Tony Hawk's Underground|
By: Matt C. on December 3, 2003
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that using the same tried and true formula won't always work year after year. If you keep pumping out the same stuff with each installment, consumers are obviously going to get tired. With that said, Tony Hawk's Underground (THUG) is fundamentally the same as the previous game no matter how you slice it, but there are enough new features to keep it from being labeled as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4.5. In fact, not only is "Underground" the best installment in the series, but it is also one of the best games of the year.
Instead of going all the way back to the drawing board, Neversoft has decided to keep the core gameplay in tact (which was a good idea) for Tony Hawk's Underground. Your skater controls exactly the same as he (or she) did in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, and all the same buttons perform the same task. Even if you're new to "Tony Hawk," the story mode will ease you in by explaining how to do essential moves, such as manuals and reverts. And for the first time in the series, you can set the difficulty from too easy, beginner, normal, to sick.
So what changes have been made to THUG's gameplay that makes it even better than its predecessor? Well, for starters, THUG's storyline stars the person playing the game, and the main goal is to become a proskater and make it big like Tony Hawk himself. Basically, you start at the very bottom of the ladder as a no-name kid from New Jersey, and even though the professional skaters help you out on more than one occasion throughout the game, you have to do everything yourself to make it to the top. There will even be people trying to keep you from reaching stardom...
To make the experience more believable, you can actually download your face into the game (PS2 Only). Simply take a picture of your mug using a digital or cell-phone camera, e-mail it to Neversoft, and after a while you'll receive a password used to download your face from its servers. Once you have your mug saved to a memory card, you need to do some tweaking to make sure it fits correctly on your character's head. The entire process is fairly painless, and seeing your own face in the cutscenes simply kicks ass.
Perhaps the only downside about THUG's story mode is that the goals become repetitive after a while. You'll almost always find yourself collecting or taking back items within a certain time limit, impressing other people by getting a certain score, grinding on an object to trigger a certain event, or doing specific tricks will other people call them out. There are exceptions, of course, but each task boils down to doing the same thing. Luckily, the storyline is so cool that you'll still keep playing to find out what happens next.
Another new feature in THUG is the ability to get off your board and run around on foot. Moving on foot is slower than staying on your board, but it allows you to climb ladders and buildings, much like Tomb Raider. Simply press X to jump, hold R1 to grab onto the ledge, and press up on the d-pad to pull yourself up onto the ledge. During a combo, you can even get off your board for a limited amount of time to get your speed back up or to simply help link your tricks together. In addition, you can even enter certain cars in THUG. Driving around isn't as much fun as you might think, but it is still a nice addition to the game.
Among the standard create-a-park and create-a-skater modes, THUG offers a new create-a-trick mode. Here, you can name your own trick, edit the duration, hold time, rotation, and more. You can also create your own goals and decks. With all these options to create your own stuff, THUG potentially has unlimited replay value.
As for the online mode (yet another PS2 exclusive), it is nearly the same as last year's edition (a total of 8 players per game). However, there is a new mode called "firefight," where you can shoot fireballs out of the skateboard. The goal is to simply hit other skaters with your fireballs to reduce his or her health to zero. The last person standing wins the match. Firefight matches usually last too long, but it still seems to be fairly popular among skaters online. You can also track your stats online to see how well you are compared to other people. And yes, you can still download user-created levels to your memory card.
THUG is definitely the best looking game in the series, but unfortunately, it still has a few rough spots. The character models still look a little weird when you look at them up close and you'll notice a few jagged edges here and there. On the good side, the new levels are simply massive, and they have been designed extremely well. Just going around and exploring them can be quite fun, especially with all the hidden areas peppered around each map. In addition, there are a lot more people and cars/buses/trucks roaming around each level, which obviously makes it feel more "alive". If you look closely, you can even see boats moving across the water, and cars moving along distant highways. All in all, the new environments look great, especially the Hawaii stage.
THUG's soundtrack is divided into three genres -- punk, hip hop, and rock/alternative. Much like Activision's other recently released game, True Crime: Streets of L.A., Tony Hawk's Underground offers over 70 licensed songs from bands such as Bad Religion, DJ Qbert, KISS, NOFX, Sublime, and more. You can disable songs by genre, instead of individual tracks, so creating a playlist you like shouldn't be a problem.
Just because you're a fan of the series doesn't mean that you're going to like Tony Hawk's Underground. THUG brings plenty of new features to the table, but it might not be enough to impress some people. Personally, I've logged in about 40 hours with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, and I still found THUG to be one of the best games of the year. If you're new to the series or if Tony Hawk 4 left you itching for more, then by all means, pickup Tony Hawk's Underground. If the previous installment wore you out to the point of insanity, then you might want to pass on "Underground," or at least wait until the price goes down.
Official Tony Hawk's Underground Web Site