Skate 2 is the sort of game that flips between Zen-like satisfaction and controller-tossing frustration with no warning. It's interesting, then, that this is a game that you'll be better at when you remain calm and focus on the task at hand, because trying to play with the added pressure of anger or frustration just makes you mess up again and again and again. Not every single facet of Skate 2 is terrific, but enough of it works to make it a great skateboarding game overall, and when it all comes together, it's pretty amazing.
The most important part of the original Skate has been retained in the sequel without any extreme updates. That part is the right analog stick, used to perform various tricks. Pushing down then up is your basic ollie, cocking it off to the side will do kickflips and heels, sweeping around the bottom lets you do shuvits, and so on. Though there are probably one or two too many tricks on that right stick--making specific trick selection really tough when you start trying to land the more advanced tricks--it feels incredibly natural, and it's the main thing that helped the first game feel different from everything that came before it.
Rather than scrapping that right-stick functionality, Skate 2 instead builds a series of modifiers around the existing tricks. Using the buttons you use to propel yourself on the ground lets you do one-footed variations of your grabs, for example. A new button lets you grab onto the tops of vertical ramps and other objects for handplants, which you can then tweak around with the right stick or the foot buttons. Landing with a foot out lets you do footplants. You can also get off your board now, which is mainly useful for getting up a flight of stairs. But you can also grab onto some items and drag them around, letting you arrange benches, dumpsters, rails, and ramps into whatever makeshift configuration you like. On paper, the off-board stuff sounds pretty good. In practice, though, the running animation is kind of bad, and the controls for moving and turning while on-foot are absolutely weak.
It's a good thing, then, that you don't need to get off your board very often. The single-player career mode in Skate 2 is broken up into a number of different paths, and the game doesn't really put a clear focus onto any one of those paths. Despite setting up a bit of cohesive fiction across the three games in the Skate franchise, there's no real story to Skate 2, either. The setup is that you're the skater from the first game who just came off of a five-year prison stint for attempting to skate down the city dam of San Vanelona. Since then, San Van has been ripped apart and rebuilt due to some unexplained natural disasters. So you'll enter New San Vanelona and, if you played the original, you'll probably recognize some of the general geography. But the city feels almost completely different. There's also a few mentions of an evil corporation--MongoCorp--that hates skaters. But aside from the same type of security guard presence as the first game and the addition of skate-stoppers on some rails and ledges (which you'll have to pay to get pried off), there's no overarching Skaters vs. The Man plot that drives things along, either. You get out of jail, skate a lot, get on the covers of some magazines, maybe buy some land to add additional skateparks to the world, and that's sort of it.
That lack of focus isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, because it ensures that you'll usually have multiple things to work on at any given time. You can pose for photos and eventually appear on the cover of Thrasher and the Skateboard Mag. You can take on challenges laid out by other pro skaters in order to earn sponsorships from their companies. You can wager money on hill-bombing death races and eventually earn the title of "King of the Mountain" with an unlockable crown to match. You can seek out 22 different spots in the world and attempt to beat their set score to "own" said spot. There's a series of street and vert competitions. Or you can go on bonus missions with pro skaters like Rob Dyrdek or Danny Way. Or you could just, you know, skate. The list sort of goes on from there, but you get the idea. There's plenty to do in Skate 2, and the different objectives require you to excel at the game's different disciplines.
A lot of the challenges can be pretty difficult, depending on which parts of Skate 2's control scheme you've mastered. For me, the game sort of breaks any time you're asked to perform specific tricks. There's an entire section of Skate 2 devoted to playing S.K.A.T.E. with other pro skaters. They perform a trick, then you must match it exactly to keep the pressure on them to perform. But the window between doing the right trick and the wrong trick is exceedingly narrow due to the high number of tricks mapped to the right stick. While there may be some folks out there with a steady enough thumb to do an inward heelflip 100 percent of the time, I'm more like 30 percent. So the pro goal where you play against Eric Koston and Mike Carroll--who don't mess up very often--is essentially impossible. The rest of the game's challenges can get frustrating and take forever to complete, but that has the additional impact of making them exceptionally rewarding to complete. After spending the first several hours absolutely sucking at the game, eventually everything clicked, and I was able to quickly blaze through the entire single-player game--with the exception of the aforementioned pro challenge and two others.
