Review: Skate 2

In 1992, the Plan B team released their seminal video Questionable and ushered in a new era of skateboarding. Through a fisheye lens, it offered up a vision of skateboarding where the street was the new skatepark. They left behind the enormous airs of the vert ramp in favor of highly technical board flips and grinds down 20-stair handrails. The mainstream media coverage that made stars of people like Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi dried up, and in its place a subculture of gritty videotapes and magazines took hold. It was a cataclysmic shift in the style and culture of skateboarding.

When skate. came out in 2007, it may as well have been the videogame equivalent of that original Plan B video. The ridiculous skyscraper jumping and never-ending combos of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater were replaced with realistic architecture, difficult but intuitive controls and an emphasis on creating and sharing video footage. And in a nod to the way we experienced skateboarding in the ’90s, players viewed the entire game through a fisheye lens. For those who remember that scene, skate. was as fresh as it was nostalgic. Of course, skateboarding eventually returned to the mainstream with big sponsorships, big names and even bigger ramps far removed from the smaller, improvisational world of street skating. Skate 2 feels inspired by this latest permutation of skateboarding. It has sold its soul to the masses, and not always, as one might assume, for the worst. From the first moment you drop into a ramp, it’s clear that this game has a very different vision than its predecessor.

In the first game, San Vanelona was a low key Southern Californian city. In Skate 2, it’s a colorful metropolis of cartoonish proportions. It’s a denser place with rails, ledges and transitions stacked around each other, at times in unbelievable architectural formations. San Vanelona is no longer a city for skaters to discover, but rather a city designed by skaters to suit their particular needs. At times, San Vanelona feels like nothing so much as an enormous skatepark. Of course, there are many of those in the city as well. The warehouses with mini ramps and grind boxes have either disappeared or been replaced by vert ramps and the mega ramps of X Games fame. Even the normal urban topography of banks, ledges and rails has grown by an order of magnitude. The understatement that defined the skate spots in the original game is still there, but the spots themselves are fewer and they’re not as naturally incorporated into the cityscape as they were in skate.

Fortunately, the controls of Skate 2 have received far fewer and less detrimental changes. skate. was revolutionary for the intuitiveness of its controls. Foot movement was mapped to one analog stick and body position to the other. Each trick was an exercise in coordination and improvisation. Skate 2 continues that conceit but allows players to take one or both feet off the board by assigning buttons to each foot. You can also pull off hand plants and finger flips, nice additions to your repertoire that occasionally feel like novelty tricks.

For most players, the most significant innovation will simply be the ability to get off your board. Once you get off the board, your character controls like a PS1 horror story. But the ability to run up the set of stairs you just bailed on is really liberating. On foot, you can also move around street equipment like park benches and barriers to make spots more interesting or to create new terrain to skate. It’s a wise addition to the game that not only plays on the skateboarder’s love affair with moving picnic tables and bike racks, but also makes Skate 2‘s San Vanelona a more dynamic place.

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On the surface, Skate 2 speaks to the casual fan of skateboarding. The controls are more forgiving than they were in the last game, even with the added complication of more moves. The camera angle now offers the option of a more traditional over-the-shoulder view (as opposed to skate.‘s low-angle fisheye), which makes spotting tricks easier but robs the game of its distinctive skate video look. And all your moves occur on a much larger scale: You ollie higher and grind longer on Skate 2 ‘s exaggerated terrain. For many, this ability to play out ESPN’s primetime vision of skateboarding will be enough. But for those who feel that skating is about a physical connection with the urban landscape more than who can catch the biggest air, it’s a little disheartening. The first time I played the game, I was tempted to return to the technical complexity and clean, simple lines of Skate 2‘s predecessor. But while the ways in which Skate 2 caters to its more hardcore audience are less obvious than in skate., they’re no less sublime.

The Skate series has never been about the points you make during combos; the reward is in doing a difficult trick and then reliving that moment through the game’s replay editor. For that to work, the graphics have to be amazing, and in this regard Skate 2 outdoes its predecessor in every way. The new San Vanelona is a Technicolor production compared to the original city. Marble, granite, brick, stone and concrete all have numerous and distinct textures. Rails come in lovely patinas; graffiti and trash litter the overpasses. Players can’t help but form a bond with the environment and its unique personality. The bond is no less strong between you and your character. While the physical customization options are more limited than in the last game, characters have a physicality that feels more real than those of the original game. You notice things like scuffed grip tape and smudged shoes, the shine-free skin and the faded wash on a pair of dark blue jeans. All of these details are brought to remarkable life through what could be the best motion capture seen yet in a videogame.

After gapping from one drop rail to a lower rail, I watched the footage with a friend over and over using the new options granted by the flexible follow camera and fixed tripod camera. We sat in quiet amazement as my character’s body flexed and moved in slow motion. Suddenly, my stopped me during the fourth playback. “Look, your character isn’t spotting his landing between the first rail and the second rail,” he said. “You would definitely have to do that on a gap and a grind like this one.” It was valid criticism, but the sort that’s only possible when a character moves so beautifully and so convincingly that the most subtle and intricate gestures are open for close scrutiny. If skate. was about finally inhabiting a city that resembled the real world and not just a glorified skatepark, then Skate 2 is about finally moving in a realistic manner.

Playing Skate 2 offers the combined sensation of a videogame’s immediate thrill and the skate video’s vicarious one. That is Skate 2 ‘s great leap over its progenitor – its successful bid to convince players that they’re part of a skate video. Every time you play, you can imagine yourself adding to the annals of skating history with a canonical photo of your character tweaked wildly above the lip of a pool or a perfect 30-second clip that you can imagine people’s jaws dropping over on YouTube. skate. hinted at this concept, but Skate 2 ‘s superior presentation finally realizes it. Some will lament that the purity of vision that defined skate. and set it in stark contrast to the Tony Hawk series has been compromised to lasso in the last of the Tony Hawk faithful. But the soul of the game – the kinetic human body – is still there, beautiful in form and vigorous in motion.

Bottom line: Skate 2 has taken the framework of the original and fleshed it out to provide an enormous and varied experience for all types of skaters and skateboard fans alike.

Recommendation: Buy it.

Tom Endo is a section editor who’s one deck shy of a skateboard.

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