This week Zero Punctuation breaks a few bones to review Skate 2.
Skateboarding is a good example of something that could only exist in a truly decadent society. Take any other period of history, a guy puts wheels on a plank, grinds down the steps of the Parthenon and breaks both his kneecaps on a pike staff, they'd have him slung in Bedlam to be gawped at by gin-addled chimney sweeps for the rest of his life. We're now living in the time when overpopulation and free health care has abolished natural selection, so now bored, pointless white boys with some kind of deep-seated grudge against their own bones can somehow live long enough to breed. And there's an entire trendy subculture devoted to the world's second least practical mode of transportation just below the unicycle and just above the tea tray.
And like Christianity, white supremacy, and child molestation, skating is also a subculture with its own video games. Some are a little more immersed in it than others, and Skate 2 is an example of one that's so deeply entrenched that it had to take a canary and spelunking equipment. Half the words are in an impenetrable skater dialect, even the challenge briefings, so often the challenge would begin and I'd be left on top of a giant ramp pouting uncertainly like a child in a nativity play who hasn't learned his lines. The game also presents countless individuals who are evidently real-life skating celebrities who you seem to be expected to already know, as being able to buy and wear their clothing is considered a reward. And a majority of the voice dialogue has the self-conscious awkwardness of a non-actor who's taken a few too many curbs to the face.
So if you're not a skater but are merely interested in the lifestyle (possibly because you're putting together some kind of health insurance scam), be warned that Skate 2 tends to assume you're already on board (no pun intended) and isn't trying to be accessible or sell the whole pastime as glamorous or interesting. Which is good, because if it was, it would be doing a pretty fucking shitty job!
And now that we understand that, Skate 2 is fascinating from a purely anthropological standpoint. It's like a little glass-bottom boat viewing of some heavenly skater afterlife: a big, sunny city with lots of agreeably smooth gradients and where shattered bones knit themselves back together instantly. More importantly, though, every other facet of human wrongdoing (murder, theft, arson, etc.) have all been abolished, so The Man is entirely devoted to bringing down skaters, allowing them to feel like some kind of courageous, oppressed minority fighting for liberty, rather than a bunch a masochistic twats putting their t-shirts on over their jumpers and blindsiding old ladies.
The main character is a faceless, voiceless, nameless jerk who was incarcerated in a prison whose entire inmate population consists of skaters and whose friends instantly assume that he'll want to start skating again once he gets out. Which you can't refuse, because you can't fucking speak! Lending credence to the theory that, rather than being a heaven for skaters, this is some kind of hell for people who call skaters masochistic twats.
One of the major goals of game design is the old "easy to learn, hard to master" chestnut. Skate 2 pulls off the second half pretty well, but it's about as easy to learn as piloting a jump jet. The number of movement controls is absurd! X for the right leg, Square for the left leg, left analog stick to shift your weight, left and right triggers for your arms, Circle to breathe, Triangle to process oxygen, SIXAXIS to wave your willy around, etc. Flicking the right analog stick will do an ollie. Flicking it one degree further to the right will do a completely different kind of ollie. The biggest challenge is just trying to remember all the various button combinations required to perform the mandatory tricks. But the absurdly low camera positioning and your avatar's big fat arse selfishly hogging screen real estate make it hard to judge distance and timing. And combine that with the frankly irresponsible speed you have to maintain most of the time, and the two most common tricks you'll pull off will be breaking a hip and getting stuck in the world geometry.
(Actually, there's a whole minigame for seeing how badly damaged you can get in a single fall, and I managed to do pretty well at that if nothing else.)
Most of the actual skating challenges have very specific trick objectives that took an average of twenty million attempts, gradually chipping away at them while they in turn chipped away at my patience. The nearby skaters endlessly droning the same four lines of dialogue reaffirming my ineptitude and second-class citizen status in the Democratic Republic of Falling on Your Arse. Then there are the challenges where you just have to get, say, a thousand points in a single move. After a hundred tries, and fast running out of spinal columns to shatter, I finally kickflip onto a rail, grind all the way to the end, pop shove-it, backward somersault, cure all the world's diseases, and I'm still six hundred points short!
I dunno. I can see how Skate 2 would be fun and satisfying for someone who knew what the hell they were doing, but the path to becoming that sort of someone is so arduous and frustrating you're more likely to just yell "fuck it" and go back to Rock Band. Maybe today will be the day I finally complete "Green Hills and High Tides" on expert.
The point I'm trying to make is that Skate 2 is a game for skaters. The purity of the experience is right there in the title: Skate. Because that's all it is. (Also 2, because there was another one). If they want to make something for the peeps without dumbing it down into homogeneous pâté for the masses, then I can respect that. They don't need me kicking their clubhouse door open and demanding to be accommodated. Nobody forced me to play it (except, you know, professional obligations and shit). But be warned that Skate 2 is no ambassador, and people who don't know their pop shove-its from their Tony Hawks, and who just want to have fun with their magical, electric smiles machine are probably going to be scared off.
Personally, I felt more sympathetic for the police than the skaters in this game, no matter how often they were depicted as power-tripping, authoritarian toolbags diabolically infringing upon our personal right to fling ourselves at top speed down a busy pavement and knock somebody's mum into the path of a Fiat Bravo.
Has a bit of a cold this week please excuse him from lessons: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I guess if the civic authority really wanted to stop skating they could have just stopped building ramps everywhere
No I am not on fire