Games like Mirror's Edge and Dead Space have been touted as examples of EA's newfound focus on originality, but Skate 2 is another example of how the megapublisher has given its studios a little more room for creativity lately. Rather than release the game on the anniversary of the original Skate, the folks at EA Black Box have had more than 16 months to put together a sequel, which audiences will finally get their hands on when the game is released on January 21. We've covered how Black Box has used that time to enhance the basic gameplay--an expanded roster of tricks, a newly rebuilt city, the Burnout Paradise-inspired online multiplayer--but we've recently been given the chance to cruise through the entire completed game before it hits stores to see how it has all come together.
What better way to see how the sum of Skate 2's parts have coalesced than taking a tour through the main draw, the game's Career mode? It all begins in a similar fashion to its predecessor: A cheeky intro video gets you acquainted with the roster of professional skateboarders available in the game, though you'll need to create your own character to begin a career. The options are expanded a bit over the first game, but you still won't be able to make anyone too outlandish. A larger variety of gear and clothing is also available to you, including the ability to make custom graphics on the game's official site and slap them on a blank T-shirt of your choosing. With your look set, you'll embark on a quest to return to your former glory when you were Skater of the Year in the original game.
The path back to stardom is primarily focused on making it to the cover of two of the world's biggest skating magazines, Thrasher and the Skateboard Mag. You'll befriend famous photographers from each publication and then perform a series of increasingly elaborate challenges for the cameras in order to gain exposure. Along the way, it's probably a good idea to explore some of the side competitions available to you, such as downhill races, street contests, and the unfortunately titled tranny contests (riding in pools and such). Throughout the game you'll run into pros, and if you're able to pass the challenges they throw your way, you'll gain access to their gear and sponsors. You can also befriend a few buddies who will help you take care of security guards, remove skate-stoppers, and drain swimming pools whenever you call them.
The Career mode definitely feels like a refined, slightly more cohesive take on the first game's campaign, but one of the best improvements is the level of freedom you're given in the game's challenges. Whereas Skate didn't realize the limitations of its control scheme (excellent but hardly precise), Skate 2 doesn't force you into doing specific tricks nearly as much. As a result, you're able to take on challenges how you see fit much more often. In fact, many of magazine challenges give you the ability to customize the shot by hopping off the board and dragging obstacles around for the ideal line. There are still a few moments when you're faced with performing a specific trick on a specific spot, but these seem to be few and far between this time around.
Another new feature is the inclusion of properties, which are areas in the city that you can purchase after you've racked up enough money from doing challenges. The only one we were able to buy was an addition to the Mega Compound called the Fun Track, a twisting series of ramps, jumps, and bowls that connects the two spots to form a huge amount of real estate with which to devastate your bones and internal organs.
In fact, you can earn even more money by doing just that. Hall of Meat is an extension of the feature found in the first game that recorded details of your worst wipeouts. This time around, it has been turned into an optional series of challenges that let you earn cash for the worst bails you subject your body to. A variety of information is recorded and turned into mini-achievements, like cannonballing into a moving car or achieving 24,000 bodily damage points in a single spill. You can sell the footage to Thrasher magazine for cash to buy property and gear. A few special bonuses pop up too, like new spawn points to fling yourself from (our favorite was a towering rooftop near the waterfront).
Finally, it's worth noting how Skate 2 looks now that it has entered the final stage of polish. In short, the graphics won't immediately strike you as being better than those in the first game, but one thing that will--and this is a big one--is the frame rate. The jump from 30 to 60 frames per second makes every last move look that much more smooth, giving you a better appreciation for a game that already boasted some impressive animations. The animations involved in walking around without your board still looks pretty rough, which is disappointing, but the rest of your new moves, such as street plants and inverts, look quite nice.
Altogether there should be a lot for Skate fans to enjoy when Skate 2 is released next week. To help tide you over, we'll be posting a developer Q&A later this week to explain some of the new online features found in Skate 2. Stay tuned for that.