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Tony Hawk's Underground 2

Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Release Date: Oct. 4, 2004 (US), Oct. 8, 2004 (EU)


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PS2 Review - 'Tony Hawk's Underground 2'

by Kris Graft on Oct. 29, 2004 @ 12:17 a.m. PDT

It's time to go globetrotting on a sick international road trip with Tony Hawk and Bam Margera. THUG 2 delivers a hilarious story mode, an unprecedented level of customization, and more moves than the Skate Gods could dream of. Grab your board, an arsenal of spray paint and prepare to wreak havoc around the world.

Xbox | GBA | PC | PlayStation 2

When the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater arrived for the PlayStation in 1999, it floored critics and gamers with its mix of fresh gameplay, pinpoint-accurate controls, edgy attitude, real-life skaters, and incredible licensed soundtrack. Since that first game, five additional follow-ups have been released across several different platforms, each one adding a significant score-padding gameplay element, ranging from manuals to "cavemanning." Last year's Tony Hawk's Underground freshened up a franchise that was beginning to become long in the tooth, with a deep and thoroughly entertaining story mode that followed your created skater from humble amateur to pro skater stardom. Fans who are worried about the series becoming stagnant can rest assured; Tony Hawk's Underground 2 carries on the tradition of excellence that fans have come to expect, while providing enough updates and added features to keep the game addictive as ever.

The single player story mode puts you in the shoes of a rookie pro skater who tours the world's skating hotspots with a band of young hooligans and an overweight guy in tighty-whities. Tony Hawk and Bam Margera head up two opposing teams of skaters who earn points by performing pants-loading tricks, major amounts of property damage, and guerilla tactics involving the use of fruits and veggies. Along the way, you'll not only meet up with other pro skaters, but also famous and imaginary personalities who have no business standing on a rolling piece of wood. Each level has you switching between four different characters with their own specific list of goals. The sheer amount of goals tends to be overwhelming at times, but you don't have to complete every single one before you are allowed to move onto the next level.

There's a lot of humor injected into THUG 2, and all of it is in the vein of Jackass-style adolescent mischief (i.e., anything that requires a trip to the ER is funny). The contrasts between Bam's spastic sense of humor and Tony's laid back personality make the "story" bearable. The story line isn't exactly something that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and you'll find that it's not as engaging as the first THUG.

The shallow premise is forgivable, because no one buys a Tony Hawk game for the riveting story. However, people do expect this franchise to have riveting gameplay, and there are some story mode issues that hurt THUG 2's fun factor. Most notably, you will often find yourself pursuing pointless goals such as throwing tomatoes at five pedestrians or combing the enormous levels for a graffiti tag over which to paint. Some of the goals can be completed without even using your skateboard, which is a shame, because the skating mechanics are infinitely tighter than the game's platforming mechanics. Also, certain special characters use motorized vehicles, which are fun at first, but the sketchy controls leave you wanting for a board. The story mode is still fun and challenging, but it'd be nice to trim the fat and get rid of non-skating goals that are a pain in the rear.

For those who have missed the straightforward, timed, pre-THUG gameplay, Neversoft has added a classic mode. Here, there is no story to get in the way of the skating. You have two minutes to complete your goals, and your points accumulate until your time is up. Strangely, this visit back to simpler gameplay is a refreshing change, especially if you're burnt out on story mode. After a few sessions of classic mode, you'll be recharged enough to once again tackle the daunting amount of goals that story mode offers.

As if the Tony Hawk series were ever lacking in the moves department, Neversoft has added even more. You can now perform a Natas spin, which allows you to spin on top of stationary objects such as posts or fire hydrants. THUG 2 also introduces the ability to "freak out." After you crash, you can button-mash the triangle button, and your skater smashes or discards his board out of frustration. Depending on your button-mashing abilities, you'll earn a couple thousand points to start out your next combo. It's a pretty nice thought, but not really a necessity for scoring big combos. You can also pick up and throw objects such as apples and paint cans at other characters. This can rack up a few points, but it's really just a fun novelty.

Pressing L3 when your special meter is built up activates the new "focus mode." Focus mode makes everything move in slow motion, allowing you to perform cleaner moves. In an apparent nod to the excellent Jet Set Radio, you can leave your graffiti signature pretty much wherever you want. THUG 2 also allows players to easily perform flips by tapping a direction twice while tweaking, which is a welcome and frequently used addition.

There's one more new move, which is the most significant and useful: the sticker slap. This move allows you to reverse the direction of your line by jumping straight into a wall, slapping a sticker onto it, and pushing yourself away. Basically, you can continue your combo by recycling your line in the opposite direction, increasing your score substantially. Using the sticker slap on cracked walls also opens up new areas.

The levels are the same high quality, well-planned areas that fans have come to expect. A few of them are less conducive to high-scoring combos than others, but any creative skater can come up with long lines, especially with the ability to caveman and sticker slap.

Overall, the control is tighter than ever, so when you do a face plant on the concrete or end up straddling a handrail, you better believe it was your own fault.

THUG 2 also offers entertaining elements beyond the actual gameplay. The trick editor makes its return, along with the level, goal, and player editor. You can also customize your graffiti tag using a simple interface that helps you make slick-looking designs. All of the create-a-modes are easy to use, while offering many options.

Multiplayer modes abound in THUG 2, and the PS2 version offers online play with up to eight people in most modes. Trick attack, score challenge, combo mambo, slap, king of the hill, graffiti, firefight, scavenger hunt, H.O.R.S.E, goal attack, elimiskate, capture the flag, and free skate are your choices for multiplayer. H.O.R.S.E (or any nasty word you can think of) remains a favorite, although gamers should definitely check out the new elimiskate and scavenger hunt modes. In elimiskate, the lowest scoring skater gets eliminated. Scavenger hunt has skaters laying down five coins a piece, and the one to collect the most coins within the time limit wins. The game's performance online depends heavily upon your connection, but you shouldn't be picky, because the PS2 is the only video game console that offers online play.

Graphically, THUG 2 has attractive design cues, such as the updated cartoon-ish look of the game's characters and interesting locales. The levels are sprawling, and so full of nooks and crannies that you may feel overwhelmed. The textures are somewhat blurry, and aliasing is present, along with some instances of choppiness. In the PS2 version, there are frequent moments when the camera is rotating, and horizontal sections of the screen seem to shift at different times. That sounds worse than it really is, as it doesn't affect gameplay whatsoever. You also have the option to play the game in 16:9 widescreen or letterbox format.

The audio for THUG 2 is excellent, mainly because of the great music, which ranges from Sinatra to Sugar Hill Gang to The Stooges. The soundtrack is sure to please most people, and you have the ability to manage the playlist to filter out the few sucky songs. The voice acting is entertaining, although muffled at times. Skating sounds are consistent with earlier games in the series, and are uniquely satisfying.

THUG 2 is an outstanding game, although it's on the brink of trying to do too much at one time. The motorized vehicles, lame goals, and other non-skating novelties can all take a hike. The game's saving grace is the fact that the core skating gameplay improves with every sequel, even when you can't imagine how it could get any better or tighter. The classic mode is a thoughtful and extremely welcome addition that addresses similar story mode issues that many people complained about from the first THUG. Gamers who missed the original THUG and are even slightly curious about the franchise's evolution should definitely pick up THUG 2 (heck, pick up THUG too). Series followers who feel like they have a case of too-much-Tony should still give it a shot, because classic mode is back and feels like an old pair of comfortable sneakers. As for the hardcore Hawk-heads, they have already bought this game, and are dreaming nightly about perfect lines and painful bails.

Score: 8.8/10

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