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Skate 2 - Skate 2
It helps that the game's urban open world setting, San Vanelona, is a more interesting place this time around. EA has redesigned the city to add more slopes, more undulating park and pool areas and - best of all - more huge jumps and fiendish downhill runs. There are some spectacular and hair-raising routes out there if you take the time to check them out. In fact, the game gives you license to by adding a new 'death race' class of event where, instead of competing for points in a tournament or completing specific trick challenges, you're racing for pole position through hairpin turns and streams of traffic at potentially neck-breaking speeds. These events break up what can sometimes feel like a very exacting, rather technical game, and give the physics engine a chance to show some brutal ragdoll dynamics. If you're struggling in a particular challenge, there's no better way to unwind.
There's a little more Jackass-style tomfoolery in another added feature: the Thrasher Hall of Meat. All of us make mistakes - and sometimes ones that result in catastrophic but amusing injuries. Skate 2 allows us to capitalise on them with a cash bonus and a place in the aforementioned league table of pain, with the full extent of your injury detailed before your wincing eyes. As before, there are also cash prizes for competitions, plus photo shoot and video shoot challenges, and all this loot can be spent on new boards, new trucks and new apparel for your skater. It might be an excuse for gratuitous product placement, but it makes the whole thing feel that bit more real.
Where Skate 2 comes closest to Tony Hawk's territory is in the new emphasis on security, and the new ways of getting round this. It appears that the villainous corporation 'Mongocorp' is tightening up on skateboarding in San Vanelona, putting barriers and locks on prime tricking or grinding spots, and patrolling areas that every red-blooded skater would love to traverse. In some cases doing so is just a matter of avoiding guards, but in others you'll need to call in help from fellow renegades to remove Mongocorp obstructions or block Mongocorp security. At times this threatens to spoil the spirit of the game, but most of the time Skate 2 stays on the right side of the silliness line. Plus, with several missions usually live at any one time, you don't have to explore too much of this stuff if you'd rather just concentrate on skating.
Beyond this, Skate 2 introduces a range of other enhancements, some small, some large. The old system of session markers, for instance, remains, giving you the ability to 'mark' a spot and return to it instantly - always handy when you're being asked to pull off a trick over a particular object. However, you can now travel further from this spot without experiencing an annoying loading pause when you return. The old line-up of tricks has been expanded, with handplants and footplants now firmly on the menu, and you can - finally - get off your board. This seems like a small thing, but it makes a big difference when a flight of stairs stands between you and your next objective, and it hides a deeper purpose. While dismounted you can grab and drag around certain elements of the scenery, helping you position ramps, rails and dumpsters to create the setup for that perfect line of tricks. At times the game cleverly uses this as a kind of puzzle; you can only complete the challenge if you set the scene correctly first.