Review: Skate 2

Tom Endo | 3 Feb 2009 11:00
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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 The warehouses with mini ramps and grind boxes have either disappeared or been replaced by vert ramps and the mega ramps of X Games fame.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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