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Platform(s):Xbox 360, PS3
Developer:EA Black Box
Publisher:Electronic Arts
ESRB:T for Teen

One thing was clear from the moment I started playing Skate 2: I'm terrible at it. Most video games offer a more accessible, entertaining version of some real world activity (whether it's skateboarding or martial arts) and while Skate 2 can be fun, be prepared to eat pavement a lot.

The controls for Skate 2 are centered around your controller's analog sticks. You manipulate the skateboard with swirling, flicking or tilting the analog stick in varying degrees. Pulling the analog stick halfway down causes the board's nose to tip upward and pulling the stick halfway up tips the nose downward. Who knew the analog sticks had so much potential?

Waggling the analog sticks randomly can result in some pretty cool-looking moves if you're lucky but learning how to execute specific tricks on purpose takes some time. The game doesn't really hold your hand at all; there's a very brief tutorial in the beginning to teach the most basic motions but you'll pick up the rest on your own or through challenge missions. These challenges only provide brief video clips at best to explain the moves you need to succeed. Then you're sent off to wipe out over and over again.

It took a ridiculous amount of attempts for me to do the initial grinding challenge, where you're asked to slide down the rails of two stairways in a row. Discovering the proper speed and angles for approaching a rail as well amount you need to flick the analog stick to make a proper jump onto the rail was pretty challenging. It would've been nice if the game provided tips to players who are struggling. What Skate 2 utilizes in lieu of hints is an annoying voice actor who says things like "Aww, you'll get it next time!" every time you wipe out. You'll quickly hear every phrase in this motivational character's repertoire and will turn it off in favor of listening to the decent, eclectic soundtrack of the game.

These challenges wouldn't be so bad if A) wiping out forced you to start over from the beginning and B) it wasn't timed. The timer felt like a cheap way of adding tension to a challenge. Why is a random skater grinding rails being timed? Could I at least be given the option of disabling it? To top it all off, some of the challenges are a bit glitchy. One mission tasks you with jumping over a staircase three times with three different fliptricks. About half of the time, though, the game doesn't acknowledge that you just landed a trick.

Even if you stall out in the career missions, there's a whole city to skate around in. Like EA Black Box's other recent game, Need for Speed: Undercover, you can wander around the entire game map and immediately teleport to event locations through the map screen. Unlike Undercover, though, where the open-world was pointless because there's no incentive to aimlessly driving around, you really want to explore the city of Skate 2. The city isn't gorgeous but it's big, diverse, and filled with plenty of nooks for you to try out your moves. One of the best little features of the game, which really makes exploration as convenient as possible, is the marker system. If you find a great jump you want to try out, you can set a marker on the ground in front of it so you can teleport to that marker instantly with a click of a button to try it over and over again. Also, your character can just pick up his board and run if need be, so you're no longer stranded at the bottom of stairs or stuck in corners. It's possible to move and rotate objects like ramps, rails, and benches around to set up new moves for yourself, which opens up countless possibilities for experimentation.

There were a couple unnecessary aspects of the open-world design, though. One of them is the inclusion of security guards. Certain ritzy areas of the map are patrolled by MongoCorp guards who want nothing better than to pummel pesky skaters. If they catch you grinding on their turf, they'll try to chase you down and knock you over. To combat this, you can call up Big Black (co-star of the reality TV show Rob & Big, by the way) to grapple any security guards in the area and keep them off your back. Still, Big Black ends up getting in my way as much as the security guards and well, I don't see the point of having these security guards in my way, either. These tricks are hard enough without some lame brain A.I. mall cop jogging in front of my skateboard.

Big Black is one of a few different contacts that you can call up through your character's cell phone in order to provide a service. Another character will remove metal caps from certain rails so you can safely grind and a third will drain any pools you come across so you can skate around inside them. It costs a bit of your money (earned through contest and missions) to hire these guys but again, what's the point? None of it is making the gameplay any more complex.

The other events available to you are hit and miss. The Death Races pit you against other skaters in downhill checkpoint races and don't really play to the game's strengths (doing tricks); you're basically just dodging cars and other skaters while hoping your opponents crash into something. Hidden throughout the map are a number of "spots", small locations that challenge you to perform moves of a certain point value. One "spot" might be a bus stop where you must find a way to rack up at least 500 points in a single string of moves. Some of the spots are fun but you'll probably just end up button-mashing and hoping to get lucky. In the Tranny and Street contests, you compete with three other skaters in a variety of ways. One contest may ask you to collect as many points as possible on grinding tricks, to come up with the best trick you can, or something else in that vein. These contests are often set in impressive skate parks and offer great opportunities to try out some really flashy moves.

Contests are also a great place to pick up footage for your Replay Editor. You can upload clips and pictures from instant replays to your online profile so others will be able to witness your best moves. The online community for Skate 2 could potentially expand your playtime by a lot. You can create your own "spots" with the in-game editor and share them with other players. The game also offers competitive multiplayer for you and five friends in case you get bored with facing off against A.I. opponents.

Games of Skate 2's difficulty aren't released very often these days and while it's a gratifying game to ultimately master, it can also be a frustrating, punishing experience. Better tutorials or difficulty level adjusters may have been enough to bridge the gap for casual gamers but unfortunately, this is a "one size fits all" effort. While most players might not stick it out and finish the career mode, they'll certainly have a lot of fun wandering the city (alone or with friends) to find new jumps and grinds. There aren't many skateboarding video games out there so it seems smart-ass to say this is the best skateboarding game for Xbox 360 and PS3 but Skate 2 is worthy of the distinction.
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