Skate was a reaction to sequels, a youthful breath of uncluttered thinking in the face of the incremental gimmickry that sent Tony Hawk tottering into stodgy middle age. That puts Skate 2 in an awkward position from the start.
The game’s response is, unavoidably, that of almost any other follow-up: on top of the clean lines of the original, Black Box now lays on additions, refinements and rebalancing. To replace the shock of the new, we instead get the simple pleasures of more – even though the first game understood that bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Alongside a welcome expansion of the original’s tricks repertoire, the sequel enables you to hop off your board and navigate New San Vanelona on foot. As a selling point, the power to walk around in a game about skating is hardly the most seductive of hooks, and it’s surprisingly awkward in implementation; characters turn like battleships and lurch uncomfortably between standing and running animations, both of which seem to have been mo-capped from eager Neanderthals.
But walking has its uses. Navigating tricky areas of geometry to get to the next objective is noticeably easier and, more importantly, with two feet on the ground you can now grab in-game objects such as benches and dumpsters and move them about to create the perfect line.
The ability to construct your own trick spot adds a low-maintenance puzzle element to many of the game’s objectives, but it really comes into its own in the online modes, where obsessives can spend hours moving around the virtual furniture before sharing the results.
The game’s admirable restraint stops you from chaining together anything particularly outlandish; instead, it offers the more rarefied pleasures of tweaking a layout until it’s just right, optimising the distance from picnic table to bench and extending a trick run as far as it can sensibly go.
Elsewhere, however, the brand new Hall Of Meat mode suggests that the franchise’s descent into dangerous slapstick may already have begun. While there’s something unavoidably entertaining about sounding out the huge environment for the best perches to throw your skater from, before watching and wincing as they earn points crashing to the ground, the experience never really fits in with the rest of the game’s sense of quiet style and, for all its face-grinding impact, the minigame lacks the explosive logic and arcade precision of a good Burnout crash junction.
New San Vanelona remains a breezy source of realistic tricking, and the ease with which the Flickit control scheme has evolved to incorporate new additions continues to mark it out as a modest classic, but Skate 2 feels like something of a dilution.
Despite the pleasures of returning to such a well-constructed sandbox that offers many distractions, Black Box’s sequel ultimately struggles to offer any single compelling justification for its own existence. The execution is still sharp, but the game as a whole feels slightly pointless.