Turning weaknesses into strengths is an appealingly simple approach to take with sequels. The main reason more developers don't try it is pretty simple as well: it's very hard. Much easier, then, to simply ignore the cracks that are forming, paper over them and let the problem quietly spread around the entire structure until, one day, several years down the line, it undermines the whole enterprise and you're left with a pretty mound of toxic rubble.
But EA Black Box hasn't done that. The developers of last year's Skate actually managed to take one of the very few things that annoyed players in the original game and spin it into something fun. "We discovered the control scheme could be confusing, and people fell down a lot," admits producer Jason DeLong. "We decided to reward that."
The team's solution is to turn falling down into one facet of the challenge: fling your skater off the top of a bridge, or a building, or down the side of a mountain, and see how much damage you can do to them. Once they're falling, you can explosively launch them off their boards, and make them strike any of a number of inappropriate poses, from a cannonball curl to a flailing spread eagle, in order to maximise the bone-shattering and face-grinding that ensues. Welcome to the Hall of Meat mode: it's gravity, only fun.
It's a mini-game that may be familiar from elsewhere: both PAIN and Amped 3 got a lot of mileage from variations on the same mechanic (and its inclusion in Skate 2 probably means that a large proportion of players will still be doing a lot of falling down in the main game, incidentally) but you can't really begrudge a little strategic theft when the implementation is this good: collisions are jarring and amusingly horrific, and the game presents you with a heavy chunk of stats post-splat, including bones broken and medical costs accrued alongside the distance fallen and speed of impact. Even the simple act of ejecting from the board brings back all the right memories of Monkey Target, with its emphasis on timing and its delight in experimentation.
So that's how I came to spend the best part of twenty minutes at a recent EA press event throwing fashionably-trousered counter-culture types off a bridge, delineating the minute variations in the way they'd smash against objects on their way down. It's good, old fashioned, stupid fun.
But if it suggests a more Johnny Knoxville approach to the wider game, however, that's not the case - the bodies piling up at the bottom of the canyon are about as endearingly moronic as Skate 2 gets. This is not unexpected: despite the slacker soundtrack and regular incidences of heads hitting poles, the original Skate was defined by an air of self-effacing competence. This was the game that quietly set about revolutionising a skating genre which had gimmicked itself into a tired, confusing anticlimax, and it's the same game that then quietly went on to clean up in the shops, sending Tony Hawk (and possibly even Tony Hawks, too) into a crisis of confidence resulting in a rare year off.
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