Tony Hawk's Underground 2
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2, GC, Xbox
Publisher
Activision
Developer
Neversoft
Genre
Extreme Sports
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood, Crude Humor, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Story, Classic, multiplayer and online modes
• Solid gameplay engine
• Large levels with lots to do and discover
• Nice soundtrack

The Bad

• Graphics could use some polish
• Story mode is merely and ends to a means
• Why no online for Xbox?

 
Grade
B+

You have to give credit where it's due - Neversoft has managed to set a standard in a genre and then refine their game engine and options to the point when no one dares touch them. With Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (THUG 2), they've given players the sixth entry in the Tony Hawk series, taking the finely tuned engine and just adding a few new elements to keep players coming back for more. Unlike the first THUG, the story behind THUG2 is not about the player working hard to become a professional skater. This time around, you're part of a contest between Tony Hawk and Bam Margera, who both have teams of skaters scoring points in locations by pulling off tricks or just doing Jackass-like stunts. While the previous title had a pretty solid story to keep you going along, this time around, the story just serves the purpose of garnish to the gameplay.

For those used to the Tony Hawk gameplay, you'll be able to pick up and go with little effort. The X Button serves as a jump button, the Triangle is for grinding on rails, chairs, etc., while the Square and Circle buttons can be used to pull off Flip and Grab tricks. Using these in combination with your locations allows you to do a wealth of tricks. Once again, you can get off your skateboard by hitting the L1 and R1 buttons simultaneously and climb around levels, including ladders, which help get you to some pretty high-up spots in certain levels. You'll find most levels have a ton of places to discover. Fans of the previous titles will find all of their favorite moves here - wallrides, wallies, skitching, manuals, nollies, reverts, lip tricks... well, you get the point.

You can also pull off sticker slaps, which are useful in bouncing off a wall and sending you back with a good amount of speed, which is nice for pulling off long combo strings. When you're off your board, you can use the Triangle button to spray graffiti on walls. There's also the Natas Spin, which allows you to spin around on top of a pole or fire hydrant. Lastly, you can "Freak Out" when you bail, which really only serves as a distraction and a mild waste of time worth a few points.

Once into the Story Mode, you'll find each location, ranging from Boston to Germany to Australia and more, packed with objectives to pull off, be it a high score challenge, spraying over your opponent's tags or just creating one kind of Jackass-type mayhem or another. In each stage, though, there is a pro skater, guest (like Steve-O or Jesse James) and a "goofy" special skater, all of which come with their own challenges. Finding these guys helps out because you have to earn a certain amount of points to be able to move on and some of the additional challenges unlocked may be easier to pull off than others.

Along with the Story Mode is Classic Mode, which hearkens back to the first three Tony Hawks. You start out a stage with a series of Challenges and a time limit. Through multiple runs, you finish as many of the challenges as possible until you unlock the next location. Classic challenges, like finding the letters S-K-A-T-E or finding the hidden videotape are all a nice send-up to the original games. In Classic Mode, you can play the locations in the Story Mode along with some of the older levels found in previous entries.

For those who find the Story and Classic modes somewhat short, and they are at roughly 7-10 hours in length depending on your skill, there's always a plethora of multiplayer and online modes. Multiplayer modes include a variety of the standards, including King of the Hill, Trick Attack, Capture the Flag, Graffiti and the two new modes - Elimiskate and Scavenger Hunt. All of the multiplayer modes are pretty fun when playing with friends. If you're playing the PS2 version, you may want to get at least decent before going online, unless you don't mind being schooled and then insulted for not keeping up with some of the more talented online skaters. As with previous Tony Hawks, this title is not online for the GC and XBox. While not being online with the GC is understandable, I still wonder what keeps Neversoft from getting with XBox Live.

What would a Tony Hawk title be without the massive Create-A-everything modes? Once again, players have a ton of options in creating their own skater, including a return of the Face-In-The-Game, where players can scan their own face, or use the EyeToy, to put their face on their customized skater. Also available is the Create-A-Park mode and the ability to make you own tricks and your own Challenges. Once players have worn out the standard modes, you can get more than enough mileage making THUG2 into your own personal skatepark.

Graphically, fans of the Tony Hawk series will notice a change in the game. This time around, the character models are bit more cartoony, which really suits the more outlandish and unrealistic nature of the Story Mode. While one might think that this could take away from the "realist" feel that previous Tony Hawk's had, the new style really shows it's stuff during cutscenes, where the characters, specifically Bam, show off a lot of expression and emotion. When it comes to the rest of the game, players are treated to large, well-detailed levels with a lot of stuff going on. There are tons of NPC and other skaters roaming the levels and when you break stuff, you get a pleasant degree of satisfaction from the damage left to the level. While the visual effects are overly fantastic and glossy, they do serve the game well. I would have to say, though, that the graphics portion of the game does suffer some issues that don't hurt the game but do detract from the overall package. Most noticeably is some slowdown that pops up from time to time. Also noticeable is some blurriness in distant objects and the occasional glitchiness in the screen which looks like a refresh issue of sorts.

The audio portion proves to follow the standard established by previous entries. Sound effects are all taken from the standard skating catalogue and work well within the context of the game. Voice acting from the actual skaters and guests works well, even though you can tell most have no training in voice acting. The pedestrian audio chatter works nicely in fleshing out the game world, though if you spend too much time in one area or another, it may get a little repetitive. As with previous installments, THUG 2's soundtrack is excellent and eclectic, including tracks from the likes of Metallica, Faith No More, Frank Sinatra, Disturbed, Atmosphere, Audio Two and Less Than Jake, to name a few. Also, you can customize the soundtrack to omit songs or whole groups of tracks if so wish to.

What it boils down to is that THUG 2 is really just more of a good thing. While the story mode has changed focus and there are a number of minor additions to the gameplay that don't largely affect it (outside of some goals that require said gameplay aspects), the overall core is what Neversoft has basically perfected over the years. If you're a fan of the series, this title will be a nice addition. For those who don't regularly buy the series, this makes a good rental, especially for multiplayer with your friends or online.

- - Kinderfeld

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