With its laidback vibe, slower pace and intuitive controls, Skate felt like liberation from the Tony Hawk series%26rsquo; arcade intensity, million point combos and complex button mashing. So the worrying news %26ndash; initially, at least %26ndash; is that Skate 2 feels vaguely bewildering and oppressive. Odder yet, several beguiling, varied and challenging hours later, EA%26rsquo;s sequel reveals itself as a multi-layered labor of love and unquestionably the best skating game ever.
New San Vanelona teems with security guards and skate-proof metal blocks on many rails and kerbs. You start the game in prison, before a tutorial section (which can be skipped) set in a gritty, industrial warehouse. Pop a trick, and a new combo meter bursts onto screen, adding pressure to do tricks quickly or lose your score multiplier %26ndash; betraying the lazy vibe of the original. Walking is clumsy, the variety of new tricks feels overwhelming and %26ndash; for veterans, at least %26ndash; it%26rsquo;s all a bit familiar.
Five hours in, you%26rsquo;re beaming wildly %26ndash; amid the odd swear %26ndash; and giddily awaiting each fresh location. If the original%26rsquo;s Career mode lacked variety, this is the perfect rebuttal; one minute you%26rsquo;re leaping 60 feet off rooftops into cracked pools, the next performing fiddly tech moves on miniature rails. Scenery lurches from industrial wasteland, to gleaming quayside, to rolling hills, to monstrous, jutting architectural oddities (wait until you see The Wall, a 100 foot near-vertical bank with huge, jutting rails at teasing angles). It%26rsquo;s hard to imagine a real-life location that isn%26rsquo;t represented somehow.
The combo system and new moves (more later) are initially overwhelming. When you land a trick, however decent, you feel invisibly burdened by the weight of how much better it could have been %26ndash; making you feel guilty for not knowing the intricate moves better. The good news is that the objectives reign in the potential madness, and reward you for what you know, rather than what you don%26rsquo;t %26ndash; building you up bit by bit, before cutting loose. Initially, it%26rsquo;s stuff like leaping off a ramp to grind a rail but, just as it starts to feel stifling, there%26rsquo;s a liberating trick off against Danny Way on high speed, rolling ramps. After popping three-foot heelflips, you%26rsquo;re doing 540%26deg; backflips at breakneck speed over 60 foot humps.
One memorable Rob Dyrdek challenge asks you to perform unique grinds on simple ledges %26ndash; but while doing mid-trick gestures using the D-pad (there are loads of new gestures, like Thumbs Up, Cool, Flip the Table etc). The races are thrilling, with bespoke, twisting, mountainside circuits designed by the SSX team, a welcome contrast to the make-do, city streets of the original. You can really power slide into bends, and it%26rsquo;s possible to go flying off a cliff. One task asks you to leap through a stone circle and drop vertically through another circle set at 90%26deg; below.Object placement isn%26rsquo;t tricky, but timing leaps is merciless %26ndash; striking a perfect balance between skill and frustration.