Tony Hawk's Underground 2
This review refers to the PS2 version.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series has been one of the best gaming series of the last decade. Taking an essentially niche sport and turning it into a worldwide gaming phenomenon has been an incredible achievement. The games have always adhered to a few key maxims – playability, fun and challenge. Other components of the games have been altered, adapted and even changed over the course of the six games but the three fundamentals have stayed the same, ensuring massive sales and a huge following. With the change from the Pro Skater tag to the Underground tag, the Tony Hawk series followed a more back-to-basics approach, taking the key elements of Pro Skater and converting it into something approaching the essence of skateboarding.
Tony Hawk’s Underground (THUG) was extremely successful and added an extra layer of depth to the game whilst changing many of the previously fixed-in-stone elements. Out went the familiar objectives and format, no more two minute time limits, no more S.K.A.T.E collecting and no more pro skaters – at least to begin with. Fans were dismayed and although the game sold by the truckload there was a significant call from gamers to bring back the old and meld it with the new. So along came THUG 2 to answer their call, right? Well not exactly.
Being a game about a niche sport/activity Tony Hawk hooked in to the skateboarding crowd but also appealed to a wider general audience. So what better way to enhance the series than tie it in with people from a show that also has a cult following and general appeal – Jackass. Enter top skater and current MTV star Bam Margera. Part of the Jackass gang and a good skater in his own right, Margera’s own show ‘Viva la Bam’ has been a huge ratings success on MTV. This appeal, if used properly, would boost sales of THUG 2 …or so the thinking went.
So Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 got an addition to the title – World Destruction Tour. Where the zany exploits of Bam Margera and crew (including his dad Phil in a gigantic nappy and Steveo on a fake spring horse) travel the world in a competition to see who can win the tour by out-trashing the other team.
Split into either Tony Hawk’s or Bam Margera’s teams of assorted weirdo’s (there’s a character exactly like Timmy from South Park in the game, wheelchair an’all), you play as the local skate punk you built up into a pro in THUG. Familiar faces from the last game show up in the guise of your former best friend Eric who did the dirty on you in THUG. This time you compete against the other team over a number of locations around the world, with the team (read You) who achieves the most objectives and thus gains the most points (out of a 1000 total points per level) winning each level.
The locations are spread across the globe, from Australia to Spain, and take in some of the more bizarre places in between. Before each level starts you are shown a number of objectives that you need to achieve as each member of the team and also as some special hidden characters. The objectives are numerous and varied, changing depending on which of the four characters per level you are using. At any stage during a level you can switch to any of the other three characters that come in the form of a pro-skater, a local in each country and a special character. Each of the locations is disappointingly small compared to some of the previous games and there aren’t really enough levels to make the game a major challenge.
For those unfamiliar with the control system the standard buttons allow you to ollie (jump) and grind, with the other two facia buttons allowing you to do grab and flip tricks when you execute an ollie or jump. The analogue sticks or the D-pad allow you to control the characters movement and direction. Added to this you can also get off your board and run around – a major new factor in the original THUG, as well as a new ability to throw objects. The control system has always been one of the reasons Tony Hawk’s has done so well, the game is instantly playable and even the more complex moves can be learned in no time.
There are a few new features for THUG 2, including the rage bar that you can fill up by rapidly hammering the buttons when you fall off your board. The higher the bar, the more points you get. You also get various animations of your skater snapping the board, throwing it away and other anger linked niceties. Whilst entertaining to begin with you soon lose interest with the rage bar because it means you take even longer to just get back on your board and skate – something you’ll be longing to do. Other additions include the Stickerplant, which involves placing a sticker on a wall whilst pushing off the wall in the other direction. Projectiles, there are various objects scattered around the gaming area that can be picked up and thrown. Tagging is similar to graffiti where you can spray a tag onto any flat surface – you can create your own tag in the game at any time. The last and most significant new addition is Focus Mode. Once your special meter is filled you can activate Focus Mode, which changes the game into slow motion so you can view and land every trick cleanly. It’s an interesting option that you sometimes forget about but need to use for some of the objectives. Neversoft also answered fans requests by reinstating the old gaming modes for each level under the 'Classic' moniker.
Multiplayer mode has always been where Tony Hawk’s games come into their own and THUG 2 is no exception. With an increasing number of gaming modes to play with friends, THUG 2 really is a great game for group gaming and can be as relaxed or competitive as you feel. Tony Hawk has also been one of the foremost contributors to on-line gaming, with unique gameplay modes such as Goal Attack, Elimiskate and Capture the Flag created solely for use on-line. Long after the one player mode has been cracked you’ll be playing H.O.R.S.E (or some more interesting variation) and shooting fireballs at your mates.
The lifespan of the game for individual play isn’t great, the easier modes take next to no time to crack and even the more difficult modes will prove no problem for veteran Tony Hawk aficionados. Multiplayer will always be the saving grace in terms of longevity and replay value, with lots of multiplayer modes there’s plenty to come back to – provided you have friends.
Overall THUG 2 isn’t a bad game, I don’t believe any Tony Hawk’s game ever will be, but the Jackass style humour just doesn’t sit right with the series and all the extras are window dressing, nice to look at but add nothing to the overall game. It is the gimmicky nature of THUG 2 that lets it down. The core gameplay is still fun and entertaining without providing a great challenge, but there are regular moments when you want to just skate rather than get off your board and climb some ludicrously tall ladder to achieve an objective. No Jackass and a redesigned format next time please Tony, we want a true sequel to THUG.
Reviewed by Owen Jones © 2005