Tony Hawk's Underground
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2, GC, Xbox
Publisher
Activision
Developer
Neversoft
Genre
Extreme Sports
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood, Mild Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes
 
Grade
The Good

• Awesome level of customization
• Online gameplay is fun
• Story mode improvement over previous single player modes
• Large soundtrack

The Bad

• Character models not well polished
• Core gameplay is relatively the same

 
Grade
B+

One might blame Neversoft for only making minor revisions and upgrades to their successful Tony Hawk Pro Skater series with each installment, but when you get things right from the get go, it makes putting out new titles every year a bit of a challenge. Do you release a sequel with minor tweaks or do you try to rebuild the game from scratch to give players an all-new experience? Or, you could do what Neversoft did and take the well-polished game engine and change the focus of the game from the pro skaters to you, the amateur skater working your way up through the ranks.

The story mode behind THUG has players create their own skater and work through many locations, performing various tasks. Starting off as a no-name in New Jersey, players have to complete a handful of tasks, most of which involve performing specific tricks or tasks, to move along in the story. Before too long, most people will realize that almost every task in the story mode is a means to getting players to learn the vast array of tricks and moves available in THUG. Locations are often broken up into segments where the player has to complete their objectives to move to the next portion of the story.

As with previous installments, THUG packs a lot of moves into the controller. Tapping the X Button will get you to Ollie, or jump, and tapping the Triangle button after jumping near a rail or edge will get you to grind. Depending on whether you tap a D-Pad direction at the same time, you can have various grinds to perform. Once in a half-pipe or similar place to get some air, players can perform a large range of grabs (Circle button) and flips (Square button) by performing combinations on the D-Pad and face buttons. Along with this are a wide range of tricks, including Lip tricks, Manuals, Reverts, Wallrides, Transfers and even skitching, where the player will grab the back of a car and ride it around for extra speed. You'll also notice a Special Meter that fills as you perform tricks. Once full, you can input special tricks for some serious points.

One of the more prominent new aspects of this title is the fact that players can now get off of their boards just by hitting the L1 and R1 buttons at the same time. One might wonder why you would want to do that, but since the levels have been given a lot more depth and prove to be more than just skate parks, you'll find a number of places where you need to be on foot. In fact, once on foot, you can jump and climb up onto ledges and low-hanging roofs. And, in certain locations, you can go up ramp, get off your board in mid-air and land on higher ledges. For those looking for the elusive hidden videotapes littered throughout the many stages, this will become an essential element.

Along with being able to get off your board, there are times where you'll be able to drive around in a car. The controls and mechanics for this are pretty simple - you have your gas, brake/reverse and handbreak. Since these portions are not a major part of the game, I can overlook the fairly lightweight and even unrealistic way the cars control.

What would a Tony Hawk game be without some serious ability to customize? The Create-a-Skater feature is pretty comprehensive, but if you want to really go all out, you can get a photo of yourself and submit it to the official website, where they'll send you a code. Get online with the network adaptor, enter the code and download your new face. Along with this, players can customize their boards and even spend and extensive amount of time making their own skate parks. And, if you think your park is good enough, you can even upload it to Neversoft's servers to share. To be honest, the Create-A-Park mode is extremely extensive and impressive and those who enjoy what you might call "homebrew" will spend many and hour tinkering away. And, if that wasn't enough, you can even compile your own tricks with a menu that might be daunting at first, but once you grasp the timeline aspect of it, you can put together some pretty cool moves and name them all your own.

Along with the Story Mode is High Score/Free Skate, where you can just skate around, perfecting your skills. There also the option to create your own goals, which can be shared with friends or online. Probably one of the nicest features is that, along with a 2 Player mode, gamers can go online and play others on the network. Online games are broken up into a lot of different modes, including Trick Attack, Score Challenge, King of the Hill and Firefight, where players can even shoot fireballs at each other. Online play is a great diversion for those looking for multiplayer action, especially if you like to make your own custom parks, tricks and goals.

Visually, Tony Hawk Underground is all about two things: large, detailed environments and smooth animation. Each of the levels are impressively large with a great level of detail and depth. Neversoft has obviously spent a lot of time developing not only good looking locations but one well-design for effective gameplay. You'll find yourself in some fairly extensive locations, packed with lots of moving NPCs, vehicles and more places to skate and trick than you can shake a stick at. Now, with the ability to get off your board and even climb locations, it's apparent that every nook and cranny has been fleshed out. To accent this, the character models have some pretty smooth trick animation. The only major flaw with the graphics are that the character models themselves, especially the facial models, look really rough. And since they are featured more prominently in the story sequences, this becomes a glaring flaw.

Even if you don't care for the specific genres or artists, one has to be impressed with the depth of the soundtrack, which includes acts like Sublime, Nas, Queens of the Stone Age, Entombed, Bad religion, Hellacopters, Jane's Addiction and Dan the Automator. Fortunately, you're given the option to turn off certain genres or just go down the track listing and select the songs you wish to hear. Along with the soundtrack are some well-realized sound effects and vocal bits from in-game NPCs that give the gameworld the effective amount of life. Voice acting, while more prevalent than previous titles, is actually not bad. Some action titles could wish to be so fortunate.

I can't fault Neversoft for not making too many changes with the gameplay engine. It's not like there's much more they can do. That in itself may be THUG's biggest drawback. While the change in focus and the new elements are nice, if you've played the previous installments to death, you may come away a little disappointed. Also, I would have to note that the animation and controls for both on-foot and driving portions feel loose and unrealistic in comparison to the well polished skating aspect.

If you've never played a Tony Hawk title, Underground is an excellent place to start. For those who wore out the last few titles, there's enough new elements that would warrant at the very least a rental. If you're big an customization and want to skate online, THUG is well worth your cash.

- - Kinderfeld

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