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What We Liked

Into the Great Wide Open: That clacking noise you hear is Tony Hawk's arthritic knees shaking in his Vans. The biggest challenger to Hawk's skating game monopoly is back and bringing the heat. skate 2, the sequel to the 2007 original,  kicks off the improvements by offering a vastly expanded and wide open landscape (the fictitious New San Vanelona) for you to explore at your own pace. Don't worry, the disc also takes into account the possibility that years of gaming have completely shredded your attention span. If you get stuck on a challenge and need a change of pace, pause the game, pull up the map and transport yourself to a new neighborhood across town with the click of a button.

Showtime: As you make your way through New San Vanelona, everyone from the security guards to the major skate companies will have their eyes on you. Cut your teeth, and a lot more, with the opening, tutorial-like challenges. Show off to impress New San Vanelona's competing skate mags (The Skateboard Mag and Thrasher Magazine). Put together a sick enough Sponsor Me tape and the rest of the big-time competition will start coming to you. It's a nice variety of tests, the only drawback of which is the early challenges are almost as difficult as those you reach towards the end of the game.

Movers and Shakers: The days of being a slave to the gaming world's city planners are no more. Using the R1 button (on the PS3, the version used for this review), you can grab objects, position them where you want and even rotate them to the most beneficial angle. As we're sure is the case in your neighborhood, there are an assortment of ramps sprinkled around town to take advantage of this feature. But this isn't Excitebike -- the tactic also applies to real world, and skater-friendly items such as dumpsters and street barricades. A couple other cool functions are involved here. First of all, you can watch computer controlled skaters test out your ramp before you do. If the only results are bloody knees and elbows, you can hit one button to reset the original layout. In the case of your better forays into urban skate park design, you can post your arrangements online and make them available for upload.

Session Marks the Spot: Veteran skating gamers understand the futility that is the lengthy approach route. You know the drill: you line up from atop a hill, gather all the speed you need to reach high score heights, and then bail two feet before you hit the ramp. A long, lonely trudge back up the hill ensues. skate 2 delivers a solution. Drop a session marker at the beginning of your route by holding down L1 and hitting the down button on the directional pad. Now you can return to your favorite starting spot (not the start of the challenge) with the flick of a button. In a game with as many frustrating tests as skate 2, this feature probably cuts down on about 30 percent of all trips to the Power Off button.

Control Freak: When it comes to controlling your virtual skater, skate 2 continues to reinvent the wheels. For the most part, this is a good thing. Instead of memorizing button combos, you simply maneuver the right analog stick. It starts out with the basics -- pull down, then release up swiftly for a simple ollie -- and progresses into Kickflips and Pop-Shuvits. Watching your skater react to your fluid thumb toggles makes for a very rewarding experience once you master the controls. It's a little reminiscent of the hands-on stick controls in EA's hockey title, NHL 09.

Feet First: You've just popped the newest skateboarding title into your console and you're ready to shred. What's next? Why not go for a leisurely stroll! The game stresses realism, which means lots of stairs and other impediments that you won't be able to maneuver on your board. Walking in a skating game sounds about as exciting as riding a Vespa in a NASCAR game, but the added functionality actually allows extra flexibility. Travel by foot to uncover hard to reach drop spots or, in more frustrating instances, just get out of a jam. You can even sprint when those pesky San Van security guards are chasing you off their mall turf.

Check out skate 2 in action:

What We'd Change

Poisoned Control: Remember all of those nice things we said about EA's revolutionary control system? That praise comes with a few caveats. The learning curve with the nuanced control scheme is half-pipe steep. First timers will require a dedicated couch potato session before they'll feel confident enough to pull off point earning combos. Laser Flips and Hard Flips are separated by fractions of centimeters on the analog stick. Every move comes down to some maneuver of pulling down on the stick and then rotating back towards the top. Obviously, these minor differences are made even more difficult to master in the heat of a three combo rail slide. Once you finally do pull off a trick, you'll be hard pressed to repeat the sequence any time soon. There's a good chance you will greatly test the well-worn theory, "If at first you do not succeed, try, try (the 1,200 point rail slide) again."

Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: We all know skateboarding is hard -- there's a reason most of us choose to drive cars to work instead of skitching behind them. However, skate 2 might go a little too far in proving this point. There are certainly challenges in the game that'll make you consider picking up some controller insurance -- 15 consecutive failed combo grinds could make Buddha chuck his controller at the wall. The half-pipe is particularly realistic ... which kinda sucks. This was the one spot where we found ourselves pining for the days of Tony Hawk's cartoonish hang time.

House of Pain: For skating, much of the allure lies in the high risk factor. Unfortunately, skate 2's new "Hall of Meat" feature places too much emphasis on the skull and crossbones reputation of skateboarding. No doubt, the wipeouts would make Johnny Knoxville and his band of scary pranksters cringe. Still, there's only so many times you can watch your skater flail about helplessly as you rack up points and, if you're lucky, break some bones. (All for extra points!) After the first couple of wipeouts, you'll find yourself hitting the skip button before you're even airborne.

Bottom Line

skate 2 has breathed new life into the stagnant skateboarding genre. While the controls can be equal parts liberating and frustrating, the blueprint is in place to capitalize on a new direction in virtual shredding. Your move, Tony Hawk.

Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 7
Audio: 9
Online: 8
Overall: 8

-- Reviewed by Paul Ulane, SI.com

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