Genre: Extreme Sports
Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: October 4, 2004
After last year’s surprisingly original and entertaining entry into the long-running (six years and counting) Tony Hawk’s series of skateboarding games, I was damn excited about Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. More of the same is exactly what I was hoping for and that’s exactly what the sixth installment in the series delivers. Way more of the same, plus some subtle additions to the already rock-solid gameplay formula. I understand that the clichéd philosophy of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” doesn’t gel well with everyone, but if you enjoyed the first Underground then saying you’ll enjoy this pseudo-sequel is a pretty safe bet.
Underground’s skate-punk-cum-skating-superstar storyline had a lot to do with my affinity for last year’s title and I couldn’t be happier that Underground 2 solidifies this addition as tradition by bringing it back here. This time around you’ll take your custom skater on a World Destruction Tour set up by Tony Hawk and Viva La Bam’s own Bam Margera, rocketing to various parts of the world and attempting to rack up more points than the opposition. One team will be led by Tony Hawk and the other by Bam Margera. You don’t get to decide whose team your on, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference since the storyline is strictly linear. The storyline here is cut-and-dried mayhem with a heavy dose of slapstick humor. Not quite as entertaining as last year’s character development centric plot, but still fun nonetheless.
There have been a few fair substantial changes made to the dynamics of story mode in THUG2, some of which initially seem like a step backwards but eventually prove to be intuitive and a smart move in the direction of seamlessness. For example, instead of skating around an environment and hitting up pedestrians for goals you’ll be given a list of goals at the onset that must be accomplished by simply ripping up pavement and occasionally happening upon a particular grind line or ramp that is part of a particular goal, at which point that line or ramp will light up to inform the player that he is on to something. You’ll still be able to hit up pedestrians for certain goals, though it is largely unnecessary since everything you need to know is already laid out for you in the ‘view goals’ menu.
The reason some may initially scoff at THUG2’s goal system is the obvious absence of on-screen indicators that were so helpful for pointing the player in the right direction in last year’s Underground. In actuality, the change from cuckolding to experimentation is a beneficial one that promotes skating around and having fun and basically squashes the strategy of skating from one goal-holding pedestrian to the next in a systematic attempt to progress.
Your list of goals will grow as you find certain characters in a level. For example, tracking down your teammate will open up a new set of goals, as will tracking down the two secret skaters who are waiting to be found in each level. These secret skaters run the gambit of ludicrous ranging from Big Foot to Ben Franklin to Steve-O (who prefers to skate via a nitrous powered mechanical bull). Once you’ve unlocked all four sets of goals it’s pretty easy to build up the requisite 400 points needed to progress to the next level. The sheer variety of goals makes the experience much more enjoyable than previous entries where if a certain goal stifled you you didn’t have much choice but to bare and grin through objectives that simply weren’t suited for your expertise; here, you have choices, lot’s of’em.
Like THUG the story mode in THUG2 is over way too quickly. Most players should be able to burn through the thing in around 8 hours. It is 8 hours of unadulterated F-U-N though and if it came down to the choice of 20 hours of moderate fun or 8 hours of hell-on-wheels ripping up (literally) the landscape fun, well, I’d choose the latter.
Luckily, with THUG2 you don’t have to choose because once you finish the hella fun story mode there is still the moderately fun “classic mode” in which the two-minute run timer makes a comeback. Like THPS1-4 you’ll be tasked to complete an assortment of goals such as achieving a Pro Score or collecting S-K-A-T-E while under the restrictions of a two-minute clock. Completing enough of these goals in a level will grant you access to the next levels, most of which are levels lifted directly from past Tony Hawk games. There are some levels unique to THUG2’s classic mode, but only a few. Still, it’s fun to rekindle old memories with new-school gameplay. Kinda.
The gameplay in THUG2 is mostly the same as it was in THUG, though there are a few notable additions to the formula. You can still hop off your board at any time but you’re more consistently rewarded for doing so. There is also a weird (but necessary) double-jump in place for when you’re on-foot which is helpful for getting to otherwise inaccessible areas. Hitting grind while on-foot allows you to spray graffiti anywhere in the environment, don’t ask me why. The coolest new addition is the sticker slap, which allows you to jump up to a flat wall and bounce off it in the opposite direction ala Ninja Gaiden. This new move is just plain fun to pull off (simply tap jump when you hit the wall) and very useful for keeping a combo going for an insanely long stretch of time. The newly introduced natas spin allows you to perch on pinpoint objects and spin around, which is cool to look at but not very useful (except in the few goals that require it).
Hitting the user-assigned button you can bust into Focus Mode, which slows everything to a crawl Matrix style, allowing you to perfectly execute clean moves and basically just makes everything look really cool and stylish. You’ll have to build up your ‘special’ meter with a few well placed tricks before you can enter Focus Mode. Relatively new Tony Hawk players will probably get the most use out of Focus Mode, but I found myself using it quite often just because it is simply fun to trick in slo-mo.
Following THUG2’s habit of cool-but-not-particularly-useful is the ‘freak out’ function. When you bail you can rapidly tap the grind button to build up an on-screen freak-out meter, if you succeed then your player will bust his board in a childish fit, giving you a few thousand extra points to start off a new combo with. Doing this slows down the process of getting back on your board however, which, in my opinion, negates the point of doing it at all to begin with.
PC players essentially get the best of every world as every feature from every console version of the game is included, not to mention the dramatically increased resolution that only a PC monitor can provide. Stack on top of that the ability to increase the draw-distance according to your video card’s strength and you’ve got the ultimate THUG2, and at a reduced price to boot.
Face-mapping, which allows you to plant your face on your custom skater is again included. Unlike the PS2 version, which requires you to upload a pic of your face or obtain one with the eyeToy, the PC version allows you to simply load up your pic via its front-end menu. Other notable inclusions are the create-a-skater/trick/grafitti/sticker/park modes that give players a level of overall customization greater than the series has ever provided.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the on-line modes, which offer everything from THUG and a few additional modes for up to eight players. Fans of last year’s trick attack, score challenge, combo mombo, slap, capture the flag, king of the hill, and firefight online modes will be happy to hear they’re all back in THUG2. New modes are elimiskate, grafitti, and scavenger hunt. Elimiskate is a knockout race where the person in last place is continually disqualified until only two racers are left. Graffiti mode basically tasks players to tag more than the other players. Scavenger hunt is slightly more interesting and consists of two phases. The first phase requires players to drop coins at various places in an environment and the second phase tasks players to collect the most coins.
Visually, THUG2 looks great on the PC, with tons of subtle environmental details (cracks in pool pipes, rust on cars, etc). The environments benefit from the trademark grind line architecture that the developers seem to have perfected, allowing for crazy-long grind combos that are totally seamless and feel natural. The artistic direction seems to have taken a more exaggerated turn, giving characters more of a sense of expressiveness and over-the-top facial expressions. The sound is actually improved over THUG. For instance, there is more than one sound frequency used for grinding now, the frequency pitch changes analog style depending on whether you’re grinding up or down a metal line, though plenty of sound effects are predictably recycled. Voice overs are surprisingly good considering a large majority of the voice actors are professional skaters and not professional voice actors. The soundtrack is as crazy as ever, ranging from Frank Sinatra, to Metallica, looping back around to Audio Two, and taking a short jaunt into the aggressive tunes of Violent Femmes and Ministry.
Overall, THUG2 meets expectations and attempts to go a few steps further with additions like the sticker plant, focus, and classic mode but in the end serves up plenty more of the same, which is mostly good, for now. Future installments better changes things up considerably though because the formula is already at a point of diminished returns.
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