With only a couple of major players in the skating game genre, there’s room enough for both to find dedicated fan bases and keep each other at arm’s length.

In the red corner we have Activision’s Tony Hawk series; arcade-like, totally unrealistic, and tricks are performed by epic button-mashing.

In the blue corner we have Skate from Electronic Arts; down-to-earth, gritty and comparatively realistic. Tony Hawk is to Skate what Sensible Soccer is to FIFA 09 – both great games but oh so different.

So EA have found themselves in yet another “the dreaded sequel” conundrum (I guess if anyone is used to it, EA is) with Skate 2. Change too much and you’ll lose the established fan base, change too little and you get accused of releasing Skate 1.5.

Luckily for them and fans, EA have got the mix just right.

The game begins with a movie-like introduction using real actors, showing your faceless character being released from a minimum security penitentiary. It’s a stylish beginning in Guy Ritchie fashion and sets the tone for what is to come. Since you’ve been incarcerated, San Vanelona has been spruced up and modernised by a major corporation named Mongocorp. They’ve all but banned skating in the CBD altogether, placing caps on rails and the steps of buildings, which forces skaters underground and into backstreet skateparks. Security guards patrol the city ready to take you down if you’re caught being a ‘public nuisance’. If you’re a veteran of Skate then you will recognize some remaining landmarks in New San Vanelona along with pieces of others that have been left as monuments.

EA games have become the benchmark in character creation and customisation and Skate 2 is no exception – in fact it takes it to a whole new level. The physical appearance of your character has all the usual variables, but the clothing options (many of them unlockable with more money) are unbelievable. There seems to be an endless supply of top street-brand t-shirts, shoes and hats to choose from, many of which I’d be quite keen to buy in real life!

Earning money is important in Skate 2 for more than just spending on clothes and decks. You are able to unlock spots and pay people to drain pools to create bowls and buy expansions to a huge Megapark in the city. Speaking of bowls, vert skating has more of a presence in Skate 2, but I found it difficult to generate enough speed to perform any decent manoeuvres and vert became more of a chore than anything. The problem is that as soon as you stop kick/pushing your board slows down considerably. You’ll have to do vert at some time in the game, but luckily it doesn’t rear it’s ugly head too often.

Just as in the original, the idea is to show off your skating prowess in front of the right people and gain coverage in Thrasher and Skateboard Magazine, all the while climbing through the skateboard ranks. The photo shoots are in scripted spots and the tasks you have to perform range from the very easy to the ‘my LCD screen is in grave danger of having a controller embedded in it’ impossibly hard. What doesn’t help is that sometimes the game doesn’t recognise that you actually completed the trick successfully, resulting in you doing it all over again, and again, and again…

Perhaps the biggest ‘addition’ to Skate 2 is the ability to get off your board. The walking and running feels a little clunky and looks even worse but is an essential element to getting the most from Skate 2. Walking around allows you to walk back up the stairs you just kick-flipped over instead the usual ollie from step to step or taking the long way back around to the top. While off your board you can move objects around such as dumpsters, ramps, benches and rails to help you over gaps or create your own “spot”.

Creating a Spot is a fun diversion from the main storyline, and one where you can spend quite a bit of time getting things just right. Once you’ve built and mastered it by scoring as highly as you can, you can then upload it online for other skaters to download and try to beat your score. In fact there is an Achievement for downloading and “owning” someone else’s spot. You can even create spots or gaps only to come back to it later and find AI skaters trying it out, such is the living, breathing world that is New San Vanelona.

The online aspects of Skate 2 are vastly improved from the original. Spot Battles and S.K.A.T.E. make a welcome return as does the Crash Competition and Hall of Meat. Free skate sessions are more expansive and you can activate an event during any session.

Skating moves are mapped to the analogue stick and the shoulder buttons take care of the various grabs. EA’s Flickit control method takes some getting used to if you’re a newcomer, but makes the Skate series unique. Skate 2 is all about flow and effortlessly morphing from one move into the next. Getting off your board and planning a run of tricks before nailing it is one of the more satisfying experiences in console gaming.

I remember being fairly impressed with the graphics of the original Skate, but Skate 2 shows that up completely. The textures and design of the city are impressive to say the least. Some pop-up does occur, but I found this to be a peripheral thing, taking nothing away from the gameplay itself.

The city of New San Vanelona is designed so that you’re not just travelling from spot to spot (although ultimately that’s exactly what you’re doing), but how much skating you can fit in on the way to your destination.

It would be fair to say that Skate 2 is what Skate should have been, but I guess any new franchise needs to start somewhere. Skate 2 is better in every respect, from the plot, design and gritty gameplay to the realism, depth and typically brilliant soundtrack.

This is one that you need to have in your collection. You might not play it for fourteen hours straight, but it’s one you’ll come back to for a session over and over again.

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We have three videos from Skate 2 showcasing some of the cool tricks you can do. Head over to GP Downloads to watch them.