A lot can change in 16 months. One moment, a developer can be at the top of the world, and in the next, that same team may be in the abyss.

Fortunes can change quickly in the industry. No other studio may know this better than EA Black Box.

The creators of "skate." rightfully won acclaim for one of the best skateboarding titles in years. The project was one of the best games of 2007, a legitimate challenger to the Tony Hawk franchise and a gateway for newcomers to the sport.

Fast-forward more than a year later, and things have unraveled for the studio. The economy is a wreck. Electronic Arts is laying off hundreds of workers, and amid all this, the studio that created "skate." and the "Need for Speed" games is getting consolidated. Sadly, the lone silver lining in this fiasco is a sequel that the team managed to finish before shutting down.

That's how "Skate 2" arrives — as a swan song of sorts. Black Box expands its innovative flickit controls, which lets users perform tricks via right analog-stick motions. In the follow-up, players can venture off the board and explore a rebuilt San Vanelona on foot. In addition, the team also adds a plethora of new moves such as hand plants, hippy jumps and kicks in the air.

But the new set of tricks comes at a price. "Skate 2" isn't as easy to learn as the first game, and it will be nearly impossible for novices.

Part of the problem is progression. Black Box begins the title with the protagonist's release from prison, and afterward, they almost assume that the player has experienced the original.


Advertisement

As fans are reintroduced to a city reconstructed after a cataclysmic earthquake, the difficulty ramps up fast, and veterans will feel at home while newbies will founder — a lot. There isn't time for hand-holding. Unlike the original, Black Box doesn't ease players into the experience as they compete against other professional skaters in events, shoot magazine features and star in skating videos.

Once players do adjust to the gameplay, "Skate 2's" difficulty peters out. The competitions become more manageable. The challenges strewn throughout the game's open world seem less imposing.

But it's getting to that level of skating that's the rub. Plenty of sweat, tears and thrown controllers will go into mastering the simplest moves. Like real skating, the most experienced player will have to repeatedly try flip tricks, grinds and grabs to succeed.

And although "Skate 2" has some worthwhile additions, the franchise's flaws still persist.

First off, there's the jargon. Often, those unfamiliar with skating may not know what's asked of them. In one instance, a challenge asks players to perform a "grind to a slide," but they may not know if that means hitting a rail and sliding to a stop or flying across a ledge and dipping onto a ramp.

Despite arrows that guide players across challenges, there's still ambiguity in the game's language.

I'm still waiting for an optional demonstration mode that at least shows you what a successful run on a challenge looks like, although that may hinder the game's creativity and challenge.

The other misstep is the camera, which doesn't react as quickly as needed.

At times, it can take a while to catch up with where players want to skate. This leads into blind jumps or an agonizingly slow turn after hitting a dead end during a competition. It can make events frustrating.

The only other blemish is some fantastical challenges — often they involve Danny Way — which stretch the bounds of believability and bring the game to a Tony Hawk level of unreality.

Despite being fun, it may turn off the purists looking for a pure, realistic skating experience.

But it's a minor trifle to a solid sequel that will give fans what they want, and although EA Black Box in its past form is no more, it can be proud of this last gem.

Reach Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayareanews group.com. Read his blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/video-games/.

Video Game
Review
  • WHAT: "Skate 2"
  • PLATFORM: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3
  • RATING: Teen
  • GRADE: B+