IGN:SKATE 2 HANDS ON
I’m going to say this now, theres a pretty short list of video games coming out that really get me excited and SKATE 2 is very high on the list. I still play SKATE at least once a day, I freaking love good skateboarding games.
Last year, EA and Black Box redefined the skating genre with Skate by creating one of the most natural (and, arguably, realistic) control schemes that we’ve ever seen in a sports title. By assigning tricks to the right analog stick instead of face buttons, move inputs mimicked the actual rotations and flips of a real skateboard, bringing gamers closer to being on an actual board than ever before. Given its commercial and critical success, a follow-up was only a matter of time, and now Skate 2 is on the way. The sequel picks up some five years after the first title, and after the events from the Wii and DS Skate It titles. In the Nintendo iterations, San Vanelona is rocked by a series of disasters, necessitating an entire rebuild of the city. Behold, New San Vanelona. Before I get ahead of myself though, let me get to the main purpose of the demo: the new control scheme. Or, as it were, the expanded control scheme. Not wanting to fix what wasn’t broken, Black Box simply added new moves and abilities to the existing control system. In other words, you can sit down with Skate 2 and play it exactly like the last game without any problems. You’ll be missing out on the new stuff of course, but veterans of the first title will find that the sequel feels exactly the same at the start, which is fantastic. Veterans will also find though that the new stuff fixes pretty much all of the outstanding “problems” with the first game, adding in the ability to do hand plants, get off your board and much, much more.
As I mentioned, all of the new controls simply build off of the existing setup, which means that the new moves feel extremely natural to tie in to your existing arsenal. For example, you can now perform finger flips by holding one of the triggers to grab your board, and then doing a Flickit move as per normal. Easy. To kick out one or both of your feet during a trick, simply hit one of the two kick buttons during a move. Again, easy. Performing an Ollie, then holding your board and pressing a kick button will perform a foot plant. You can now grab your board while grinding, and you can land into a grind while performing a grab. You can also now perform hippie jumps, which is where you leave your board and hop over something as your board goes under it. These moves were possible to do in the first game with impeccable timing, thanks to the physics-based trick system, but now they’re built right into the control scheme. By pressing and holding both kick buttons, and then releasing to jump, your board will stay on the ground while you catch some air. For now, you simply perform a basic jump, but the team is looking into the possibility of having you run while in the air, so you would be able to do something like performing a hippie jump onto a car, running to the other side and hopping back on your board again. Visions of Marty McFly race through our heads…
The right shoulder button is used for hand plants, which puts you into a basic hand plant position at the top of a quarter pipe. Then, pressing a trigger and tweaking the move with an analog stick will give you access to more hand plant tricks. And, if you press a kick button or two, you’ll kick that leg out and tweak the move even more. It’s somewhat basic in setup, but since you’re given what seems like analog control over your tweaks (coupled with the ability to kick one or both legs), you have a good amount of play here.
The last new addition to the control setup that I got to try out is the ability to actually get off of your board and wander around the town on your own two feet. This is a substantial addition not only because it allows you to get over curbs or up stairs much more easily, but because it also allows you to alter the environment. Anything that you see that would be moveable by a real person can be pushed and pulled around in the game. Benches and small ramps are the two most common candidates here, both of which allow you to set up custom lines or new ways to access various areas. All of this editing is done in the game, in realtime, as opposed to popping out to an overhead editor or something of that nature. And again, if something is too big to move in real life, you won’t be able to move it in the game (so no shoving around busses or large shipping crates).
Various Black Box reps hinted at the potential of having small puzzles in the game, where you might need to move benches around to get somewhere you couldn’t otherwise reach, but the folks also mentioned that you can use these objects to help mold the environment to your strengths. So if you love rails, you can set up a ramp-heavy spot to better suite your skills. What’s also sweet is that any changes you make are persistent, so if you move some ramps and come back 10 hours later, they’ll still be there.
I was able to try out the new control tweaks through three new environments — the Waterfront, Slappy’s Skate Park and San Vanelona Mountain. The Waterfront is situated alongside the shores of New San Vanelona and is a street trick-happy skate park. Similar in many ways to the school from the first game (and its demo), there are plenty of benches, rolling ramps, curling rails and so forth. It offers tons of variety and experimentation in setting up your lines, which is awesome.
Slappy’s Skate Park looks like it was built specifically to film highlight reels, and looks like it was created especially for skating much more so than the Waterfront. Tons of kickers lead into rails for plenty of multi-trick combos, making it pretty easy to amass a nice collection of your own reels.
New San Vanelona Mountain is the biggest change from anything we saw in the first game, however. Largely a downhill track in nature, you can start at the top (how you get there is being kept under wraps, though there will be multiple ways) and wind your way all the way down to the bottom of the massive mountain. A race awaits you here, obviously, with checkpoints split into multiple sections that allow you to take shortcuts rather easily. There are a number of places you can stop at along the way to hit up various ramps and such, making for what looks like what will be a hot spot for skaters and highlight reels when the game arrives.
The rest of New San Vanelona will need to wait until later to be explored, but we do know that the entire city is being re-built from the ground up. This not only reflects the story (with regards to the city being destroyed in Skate It), but it helps take advantage of the new rendering engine as well. At first glance, I thought that aside from the skater models (which are clearly improved), the game looked largely the same as the first. However, after going back and watching a few old replays, the differences became much more apparent. Texture detail is a good bit sharper, and the lighting model is much nicer. Oh, and best of all, it runs at 60fps. The Xbox 360 version on display had a few hitches where it dropped below 60, with the PS3 dropping even more often, but both versions clearly run better than the first game already, and there’s still plenty of optimization left to go.
While I got some great hands-on time with the new controls at a number of skate spots, EA and Black Box are being tight-lipped on practically every other element of the game, including the story, overall progression, online stuff, replays and reels and pretty much everything else you can think of. Fortunately, what I was able to play was fluid, natural and, best of all, very inviting for veterans. So far, it looks like this is the game that fans of the first one were crying out for, so hopefully the other elements live up to the promise as well. I know I can’t wait to thrash more of New San Vanelona.
by Chris Roper