spins. Flipkicking involves a swift left or right diagonal flick after you duck down into the ollie position. Flatouts are done in a similar way, this time by dragging the right stick in a quarter circle from the low ollie move.

[THUMB4]Once you've done a few flat tricks it'll all start to slide back into place and you'll begin to remember, and begin to get addicted all over again.

Some of the early neat additions available in the demo will eventually become essential. The "placemarking" feature is a godsend. Slap down a placemarker anywhere in your environment, and you can instantly warp back to that placemarker with a quick upward press on the crosspad. When you're continually trying to nail a trick or a particular run, this environmental bookmarking is a brilliant piece of subtly designed genius. A quick tutorial shows you just how easy it is to slap down a marker then spin back to it, and trust me on this, you'll use it a lot.

Visually, Skate 2 feels a step up from the original particularly when it comes to character design and animation. Though there are still one or two framerate issues for those of you who are absolutely nihilistically obsessed with such things, but there's no tearing and the sheer scale of San Vanelona will mean that the team will have performed an impressive feat if they make good on their promise to completely dispense with load-times so you can make the best of your time within the game.

Negative, I am a meat popsicle!

[THUMB5]The Hall of Meat is back again, this time with an ever-increasing array of achievements and pithy comments if you faceplant during a tricky move. You'll see a fair amount of wear and tear on your character every time you scuff your itty bitty shins so err on the side of caution before you've upped your stats enough to pull off the big moves.

The demo might not give you the chance to hit the streets much beyond a simplistic initial skatepark and trick-alley scenario but from the look and feel of Skate 2, there's oodles of potential for the sequel to build on the strong foundations of the Hawk-killing original, and fully establish itself as the only Skateboarding game worth giving a fig about. Download the demo as soon as you can. If EA keep up the pace with stuff like this in 2009, then we're in for a very rewarding gaming year indeed.
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