Skitching, Tasing and Water Bottles in Skate 2

I had no idea what skitching was until I went to the Skate 2 event last week; but now that I've seen it, I can't live without it.

Skate 2 has gone all out on improving the physics from the first game for a more seamless skating experience. That means wall-kicks for faster turns in tight corners, movable objects within areas to create the ideal skate park on the go, and better ragdoll physics for amazing wipeouts on plastic water bottles. It also means grabbing the backs of cars (the aforementioned skitching), clotheslining other skaters and (my personal favourite) getting Tased by pedestrians.

Not that skateboarding is a violent sport (unless you count masochism as a form of violence), but I'm one of those jerks who doesn't derive pleasure from racing, boating, biking, or skating unless I can ruin someone else's day. The pedestrians in the first game were no fun - there were too few of them and they mostly just stood there and took it when you ran into them. Then they'd get back up and go about their daily lives as if I hadn't just body-check their shins.

Skate 2 addresses this with its shiny new physics tweaks, allowing me to turn Freeskate mode into Pedestrian Harassment Funtime. I found about this glorious thing when Skate 2 Lead Designer Cuz confiscated my 360 controller to show his skating buddies their likenesses in the game. I wasn't too annoyed, because there were chicks in the lineup of characters this time (all one of them - Sammy), but I guess my nostrils must've flared or something because Cuz gave it back and said, "Here - I'll show you something cool. Go run into that guy over there."

Never one to ignore the advice of a game designer, I tried to ram into a paper-carrying business man. I missed, hit the curb and jumped off my board by pressing Y. On foot, I turned around and ran headlong into the guy, making him stumble. A yellow blip appeared on the map in the lower right hand corner of the screen.

"Do it again," said Cuz. "They get madder when you're on your board."

I pressed right trigger to call my board to me with what can best be described as The Force (so much for total realism of physics), and hippie jumped at the guy. The blip turned red and the pedestrian swore and threw his paper at me, causing me to wipe out.

"It gets better," said Cuz. "Go find a chick - I think she'll Taser you."

And by God, she did. After I'd rail-ran into her, got her to throw her latte cup at me and had a nearby frat boy push me over, the lady got out her Taser and zapped the beejesus out of me while I lay on the ground, writhing. Cops will Taser you too, apparently. I found that out after I skitched off a car and face-planted directly on a mall cop down a flight of stairs.

I was going to try and find out if you could get three cops to Taser you at once, but the friendly PR lady convinced me to try out more of the game modes.

Career mode is what it sounds like. It's a good way to get started, but Skate vets are going to want to jump right into the Xbox Live competitive modes or start making levels in Create-a-Spot (which also is what it sounds like). In addition to your basic race and challenge modes, the Live mode also features co-op challenges where you're all trying to meet a specific goal either by working together to get a point average, or by completely ignoring each other and trying to do identical tricks.

The best example of a co-op challenge I saw all night was course where you had to manual through the whole thing - down the road, through the drainage pipe and off a huge drop to the ground below. Each skater had to hit every one of the yellow arrows that marked the trail, and if they missed one, or stopped manual-ing, they had to respawn at the beginning of the course - costing their teammates precious seconds off the two minute time limit.

All in all, everything I saw in Skate 2 looked pretty good - but I do have a few concerns. First, the PS3 version is at a disadvantage because the analogue sticks feel looser to me. It just doesn't feel right when you're trying to flick the stick forward and back to do a nollie. I'm sure PS3 owners will adapt accordingly, but for a console-hopper like me, it's a damn shame that there's such an obvious disparity between the two platforms.

The second is the new tricks. Supposedly there's double the amount of tricks from the first game, covering everything from foot-plants to hippie jumps. I wonder if adding so much more is a bad idea because half the appeal of Skate was the simplicity - everything to do with your board was mapped to the right analogue stick and there's not too, too much button pressing involved. But in Skate 2, the new physics make hand-plants and foot-plants possible in the middle of all kinds of moves. So you're constantly pressing the face buttons and the shoulder buttons while trying to work the stick. The most hectic it got for me was trying to do a coffin in the middle of a high jump - I had to hold L2, R2, Square and X (on PS3 - I told you, I'm a console-hopper) and this is after having to flick the analogue stick forward and then quickly back to get enough air for the jump. All that button pressing and stick waggling is a tall order, even if this were a Japanese action game; and if you hose one of the button presses and wipeout in the middle of nowhere, it really throws off the groove to have to trek back to where you want to be or press up on the D-pad to respawn at the beginning of the area.

The last thing that ground my gears was the product placement. Seriously - it's obscene.

All three of these gripes drive home a point: Skate 2 is a game about speed. Anything that takes away from that (or distracts you from enjoying it - damn you Mountain Dew) is a nasty snag in an otherwise smooth experience.

Skate 2 is out for PS3 and 360 January 23, 2009.


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