Now that EA has confirmed Skate 2 for a January 21 release, it feels like the sequel to last year's surprise critical hit is just around the corner. It's a good thing, then, that we've already covered the basic gameplay enhancements, from all the new tricks you can do, to your ability to get off the board and move obstacles around you. Last week EA took the time to show off some of Skate 2's new online features. These include an ambitiously Burnout Paradise-inspired collection of freeskate activities and an improved content-sharing service to make finding friends' videos much less painful than it was in the first game. In the process of checking these out, we also had our first chance to skate through the game's entire setting, the newly rebuilt San Vanelona.
The focus of EA's showcase was Skate 2's freeskate activities, the new bag of challenges you and five other online skaters can take part in by simply pulling up a menu while freeskating and electing to join. We spoke with several members of the Black Box development team, and they made no bones about the fact that fellow EA property Burnout Paradise was a big source of inspiration in this department. It makes sense when you think about it: Burnout Paradise made the idea of spontaneous multiplayer challenges work in a genre--open world racer--where most people would be inclined to fly around and do their own thing.
The process works like this: You can skate around the city at your leisure during the game's Career mode, but if you feel like getting into a session with a few other live players, you just hit the D pad and pull up a menu that lets you select the "freeskate here" option. Once you select it, you'll hop into a quick online match with room for up to six players. From there, anyone can use the D pad to pull up a list of freeskate activities unique to the parking lot or skatepark you find yourself in. Once a player proposes an activity, the rest of the players can then choose to take part or to sit it out and keep freeskating until the next suggestion pops up.
These freeskate activities vary from being as simple as collecting the most points while gapping between fallen street signs in a parking lot, to nailing all five massive gaps in Danny Way's mega ramp compound. Some have you working as a team to grind a set distance, like 1,000 feet, while some are more competitive, like a Hall of Meat challenge that awards you for receiving the most gruesome injury. Like in Burnout, these challenges will scale depending on the number of players, so you won't be stuck trying to grind for six if it's just the two of you.
One of the other new features we tried out was the sharing feature of the new Create-a-Spot ability. We've previously discussed how you can hop off your board and grab on to small objects, such as picnic tables, benches, and grind rails, and arrange them to your liking. What you might not have known, though, is that you can save these arrangements, assign a score objective, and upload them for other players to enjoy. Once that's done, you can go see the spots that your friends have uploaded or sift through the work of the public at large with the help of a five-star rating system. A similar system will be used for shared multimedia, like the videos you've edited in-game, the still images you've pulled from said clips, and the custom graphics you've created for your gear. The idea is to help you quickly find material your friends have made, the best stuff from the public, and featured videos that might not be getting the love they deserve--all through an intuitive in-game browser. We've also been told that a new skate.reel Web site will be launched along with the game, but we haven't seen that yet. However, anyone who tried uploading a video at the launch of the first game knows that the means of sharing can only stand to improve--it's just a matter of how much.
This was also our first opportunity to spend some quality time with the game in a nearly complete state--at least in terms of its overall layout. The new setting, a post-disaster San Vanelona that has been massively rebuilt, should feel both familiar and different all at once. Several of the neighborhoods are brand new, but a few, like the Res, are being carried over from the first game. However, it's mainly the street plan that has made the transition, because almost all of the objects are new. So there's a slight feeling of deja vu on certain roads, but everything you're skating on, from the benches to the ledges, is very much different. That's just the case for a couple of areas, though. Most of the city is new and far more diverse in terms of its landscape.
Skate 2 is looking a lot more polished since the last time we saw it. The animations for new moves, such as bonelesses, handplants, and wipeout-avoiding jumps off the board, all look a lot more natural. And the game is sounding great, too, especially when you're flying downhill--the sense of speed in this game already feels far better than in the first one, which was pretty darn good. There should be a lot to look forward to when Skate 2's release date rolls around.