After re-inventing the skateboarding genre, the original Skate was successful enough - in both sales and critical acclaim - to knock the venerable Tony Hawk series right off the map. Hawk has gone back to the drawing board entirely, all but vanishing from gamers’ consciousness and hoping to rise, like a phoenix from the ashes, later in 2009.
After obliterating the competition as a newcomer, an almost unheard of event in the gaming world, the sequel, Skate 2, is set to debut on January 21. Its demo landed on Xbox Live yesterday, giving gamers nearly two weeks to decide if they’ll want to hop onboard. Coming in at a whopping 1.51 gigabytes, the demo is timed in single-player mode, which takes gamers through what appears to be the beginning of the game.
A few new things stand out immediately, namely more detailed player customization options - and the opportunity to create female skaters, something that was sorely lacking in the original. Some new control options have been added - including two that borrow from later iterations of the Tony Hawk series - the ability to get off the board to easily climb to other locations, and the ability to alter your environment by moving objects around. Both are easy to accomplish and setting up your own lines over obstacles is a breeze.
Expect to lose track of your board in Skate 2 - and often in spectacular fashion - whether it’s following a botched trick or if you simply set it down to move objects or climb to a new location. Thankfully, it’s easy to retrieve. By holding down both triggers, your skater will reach out toward the board and it will fly across the map and into his or her hand, like Luke Skywalker fetching his lightsaber with The Force in the Star Wars movies. While it’s not particularly realistic, it’s a lot more fun - not only for the cute animation, but due to the fact that you won’t have to watse your game time searching under picnic tables to find your ride.
The new animations are a bit stilted, but after some time in the demo, they cease to be much of a distraction, as the gameplay is silky-smooth.
The controls, essentially the same as the original Skate with a few additions, have been refined; you’ll immediately notice that pulling off a “360 Pop Shuvit” is simpler, despite using the same right-stick move to pull them off as before. The controller’s input timing seems to have been tightened up a bit, which makes it more likely that you’ll be able to pull off the tricks you want, when you want to. Compared to the original game, the player feels much more in control of their skating avatar, which adds greatly to the experience.
Along with the single-player demo, which does an excellent job of both teaching the game to new players and refreshing the memories of veterans, the game includes multiplayer demos of two other game modes: Own the Spot and Hall of Meat.
Own the Spot returns from the previous version; a simple pick-up-and-play mode that has up to four gamers trying a single trick on a set piece. Despite it’s simplicity, it’s fun and offers some opportunities for creativity when deciding how to best tackle the obstacle.
Hall of Meat puts that skateboarding video staple - the bail - front and center. Four players will take turns, like in Own the Spot, but this time the objective is wreck yourself in the most hellacious manner possible, which isn’t as hard as you’d think. While in mid-air, players can intentionally bail, and pose in different positions in order to smack themselves into more obstacles. In this regard, Hall of Meat is much like the downloadable PlayStation Network game, Pain, though it’s much more subdued. Surprisingly, it’s possible to call one game “subdued” when comparing two games that encourage you to treat your character as if you were a manic Labrador with a rag doll, but there we have it.
The wipeout animations are alternately funny and cringe-inducing, and though they’re generally played for comedic effect, characters wearing short-sleeve shirts or cargo shorts can expect to see some pretty nasty-looking “strawberries” on their skater’s limbs. It’s out-and-out ridiculous, but Hall of Meat will undoubtedly become a guilty pleasure for more than a few Skate 2 players.
In the end, Skate 2’s demo does exactly what it should; it puts many of the title’s features right in the gamer’s hands, gives them an excellent sense of what to expect from the final version and whets their appetite for more. I’ve been on a skateboard twice in my life, and neither experience ended well, but with the fun and features that Skate 2 has to offer, I’m looking forward to the virtual McCoy.