Sunday, February 15, 2009

Parappa the Rappa: Skate 2 CANTA review

In 2007 EA Blackbox's Skate stole the heavyweight championship belt off the ailing Tony Hawkes franchise for the skateboarding genre by focusing not on arcade-like craziness but instead on realism and a revolutionary 'flickit' control scheme. Skate 2 has finally arrived with much hype expanding the tricks to twice the amount of the original, as well as a redesigned city and the ability to hop off your board to move objects around to create your own line anywhere in the game. Along with these features Skate 2 still very much feels like the first game, encouraging you to explore New San Vanelona to find hidden spots to destroy (or 'Kill') and complete a very wide range of challenges.

Like most games nowadays there is a plot, but really it's just your average quest for skater of the year theme which quickly takes a back seat. The only important thing about the plot that links with the gameplay is that while you were in prison (yeah, weird I know) a natural disaster occured and a corporation known as MungoCorp rebuilt the city but have capped many a skate spot and have infested the city with security guards. This ties into the gameplay loosely by setting you challenges revolving around avoiding said-guards and uncapping spots to make them accessible to you and other skaters, but that's really it. While the story may be weak, everything else is solid.

Blackbox have taken a leaf or ten out of the Tony Hawkes franchise's book by allowing you to hitch a ride on cars by way of skitching and giving you the ability to abandon your board to run around like a nice normal person. The reason for the latter is so that you can walk up stairs and even grab onto certain objects to move around to create you own line. While this is a brilliant idea and can really liven up a dull line the off-board controls feel stiff and wooden (think old-school Tomb Raider bad) compared to how Tony Hawkes Underground managed to pull it off. The result is an at times frustrating experience that feels like it was tapped on at the last minute, and is ultimately pretty disappointing seeing as this was one of Skate 2's main selling points. Another leaf that has been taken out of the Tony Hawkes game bible is the inclusion of bonelesses, no complies, footplants and handplants resulting in a more diverse trick book, albeit at times difficult to pull off. Speaking of tricks, the flickit system of course remains, assigning the left analogue stick to controlling your body and the right for your board, but has been expanded to include fingerflips as well as more grabs and grinds.

Skate 2, like its predecessor, is not a very easy game to play and has a fairly steep learning curve in respect to getting used to the controls, however since there are no stats to assign, your skater's limitation is down to your own mastery of said controls. At times this will leave you wanting to hurl your controller through a window/TV/annoying flatmate's face, but the immense satisfaction of finally pulling off a killer line or trick is worth every painstaking moment.

The signature low camera angle of Skate remains giving you the perspective of your cameraman buddy Reda (who looks remarkably like last year's VP Amedeus Rainbow) which results in an at-first annoying but ultimately realistic view focusing not on your skater but rather your tricks. However if you do find yourself pining for the Tony Hawkes' camera angle Skate 2 has included the option to do so. One thing does have to be said about the characters though, the dialogue is littered with 'sick', 'buttery' and 'dude' to such a point that I wonder if all skaters actually talk like such douches (ummm hi CUBA).
It has to be said that it is very fortunate for us students that Skate 2 has been released this early in the year so far away from assignments and exams. The sheer amount of hours you can easily sink into just screwing around New San Van completing some excrutiatingly hard challenges, making skate videos using the very flexible replay editor and even taking it online to kick some n00b ass is epic. The game even caters for the players who totally suck at skateboarding by expanding the original's Hall of Meat rewarding you for hurting yourself in certain ways. This of course results in further procrastination by throwing yourself off stupidly high buildings and dams just to see how many bones in your rag doll body you can break in one go.

While it may have failed to live upto all its promises effectively, Skate 2 is still a superb game that has the potential to destroy your social life (in a good way) and is a must have if you have ever been a fan of skating.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Parappa the Rappa: Skate 2

Pros: Almost double the amount of tricks including handplants, bonelesses, and footplants; expanded city with way more skateparks; the ability to get off your board and move objects around to create that perfect line; alot more challenges to keep you busy; not as many trick-specific challenges this time around.

Cons: Steep learning curve getting used to the control scheme; some challenges are actually nearly impossible requiring luck or trickery to succeed; on-foot controls feel like they've been ripped from the mid-nineties; seemingly solid objects can be easily moved by you or other AI; the sheer amount of security is a bit overkill at times; no way to replay your favourite challenges; annoying glitches that can stop you from completing challenges and even freeze the game.

