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Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Review for PlayStation 2 (PS2)
Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2004 @ 01:05:58 am E.S.T

In recent years, it’s been proven that there are three things that you should never do in life: You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, and you never, ever count out Neversoft’s creativity when it comes to the Tony Hawk series. Since the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, many skeptics started to question the ability of Joel Jewett and his crew to come up with new ideas. It seemed as if the THPS series was finally starting to get stale. Then, out came Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, which took after competitors in the action sports genre by crafting a story mode that was more open-ended. Time limits were thrown out of the window and the missions were dished out by interacting with characters, rather than through a checklist.

This eventually led to the spawn of a new series, known as Tony Hawk’s Underground. Taking the Story mode formula that was used in THPS4, THUG expanded on it by placing the player in the role of the skater. Using face-mapping techniques (created from pictures that the player would send in to Neversoft) to help enhance the feel of the player being in the game, THUG was a major success and proved that the series could be revitalized with new life. Thankfully, for gamers who still find pleasure in the Tony Hawk games, they have a sequel that has managed to piece together a formula to silence the doubters for one more year in Tony Hawk’s Underground 2: World Destruction Tour.

If one were to wonder about innovation within THUG 2’s gameplay, the honest answer would be that there isn’t much. There’s the addition of a new move (the Natas Spin, which consists of spinning on top of objects such as fire hydrants) and a few revamped techniques (the Wallplant has since been renamed the Sticker Slap, which is used to…uh, slap stickers onto objects), but besides that, there isn’t much that’s new. While this is disappointing when compared to the leaps that previous Tony Hawk games have made (manuals, reverts, spine transfers, etc.), running out of skateboarding technique is bound to happen eventually.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the gameplay is poor – this is a Tony Hawk game, after all. The same perfect functionality that got players hooked to the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is still intact, and it still feels just as fluid as it did back in 1999. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on your tolerance for the formula; if you’re burnt out on Tony Hawk action due to overplaying the previous games in the series, then you’re not going to be too excited about this one due to the lack of supreme changes to the fundamentals. But, if you’re still willing to come back after all of this time, then you’re going to feel right at home skating around the various levels.

And needless to say, those various levels have never been so fun. Ranging from the utmost serious (such as the action in levels such as Boston and Barcelona), to the outright absurd (the insane action of fictional level Skatopia and the Mardi Gras madness in New Orleans), THUG 2’s levels are the best that the series has ever seen. Of course, this is no easy feat, seeing as every game has some of the most memorable levels seen any video game created since the inception of the series. Kudos are given to Neversoft, as they once again amaze virtual skaters with some of the most inventive and fun parks seen in any action sports title.

The levels aren’t the only creative feats in this year’s Tony Hawk title, as the Story Mode proves to be a real blast, even if it has a cheesy concept. The basic idea is that series namesake Tony Hawk and world-renowned hooligan Bam Margera have created a “World Destruction Tour”, an international assault on sanity and restrictions created by the law, all through the power of skateboarding and senseless pranks. As the new kid on the block, you’re sent with Team Hawk and the insanity begins. While it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the fun for those looking forward to seeing how the madness plays out, it’s safe to say that the entire tour is filled with challenging missions, strange characters, and overall laugh-out-loud antics that’ll make you break out into tears of joy after every plot twist.

But don’t let this discourage you if you’re an old school Hawk fan whose been craving the Career mode of old, but has been neglected with these open-ended Story modes with a lack of time limit; Neversoft has answered your calls in the form of a classic Career mode, just like the days of old. Bringing in the two-minute rounds, the SKATE letters, and even the good old secret tapes, gold has been struck for gamers looking for action similar to that of years past. An excellent addition (if you wish to call it that), and once word on this spreads it’s sure to bring back series veterans that decided to tuck away their skateboards due to the idea of a story over just straightforward action.

Multiplayer, which has always been a neat part of the Tony Hawk experience, fails to bring something new and exciting to the table. It’s becoming impossible to come up with new game types; after you come out with things like “Firefight” (which premiered in the first Tony Hawk’s Underground), you know that ideas are getting thin. Neversoft should really just try to improve on the existing multiplayer modes by adding in new variations to mix things up a bit, rather than just trying to come up with the first idea available and running with it, no matter how senseless it is.

Even though Neversoft made the risky move of neglecting Xbox Live players by not including online play on the Xbox, the game is online for the PS2, and it is a blast as always. Just like last year, you can take advantage of the functionality provided, such as uploading/downloading new user-created parks, navigate through the parks that developers are impressed with in the Vault, and scan your face into the game in order to be downloaded and mapped onto your character. The only complaints are, that with the large levels, the game takes a good amount of time to load no matter what type of connection you have, and when a new player arrives, that also contains a nice load time of about five seconds. Besides those minor issues, though, the online game is fun and adds a lot of replay value for owners of the PS2 game.

Surprisingly, THUG 2 has a new graphical style that makes the game more fun than ever, as it attempts to have more caricature-esque characters as opposed to ones that look precisely like their real-life counterparts. Unexpectedly, this also helps smooth out facial textures. Never before in a Tony Hawk game have the faces looked so real, and moved with such ease. With smaller bodies and larger extremities, everything seems to be very cartoonish, and it really helps out the game in the long run. It shows that the title is all about fun, and what better way to show fun than through uber-deformed cartoon versions of the actual people?

Just as in every other Hawk title, the soundtrack will please almost anyone that picks up a controller. Are you into old-school punk? “Rock and Roll High School” by The Ramones, alongside The Germs’ classic “Lexicon Devil” will be sure to make you want to get up and skate to your heart’s content. Looking for some newer punk? “Unknown Soldier” by The Casualties will be sure to help you out. Metalheads will be sure to headbang to some good…I mean, classic, Metallica with their song “Whiplash”, and Ministry’s anti-President Bush anthem “No W”. Need some good ol’ classic rock? Surprisingly, your fix can be found here, with The Doors’ “Break On Through”. And, as always, the beats are pumping with rap tunes ranging from the legendary “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang to Grand Pubaa’s “I Like It”. No matter what your musical tastes, you’ll be sure to find at least one song out of the massive soundtrack to please you.

Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 is an excellent game, there’s no doubt about that. It’s still the same old fun game, with improvements in creating your own character, creating a park, and even creating your own spray paint tag. But, that’s just the problem; if you notice, none of those improvements have anything to do with skateboarding, which is the heart of the entire series after all. While the series still has yet to get stale, if there aren’t some improvements soon, few will be coming back to the Tony Hawk games.

Review By: Matt Hack - 2896 Reads

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