While the single-player structure hasn't changed that much from the original game, Skate 2's multiplayer has been significantly bolstered. The different competition modes from the first game return, letting you enter contests for the best trick, score-based jam sessions, races, turn-based spot battles, S.K.A.T.E. contests, and Hall of Meat mode, where players take turns trying to thrash themselves the hardest. These contests allow up to six players to compete, and when you play in ranked games, you earn experience that goes toward raising your online ranking. You'll also earn money for your performance, and this cash feeds back into the single-player to let you purchase additional clothing and accessories. A lot of this stuff just sort of exploits the spots and competitions that you'll see in the single-player, just online. About the only thing missing is a three-on-three team battle for points, which you'll find in one part of the career. This might have made a nice option for an online variant.
But the competition side of Skate 2 is a small part of Skate 2's online options. There's also a freeskate component where you can just jump into one of the game's areas with a handful of other skaters and just, like, skate. There are also freeskate challenges that often require cooperation to complete, and these feel a lot like the multiplayer challenges found in Burnout Paradise. There are 149 challenges in all, and much like they did in Burnout, they add a huge hook to the multiplayer that could keep you coming back. Of course, the cooperative nature of some of these--there are a handful that ask the group to all perform the same trick at the same time, for example--make them only work when you're in a group of skilled skaters that you can trust to be on their game. Attempting these challenges with a group that isn't up to par results in disappointment more often than not.
The online side of Skate 2 also lets you share things with other players. Like the previous game, you can edit together quick video clips and snap photos that can be shared online. The game has a decent rating system for this content that helps keep the cool stuff at or near the top of the list. Players can also find or create custom graphics on the game's official site using a set of basic tools. While you can't just import your own JPEG files or anything like that, the tools are good enough to create some really awesome stuff if you're willing to spend some time with it. If you're not feeling artsy, though, you can use the website to grab the stuff that other players have made and put it into your game.
The other big creation thing in Skate 2 is the ability to create your own spots and share them with others. You do this while playing the career mode, and it essentially lets you draw a big scoring box around anything you want. Then you need to set a baseline score for that area by doing your best trick there. Once created, you can upload the spot to the game's servers, and created spots can be browsed and downloaded just like replay videos. The game keeps scoreboards for created spots, lets you download a ghost run of the leader's performance, and when you're done you can rate the spot, as well. There are tons of different places to skate in New San Vanelona, and the created spot browser is a really smart addition that keeps things nice and competitive.
Visually, the most impressive part of Skate 2 is still its animation. The game treats the flipping of the board and the placement of a player's body with the utmost respect, and Skate 2 continues the trend of having the most realistic skateboarding trick animations around. The city itself looks good, also, but there are certain things, like grass textures and the occasional pedestrian, that look pretty bad. Also, the frame rate in both the 360 and PS3 versions occasionally get choppy, but the reasons behind the drop don't immediately seem clear. When installed on a 360 hard drive, I noticed that the random frame rate drops seemed to happen a bit more frequently, but I'm no hardware researcher, so I can't say with certainty that this will be the case for everyone out there.
The game contains the same sort of eclectic soundtrack as the original Skate, staying away from the typical overly-aggressive mall punk you'd expect in favor of stuff from artists like WAR, Sam & Dave, Sly & The Family Stone, Public Enemy, Judas Priest, ELO, Dragonforce, and the Wu-Tang Clan. The skaters turn in passable voice performances, and Giovanni Reda returns as the game's announcer. I expect some may find his shtick to be excessively grating, but I find him sort of funny.
While the career mode of Skate 2 lacks focus, the open-ended nature of it works out pretty well, and the additional online components really add a lot to the overall experience, as well. Some players may find the difficulty or the open progression a bit overwhelming at times, but the advances in the trick system and the new ways to play make Skate 2 a great sequel that further capitalizes on the concepts introduced in the original.