Buy it or rent it: Buy it if you can get used to the controls. Despite it's difficulty and glitches Skate 2 is a superb game that anyone who has ever had an interest in the sport should play. The sheer size of the city and it's almost limitless lines combined with the excellent replay editor will provide hours of replay value and with it's immense popularity there will always be someone online to play a spot of S.K.A.T.E. with.

In 2007 Skate reinvented the way that skateboarding games played with the award winning Flickit control system and the more down to earth realistic approach to the genre that had previously been dominated by the squandering arcadey Tony Hawkes franchise, so it's no surprise that there has been alot of hype behind the sequel. Back again is the city of San Vanelona, back again is the Flickit system, and back again is the annoying Reda...but it's all different.

The story of Skate 2 is that of redemption...well sort of. In the opening movie you are released from prison for an unmentioned crime and your cameraman/annoying git of a friend Reda informs you that while you've been in the slammer San Van has been rebuilt by Mungocorp to become New San Van and is now teeming with security eager to knock many a skater of his or her board. Throughout the game you basically spend your time draining pools, freeing skate spots from clamps and generally reclaiming the title of Skater of the Year to show the pros what's what. Of course, being a sports game, the story takes a back seat pretty quickly in favour of just skating, this is the charm of the Skate franchise and it's good to see that Blackbox have barely changed the formula to encourage just this. In Skate 2 you can easily sink more hours into perfecting a killer line anywhere in the sprawling city than actually completing the game's challenges; and with the enhanced replay editor, which allows you to create your own skate video, Skate 2 holds alot of replay value.

One of the main hypes behind Skate 2 is the controls: the team at EA's Blackbox have managed to almost double the amount of tricks at your disposal. The Flickit system has been expanded to include fingerflips and one footed grabs and by simply tapping a button as you reach the lip of a quarter pipe you can bust out a handplant, which can be tweaked in a similar way to grabs by pushing the right analogue stick in a direction. In a similar way bonelesses and no-complies have been added but are slightly more difficult requiring you to time you ollie and grab or foot-push perfectly. The grinds and stalls have also been expanded by allowing you to grab your board or even strike a pose (or 'flair' as it's called) while doing so. It's good to see that even by doubling the amount of tricks Skate 2's developers have been true to the formula by relying on natural-feeling controls and not resorting to the Tony Hawke's franchise's Special move cheapness, however the inclusion of 'flairs' quickly gets lame even if you do change them around. The control system of the Skate franchise is unforgiving to be brutally honest. Unlike Tony Hawke's where you could bust out a varial heelflip to judo almost instantly the controls in Skate actually require your own individual skill and your own ability to learn. While this is initially difficult, the steep learning curve is actually very refreshing, resulting in a much more realistic feel to skating restricted only by your own ability, as opposed to individual stats (THPS I'm looking at you).

The other main hype for Skate 2's control scheme was that you could get off you board to get up stairs, caveman into a grind or drop and even move objects around to create your own custom line. While in theory this was a great idea in reality this feature feels unpolished and frustrating. Tony Hawkes Underground was the first skating game to allow you to get off your board and succeeded with a simple control scheme using the left analogue stick to move you about while the right analogue stick controlled the camera. You would have thought that Skate 2 would have unashamedly copied this scheme because, worked, but really it just feels rushed and unpolished. This is a major dissapointment when you think about it and a bit of a blow to a great game, however the simple fact is that you aren't going to be spending alot of time off your board anyway so it can be ignored in favour of the game's great trick system.

Overall the look of New San Van is great: there are way more rails, lips, and damn near anything to make a great line, but what makes Skate 2 stand out is the fact that you can now hop off your board and move certain objects around to air massive gaps or just make that dream run that much more technical. However, just like running around off your board, this aspect of gameplay is unfortunately flawed. With just a single button you can grab onto certain objects and move them around almost effortlessly, but this is also the case when you or the AI knock into the objects, thus ruining your perfectly placed line. This can be incredibly frustrating in certain challenges where you have to clear a gap using loose objects while avoiding security guards. Again this fault results in a rushed feeling to the game which is quite a dissapointment, but just, and only, excusable.

Despite New San Van being a great city to skate and explore the inhabitants can get pretty annoying by dropping physics-enhanced litter and handbags that get caught in your wheels and generally just getting in you way, and those pesky security guards are far from elusive too. While the game gives you the option to distract security by calling on the infamous Big Black it feels like a bit of a last-minute tack on that has greater chance of ruining your custom line than protecting you from being tackled.

Skate 2's faults stop it from being a really great game, however it is still very good nonetheless. Skate 2's charm lies in its controls and sheer replayability, which coupled with the very flexible replay editor and slick online play makes for a great buy.

**** 4/5 stars