Genre: Extreme Sports
Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: October 4, 2004
It's interesting to look back on the Tony Hawk series and see how it has progressed from its humble roots as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater all the way to the current end of the Pro Skater line in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, and now branching off into Tony Hawk Underground and the new sequel. Tony Hawk Underground was a breath of fresh air in that not only did it have a compelling storyline but it also struck a balance between simply getting points through combos within a certain time limit, free skating around for fun, and accomplishing certain objectives. Tony Hawk Underground 2 on the other hand seems to dip a bit too far into the "accomplishing certain objectives" category, and while it is still entertaining it seems that THUG2 is the first Tony Hawk game to somewhat lose touch with the fact that it is a skateboarding game.
That's not to say Tony Hawk Underground 2 doesn't have a story of its own. Starting off, you are a skater who is kidnapped while skating outside of his house to participate in a team versus team skater tournament, with the player's team lead by Tony Hawk and the opposing team led by Bam Margera, as seen in MTV's Viva la Bam. The tournament essentially puts both teams in a goal scavenger hunt with various actions holding various point values to add to the team standing, though they are mainly used to progress to the next area instead of any real competition. Along the way the player will be tasked with doing such things as throwing tomatoes at pedestrians and releasing angry bulls from cages and meet celebrities, the more well-known ones being that such as Steve-O of Jackass fame and Jesse James.
Coincidentally, the goals and cameos do more detriment to the game than anything they do to help it. It doesn't matter if you are play as Steve-O and riding his mechanical bull with wheels or if you are blazing down the street in Jesse James tricked-out scooter, they all still handle just as horribly as the vehicles did in the previous Tony Hawk Underground game. The goals system is the real meat and potatoes of the game and is what you will do most of the time to acquire standing points for your team, and can be as difficult as landing an incredibly high point combo or as simple as going to a location and pressing a button. The problem is there is rarely any real requirement of skill involved as many of the goals are simply "hey, go here, and do this trick in this location. Good job, here's 25 points" whereas in previous Tony Hawk titles you would be tasked with such things as grinding down three rails separated by large gaps or other such things. It's not that the goals in Tony Hawk Underground 2 are not difficult, as some of them can be quite hard to pull off; it's just that often you just don't care either way.
The goofy humor factor has been bumped up quite a bit from Tony Hawk Underground, but almost to the point that it too is a bit overdone. All points considered Tony Hawk Underground 2 would be massively funny, if it had been released 7 years ago when South Park hadn't already used people in wheelchairs and crude language and actions as viable humor taps. Yes, a foul-mouthed person in a full body cast rolling around in a wheelchair is funny, so is people crapping their pants and getting hit in the crotch, but they have been done so many times before that you just can't put them front and center and expect them to entertain anymore.
While the story mode seems to lose touch with the fact it is a skateboarding game, the classic mode is a throwback to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. In the classic mode the goals is largely based on player skill, attaining high scores, combo scores, collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E, or hard to find objects in set two-minute runs. To progress, the player must complete a number of goals in the current tier of levels to unlock the next tier; levels which are largely the same ones as seen in the story mode with some new additions thrown into the mix. The problem is that while story mode is too over-the-top, classic mode feels a bit too simplistic and might be too much of an old hat to veteran THPS fans. Ideally, the creativity and zaniness of the story mode paired with the game play and technique of the classic mode combined would be an excellent replacement as the game's main mode of play instead of making two separate modes of play residing on the far ends of the spectrum.
As far as the skating engine itself goes, it's the same old Tony Hawk style that most gamers are already used to with a few new upgrades. You can now jump into a wall and press jump again to simultaneously plant a sticker on the spot and jump off of the wall back in the direction you were headed. Need a bigger rail combo? Grind down one, jump off and into an opposing wall, plant a sticker, and grind right back down the rail you came from. The way the skateboards handle still feel the same as the previous games which is good in a "don't fix what isn't broken" sense and faithful down to the fact that your character still follows a curve in a half pipe while he's flying above it. To assist in harder trick areas there's a "focus mode" which slows down time, allowing the player to maybe land a trick better, line a jump up perfectly, or simply gain more time to plan and react.
There is a bevy of "Create-A" modes to choose from, from the standard create-a-skater, create-a-park, and create-a-goal down to creating your own stickers and graffiti. You see in Tony Hawk Underground 2 in every city there is graffiti that you can spray over with your own, hit them all to gain standing points. The amount of options and variety is similar to that seen in Tony Hawk Underground; i.e. there's quite a bit to choose from but it wouldn't have hurt to have added add a few more choices into the mix. Like the skating engine, creating things in Tony Hawk Underground 2 is just as painless and of high quality as it was in the previous games in the series.
Graphically Tony Hawk Underground 2 is hit and miss, as none of the celebrities really look like their real life counterparts (Bam looks close, but Tony Hawk looks like he's about 15 years old). Most of the general look of the game's tricks and animations are all carryovers from Tony Hawk Underground, which is another example of not fixing what isn't broken. The textures of the game as a whole could use some work as they look fairly washed out, but to be fair half the time you are looking at them as you fly past them at high speed as opposed to walking up to the object for a close inspection. Particle effects are used to some extent to display fire and smoke, both of which look pretty good, but the blood effects when your skater really screws up a trick are just as iffy as they have been in Tony Hawk games past.
Most of the sound effects in the game are carried over from Tony Hawk Underground as well, and with very few exceptions grinding, hitting the pavement, and simply riding around will all sound very familiar to Tony Hawk veterans. The voiceovers of the game are all done very well, and though it's unclear as to whether or not the actual celebrities voiced their characters they sound the part either way. The music of the game is where the sound aspect really shines, as Tony Hawk Underground 2 has about 50 licensed songs to choose from spanning all types of punk, rock, and other genres. Disturbed, The Ramones, Metallica, and other recognizable bands are all included in the song list and even such oddball additions as Johnny Cash. If you don't like the song list that is included with the game you can always use the Xbox soundtrack feature to listen to whatever tunes you want.
As a whole, Tony Hawk Underground 2 is the refinement of an excellent skateboarding engine with a surprisingly boring game built atop it, coupled with some fairly lame humor. A newcomer to the series may find Tony Hawk Underground 2 to be a very fun game as it doesn't solely rely on skateboarding skill to complete objectives, but series purists will undoubtedly wonder why many of the goals can easily be completed completely without a skateboard whatsoever. Tony Hawk Underground 2 is a good idea; take two teams of skaters who go on a wacky worldwide tour to try and top each other and throw in a bunch of celebrity cameos, but it almost seems that all the wackiness and celebrity cameo mini-games detract from the experience as a whole. The classic mode is where fans of the series will find some solace but lacks any fresh innovations as it is the same mode of play that drove the first four games in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. All points considered, Tony Hawk Underground 2 is a good idea but it needs to be realized that too much of anything is a bad thing, and is the first Tony Hawk game where real skateboarding seems to take a back-seat as a gameplay element.
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