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Skate 2
Graphics: 8.3
Gameplay: 8.4
Sound: 8.5
Control: 8
Replay Value: 8.5
Rating: 8.3

By now you should be well aware of SKATE. It is the franchise directly responsible for the break the Tony Hawk series had to take for 2008, making it the first missed year the series has taken since its inception. By delivering a skating game that no longer features dial-a-combo input methods, but rather more intuitive measures, the impact EA had on Activision's skater was momentous. Now, more than a year after its launch, EA has brought us the follow-up to their success by delivering us an even bigger and better game; SKATE 2.

What immediately grabbed me about SKATE 2 is that it's actually backed by a story. The story isn't just sort-of there, in the sense that you have to read the game's booklet or read an in-game blurb about what's happened in the past five years. No, EA has actually pieced together live-action intro showing your character being released from prison, with your supporting cast of characters (Rob Dyrdek, Big Black, Danny Way, PJ Ladd, and more) shown as your fellow prison mates.

Taking place five years after the original, SKATE 2 shows you an abandoned San Vanelona that's dramatically changed. Following your disappearance from the scene, the city was taken over by a mega corporation, aptly, simply, and amusingly titled Mongocorp. Mongocorp wins the bid to rebuild the city, and in doing so, has also restricted skateboarding. In the process, Mongocorp employs a series of security measures to get rid of the flourishing skate scene in the abandoned city, but you'll have to fight them every step of the way, showing that you're not willing to leave.

You'll begin the game much like you do many others, by creating your skater. Following that, an in-game cut-scene, similar to that of GTAIV, will bring you up to speed with what's happened in San Vanelona (San Van for short). The locals now call the city New San Van, too, so you'll have to get used to hearing that. The goal of the game's career will be to rebuild the San Van skate scene, and you'll achieve that goal by participating in a plethora of challenges and events. To help you in your progress, you'll also be given a few new features to do that with. First, you can now get off the board and walk around. This will also allow your skater to push and move objects around, giving you the ability to create your own custom lines. Next, a new set of tricks have been added to the mix, as your skater now has double the amount over the first game, such as one-foots, handplants, hippy jumps, and more.

When you're on foot, you'll be allowed to walk up to certain, movable objects, such as ramps, grab onto them, and move them to a location you see fit. With this ability, you can string together a line to your liking, but aside from that, it's also a requisite for completing many of the game's missions. I must address a complaint though, because the on-foot controls are absolutely awful, requiring you to come to a stop if you wish to change the direction your walking towards. While on the subject of controls, why hasn't EA addressed everyone's biggest complaint? The camera angle. Yes, we get it, the point of the low-hung fish-eye-lensed camera is for the sake of authenticity. But for the sake of gameplay, we need a higher perspective that allows us to properly judge our distances. This oversight can make for some frustrating moments in SKATE 2, and it's a shame EA has completely overlooked it. Also, I'd have liked for EA to allow the gamer to re-assign the kick/push buttons. Having them as shoulder buttons would be a much better idea, as it'd free your right thumb and allow it to always rest on the analog stick ready to pull of tricks at a moment's notice.

Back to the good...San Van is larger than before, and also boasts much more variety as far as the layout goes. There are more ramps and half-pipes to exploit, and there are even more leap-of-faith jumps too. The city feels much more amusement park-ish than last year's game, which is a definite plus; no matter where you go, you can rest assured that there are objects you can put to use and string along a nice combo immediately.

I mentioned earlier on that you've been tasked to bring back the skate scene to San Van. So how exactly will you do that? Rebuilding the skate scene will require you to perform a variety of different tasks, which include unlocking more and more areas with skating potential, for example, like draining a swimming pool to use as a skate bowl. Furthermore, local crews will provide you with assistance, such as security of your own, helping you to keep your hair clean of the rent-a-cops and any other potential obstacles that Mongocorp has setup.

Sadistically, one of the best new attributes in SKATE 2 is the Thrasher Hall of Meat feature. Taking a cue from the Burnout page, SKATE 2's Hall of Meat is where you'll be encouraged to attempt the most bone crushing bail you can pull off. So feel free to plummet from as far up as possible while trying to land a trick, because these Slam Challenges will require a plethora of broken bones to complete. And hey, you'll even be able to customize and control your bails too! Think of it as Sony's PAIN meets Burnout's Crash mode meets SKATE. It's good fun, trust me.

Accessing the online world remains a seamless entry. While we haven't been able to play with more than a handful of people (who we assume were the game's developers and other writers), we didn't have any troubles with lag and such. Additionally, with your new-found ability to move objects around and create your own skate spots, you'll be allowed to take these spots and upload them online for others to use. Likewise, you can download created spots, as well, and vote on the ones you like best. And when you're online, you'll be able to show the SKATE community the work you put together using the game's Graphics Creator, where you can customize the art on your hats, hoodies, and decks.

Visually, SKATE 2 continues to run on the same game engine, albeit with some improvements made here and there to enhance the look. Lighting is more vivid, and the textures seem a bit sharper. Your environment is still epic, but moreso this time around. There are no issues with pop-up or draw-in, as the game engines is always up to task with rendering the world. But, the framerate still isn't silky smooth, which is unusual, considering that this is the second iteration of a game running on the same game engine. The frames don't stutter all the time, but rather occasionally, and even though the dips aren't very bad, with this being the PS3's third year, it's annoying enough that it needs to be mentioned. That aside, cut-scenes demonstrate that the character models are well done, and even gameplay shows how nice the animations are.

Audio is composed of largely the same sounds as the first game, so it's the soundtrack and voice-acting that's important here. The soundtrack covers a wide variety of genres. On one hand you've got the Wu-Tang Clan and Nas, on the other hand, Rage Against the Machine and Motorhead. I personally prefer the sounds of rock when I'm playing an extreme sports game, and because SKATE 2 doesn't let me pick and choose the songs I want to be heard, I turned the music down and turned up the Foo Fighters on my PC. Yes, that also means no custom soundtracks here. Still, overall, the soundtrack is really good, and to round out the audio experience is some great voice-acting, too.

SKATE 2 is great fun, and fans of the original will no doubt love it more than the first. Yes, there are still some gripes to be had, mostly dealing with control issues, but they don't hurt the game nearly enough to damage the experience significantly. With a larger campaign mode, a better playground, more tricks, the Hall of Meat mode, and enjoyable cut-scenes, SKATE 2 is worth the price of admission. Let's just hope that the next game takes it up a notch and blows the first two out of the water.

1/20/2009   Arnold Katayev