An example of a sequel that fails to learn from the first game's mistakes.
Graphically, Skate 2 doesn't really push the hardware (PS3 or 360) that much harder than the first game did. It looks just as good as that game did in 2007, but suffers from the same problems, namely some flat textures and appalling foliage. However, most of the characters look great and the lighting effects help to convey a realistic feel, even if the textures aren't always top-notch. Almost all of the new visual touches have been focussed on the model of your skater. You'll see lots of nice detailing, from scuffs on clothing, scrapes and cuts after bails, to worn griptape and scratches in the paint on your deck.
The trick animations are almost flawless, though the vast majority haven't been changed since the first game, but then that's no bad thing when they look this good. This really keeps you locked into the realism; however it's an entirely different story when you're on foot. Yes, one of the major new features allows you to get off you board to walk around and find new areas to skate that would otherwise have been inaccessible. It's a great feature that really makes a big difference to how you explore the world, especially because you no longer have to find a way around to the top of stairsets, you can just walk up them. It's a shame then, that the walking animations look like Black Box motion captured a monkey on crutches. It's that bad. The control of the walking is horrendous as well, which certainly doesn't help when your game is already frustrating in the first place, but more on that later in the review.
Once off your board you can also manipulate certain objects in the environment (such as small ramps, rails and benches) by dragging them around to create your own lines to skate. Thankfully, this controls much better than walking, though it certainly isn't without its issues. The objects are programmed to be light enough for one skater to move them around, which also means they can be knocked over very easily by passing AI skaters and pedestrians. You can set the objects to respawn in a set location by attaching them to your "session marker" but even so, having to restart a challenge because a ramp tipped over while you were riding it is ridiculous.
Skate 2's career mode begins with your created character being released from prison after attempting to skate down the San Vanelona dam. In story terms, you're playing the same character that you did in Skate. Creating a character is much more interesting this time, mainly because facial options and hair options are much more varied. The structure of the UI for create-a-skater is vastly better as well. Gone are the intrusive loading times for clothing previews that plagued the first game. You can also create custom graphics for decks and clothing using a graphics creator on the Skate 2 website. Most players won't use this feature because you need to be a Photoshop wizard to make anything half-decent, but you can still download other users' graphics by pressing the "send to game" button on the website which (if you're logged into the site) links to your gamertag and adds them to your game. It's a clunky setup for sure, but it's still an interesting feature.
When you get into the game proper anyone who played the first Skate will feel at home straight away. The same controls with that great skateboarding "feel" are all present and correct and you can opt to skip the tutorials if you're a Skate veteran and get right into the action. There are some new tricks to experiment with in Skate 2, though mercifully none of these add to those on the already crowded right stick. New tricks include modifiers to make grabs and ollies "no-footed", handplants and footplants. These work well in the context of the original trick system, though footplants have a tendency to randomly not work on occasions.
The career mode's structure is ultimately where Skate 2 falls down and, shockingly, it is for exactly the same reasons as the first game. Black Box appear to have learnt nothing from the criticisms of their first game. There are still far, far too many objectives based around landing very specific tricks using the right stick. The controls simply are not accurate enough to accommodate these stringent requirements, so you'll often find yourself trying a trick over and over until you finally get it.
There is one particular example of this in a mission called "Can you spell G.I.R.L.?" that huge numbers of players have complained about. In this level, you must play a game of S.K.A.T.E. with 2 pros. For some reason Black Box have programmed this goal so that the pros almost never fall meaning it can be almost half an hour before you even have a chance to set a trick rather than attempting to copy the pros, which in itself is nearly impossible thanks to games of S.K.A.T.E. demanding exclusive use of right-stick flip tricks. This is only mission in the game that I haven't completed and its all down to the way it was designed. It is frankly, broken.
On the other end of the fun scale are the photo challenges. These allow you to perform a trick of your choice on a set obstacle or sequence of obstacles and the result is shown to you as a photo in either The Skateboard Magazine or Thrasher. Seeing the results of our efforts in such an immediate way is hugely satisfying. More of these goals would have made Skate 2 a much more interesting experience.
Perhaps the best element of the game comes from the fact that areas of the city have been added to or changed completely to fall in line with the notion of "New San Vanelona" which brings back the thrill of exploring the city and finding hidden spots - the best part of Skate. To help you along the way you can call friends on your cell phone, who all perform different helpful tasks. Sammy will drain backyard pools and plaza fountains, Big Black will stop security guards from hassling you in no-skate zones and Mike will remove "skate blockers" (metal pieces on ledges and rails designed to stop skaters). As with everything in Skate 2 though, there's a niggling annoyance even with these, because calling one of your friends results in the exact same cut-scene every single time.
Rounding out career mode are the usual competitions and racing events, both of which are improved over the original game, but neither of which present much in the way of new content. The last addition, Hall of Meat is a rather immature addition which lets you control your bails to score points for injuries. This wasn't fun as a similar feature 2 years ago in Tony Hawk's Project 8 and its not fun now either. It's just another example of a lack of focus on the core skating experience.
It gives me great satisfaction that Black Box has been far more creative with their online feature set. Online freeskate now includes Burnout Paradise like co-op challenges. These are fantastic fun with friends, but having one less experienced Skate player can make life difficult even if everyone else is pretty good at the game. Ranked matches include jam sessions, S.K.A.T.E, Hall of Meat, race and best trick modes. They're fun enough but they won't keep you coming back to Skate 2 as much as the freeskate activities.
Somewhere in Skate 2 is a great game screaming to be let out, but its been held back by Black Box's failure to learn from the glaring faults of the original Skate. Trying to make a control scheme do more than it can has spoilt the career mode, but skating around and finding spots yourself still makes for hours of entertainment. Skate 2 is a good, but ultimately disappointing game.