Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
I caught a late night screening of Friday the 13th last night. It really blew my mind that Jason actually runs after people now. I was always a big fan of the power walk, but seeing him do a machete jog across the woods was even creepier than I imagined.
Too bad that was the only real innovation in this remake; I know they wanted to pay homage to classic horror with their teenage stereotypes, but the cliches are getting really old and tired. You’ve got the white asshole, the sarcastic but always disposable black guy, the dorky, girlfriend-lacking stoner, the big boobed slut, the level headed nice guy and his sensible, morally outraged girlfriend (who always ends up as the “final girl”). Then of course there’s the creepy old lady who warns the outsiders not to piss off “him”, the creepier buck-toothed paint sniffer, and the lone cop who is usually killed even faster than the black guy (the cop in this movie probably took the record, seeing how he died in about 15 seconds from his appearance).
Well, if nothing else, the Friday remake also innovates by including a total of three big boobed sluts. That’s progress, I suppose.
Today’s review is Skate 2, for the Armchair Empire. This was one of the harder games for me to review, since I haven’t played a skateboarding game since Tony Hawk 3 on the PS2. When it came time to criticize the tough controls, I was worried if I was only being biased due to my inexperience with the genre. And having not played Skate I, I had to be careful not to mention what had improved in the sequel, if anything.
Still, I know legitimate flaws when I see them, so overall I wrote about what I needed to. If any of you happen to be fans of skating games, go ahead and add an extra point to my score. I always make sure to score these things with Joe Gamer in mind, which is why I tend to avoid sequels to series or genres that I happen to be particularly into.
Skate 2 opens up with a live action video sequence that plays out like somebody’s amateur YouTube film. Once the pretentious humor and obscure Shining references finish up, your custom character is released from prison; The reason for his incarceration is never mentioned, but considering the strict anti-skating laws prevalent around the city (from violent security guards to “skate proof” railings), it was probably the real world equivalent of loitering. Didn’t skating stop being a frowned upon sport once the 90’s were over?
After tweaking the character’s post-jail look, players are treated to a series of tutorial quests to help him (and you) relearn his skating skills. Once the initial steps are taken, much of the world immediately opens for you to freely roam around in. The main draw, of course is partaking in the challenges riddled throughout, involving various skating techniques performed on different obstacles and environments; a handy warp feature lets players jump to any of the on-screen challenges displayed on the map.
Every location in this game offers unique challenges that make use of its surrounding environment; a high school will feature outside stairs, lunch tables, and large folk art decorations that players can ramp, grind, and jump around; a friend may host an outdoor pool party, with a large drained pool to skate in, or another friend may be fronting some cash for an all-out highway race (traffic included). While each challenge may offer different demands and objects to interact with, they all come down to players having to skate, and skate well.
This is where newcomers may feel daunted by Skate 2’s steep learning curve. Just about every button is used to perform the different actions, and learning how to combine those buttons is the key to garnering a high school to finish the more strenuous challenges. The right analog stick in particular is something that must be mastered, as EA has mapped all the jumps onto it. A basic hop command requires holding down on the right stick to build up momentum, and then flick the stick upward to jump. More advanced controls involve flicking the analog stick in all kinds of directions, in conjunction with all the other buttons. While many of the early challenges offer tutorial videos for each maneuver, most amateur players will still have to devote a lot of practice in order to pull off those long combo strings without falling flat on their face.
Should the latter occur, however (and it will), the game will actually reward you for just how badly you mess yourself up; falling flat on your butt after messing up a skating maneuver will earn you “Thrasher” points, which can result in a decent amount of money depending on how Jackass you’re willing to go (I suppose they deduct from the health insurance). Your most fractured fractures will be displayed on the “Annals of Meat” section of Slappy’s Blog (which also keeps track of ongoing challenges and requests throughout the city); it’s quite ironic that the one instance where a “don’t try this at home” message is practically required is nowhere to be found.
Players also have the option of saving their favorite stunts (or crashes) as replay videos and photos, which can be edited, saved, and uploaded to the official Skate 2 website to be viewed by other players (videos and photos can also be viewed within the game’s Xbox Live section). Unfortunately, the more advanced editing features will require an additional fee in the form of the ever dreaded DLC.
The online portion of Skate 2 is quite robust as well, offering several multiplayer modes such as Freeskate, Ranked and Unranked matches, and even a “Create a Spot” browser, where creative users can create their own spots for additional skating, and can also be hosted online for other players to rank and download accordingly.
Visually, Skate 2 features simple models and backdrops, but are rendered quite sharply, especially on a hi-def television. Your custom character also features visible scrapes and dirt after suffering a few face plants. Unfortunately, the camera will occasionally have trouble keeping up with speedy skaters, and the off-timed angles can cause a lot of frustration when players crash into an object that was visibly obscured (this is especially apparent in highway races, where an oncoming car will turn you into a fly on its windshield with no warning).
Another point of frustration is getting stuck in-between ramps or other foreign objects. Players have the option of getting off their board at any time, but the controls do not adapt to this change, and walking ends up feeling jerky and uncomfortable as a result of the tank-like controls and a camera that remains permanently attached behind you.
In the end, despite the lengthy learning curve and a few aesthetic hiccups, Skate 2 is just about the finest and most feature-filled skating game that fans will eagerly eat up, as well as a slew of patient newcomers looking to stick it to the man with their gnarly and righteous skater skills.