When Skate arrived it was a breath of fresh air. A game that brought life to the tired skating genre and ripped up the template set by the Tony Hawk franchise. Despite its problems, all that played it cried out for a sequel. A year later we have it.
In game development a year isn't a very long time so it's fairly obvious that not a lot was going to change in the game. Before I move into a description if the more fundamental changes I will highlight two areas that frustrated me with the original. In the original you could be happily doing a challenge and fall off your board, after all we are not all masters at the game upon first playing it. Despite having only travelled a few meters the game would have to reload. This was extremely frustrating especially as some challenges required many attempts. Gladly this problem has been removed. Load times are only really seen if you are teleporting between locales. A second issue that seems to have been tweaked are the races. I found the races in the original frustrating and often ill thought out. In Skate 2 they are a joy. They aren't easy but you don't seem to respawn trapped behind an item of scenery and the routes seem more obvious and natural.
So far I haven't really told you a great deal other than the stuff I'm glad that they fixed or tweaked. In truth that's the key difference between Skate and Skate 2, fixes and tweaks. The majority of the game is unchanged, in fact the game takes place in the same city that has received some alterations. To be honest I'm glad that this approach has been made, the first game fell a little short of what we wanted but was very close to the mark on each occasion, the changes are enough to make the game far more enjoyable and with a greater amount of depth.
Our skater has picked up some new moves since the first game. Lip tricks and plants are now available. This may seem like a minor addition but in really opens up the potential for combos. The move that changes the game more than any other is getting off the board. Gone are the staircases that are impossible to climb or the annoying curbs that force you to the ground. One nice addition is that it's possible to get knocked off your board without falling over. Quite frequently I will lose the board from underneath me and end up jogging away, a simple button tap immediately recalls the board to your feet.
In addition to new moves you can also play around with certain items. Certain rails, ramps and other scenery can be moved and positioned to help make some challenges easier (or possible!) or help you create your own line.
New to the game is the ability to buy property. This seems like a good idea but unfortunately there are only two properties available for sale in the game. It's a shame that the developers didn't develop this feature more. I guess that this is down to the very short development time.
Skate 2 also rewards you for falling off your board. The Hall of Meat was a nice little feature in the first one where a challenge would require that you do a nasty bail. Rather than HoM being a specific challenge, it's always available (other than when you are in a competition or doing another challenge). Different types of bail will reward HoM achievements. It's not a simple case of repeatedly falling off your board, there are some very specific challenges, such as break both hands in one bail or hit a pedestrian in a bail. To make bailing more fun, holding the right stick in a direction will affect the kind of bail that you make, such as slowing down the bail or cannonballing into it.
The first game had a loose structure based around getting coverage in two different magazines, amongst this were various challenges which you would complete to further your career. Skate 2 vastly reduces the amount of structure and has a more free form approach. It feels much easier to progress in whichever area you want without having to worry about completing other challenges. If you want to work on competitions you can just keep working at them without having to worry about progressing in other areas of the game.
Not only is there less of a structure, but there are also far fewer tutorials. I'm not entirely sure whether this is good or bad. New players may struggle with the lack of direction and guidance. As a returning player it's nice to learn the new skills in an organic manner, but it can be frustrating to get to a challenge that is difficult because you haven't learned and had time to practice a new type of skill.
The game does have a very loose story based around your character being released from prison. To be completely honest they shouldn't have bothered. A storyless character would have been far better than one with a poor story.
So I've given the game a lot of praise so far, but the game isn't without its faults. Skater AI and placement is a little on the frustrating side. Some challenges put you in the same area as another skater. When you are trying o pump a half pipe to handplant a rail above it it's really annoying to be knocked off your board by another skater who won't leave the pipe. Especially when he is knocking you down for the fifteenth time. I understand that they are trying to recreate a living breathing world where other skaters exists, but in the real world you would have a little more control over other people. I think in the real world if you had been knocked over that many times by a person you would either learn to take it in turns, stay out of each others way, or at the very least punch each other until someone was knocked out.
I've said how the off board controls massively reduce the frustration, but they are not without their own problems. Your character handles like an elephant, his turning circle is bizarre and movement is sluggish.
Another new feature is being able to phone a friend. These friends are unlocked fairly early in the game and generally make the game easier or open up areas. One of your homies will drain pools for you expanding the skateable areas. You can also get a body guard and a guy who will remove anti skating features. The latter two can be important characters because some challenges have you skating in an area littered with anti skating features (small chunks of metal on rails making them almost impossible to grind) and an abundance of security guards. Having someone to remove these items and keep the guards busy really makes a huge difference. This is another feature which is a fairly good idea but doesn't seem to have been fleshed out as well as it could have been.
I was a little surprised by the downloadable content so far. The first piece which unlocks everything in the game is a bit of an obvious choice and will suit those who want to have a more openworld experience. The surprising part is the second DLC. This expands upon the replay editor and allows for longer video clips to be posted. This feels like something that should have been added in the game itself, especially as it has been launched so soon after the games release. You shouldn't have to pay for a feature like this one. What will they do with Skate 3? Will you only be given an Ollie and have to buy all your trick set the day after launch?
Overall the game improves on everything that the original did. Whilst these improvements are only slight in places they do make Skate 2 a more superior game. Having said this I find it difficult to score Skate 2 any higher than its predecessor as the game is an incremental improvement rather than a full sequel. I hope that Skate 3 isn't released in twelve months time, I'd rather wait 2 years and have a more significant release. There's enough in the game to justify purchasing it but not enough to warrant a high score.