Tony Hawk's Underground 2
System: X-Box
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Released: October 2004
Genre: Skateboarding
Capabilities: Memory Unit compatible, Custom Soundtracks

Review Written: October 27, 2004

The skating wizards at Neversoft are back with the sixth installment in its established Tony Hawk series with Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (THUG2). This genre-defining series has received quite the overhaul since the original debuted in 1999. Fans have been begging Neversoft to bring back the two minute drills that were the soul of the single player experience from the first three games. Neversoft decided to please both worlds as they included yet another story mode and brought back the two minute grind-a-thon now known as “Classic Mode.”

The Story Mode takes place where Tony Hawk and Bam Margera are leading two groups of skaters on an underground, ‘World Destruction Tour’ with the objective being the team that earns the most points by raising the most ruckus over several stages across the globe wins. Instead of skating up to pedestrians and receiving your objectives from them, they are all now available from the pause menu, with each goal having a description on how to complete it. Now it’s not just your created skater doing all the work this time, as a team of four of you must take on the goals in each level. Besides from picking one of your pro skater partners, there are also two hidden guest skaters in each stage that range from Benjamin Franklin to Jackasse’s Steve-O. If you loved last year’s Story Mode, then expect more of the same great cut-scenes and little surprises that took this franchise a new direction.

The Classic Mode makes its much awaited return, but to mixed results. Yes, it is still the same as we remember it, but the designers decided to make us skate in either re-released levels from prior Tony Hawk titles or by skating in the same stages featured in the Story Mode. While I have no qualms reliving all the memories in these classic stages, it would have been greatly appreciated if there had been some levels exclusively designed for this mode. Instead, it feels more like a tacked-on afterthought.

Almost every Tony Hawk installment introduced some groundbreaking maneuver into its tried-and-true gameplay scheme that enhanced the controls to new limits. The two most memorable ones being the manuals and reverts that were the key to stringing together the million point combos all of us thrive to achieve. THUG2 doesn’t add any earth shattering maneuvers to gameplay, and instead adds in several other minor enhancements. Last year, the big introduction in THUG was being able to walk around on the ground without your skateboard. This year they kind of add to that by being able to tag (spray paint) graphics onto various walls. Aside from several goals involved with it in the single player modes, this maneuver is absolutely pointless. The same can be said for the new ‘freak-out’ maneuver where after random wipe-outs a freak-out meter will appear for a few seconds so you can button mash to fill it up to see the skater perform a temper tantrum. This only results in a miniscule point bonus that could have easily been doubled by the time you button mashed and seen the tantrum animation.

There are a couple of other notable gameplay additions. There are two maneuvers, one is a move for spinning around poles and lightposts, and another being the Vertical Wallplant which gives you an extra little boost than a standard one. The thing that sticks out the most here is the situation to use these moves rarely occurs, and the only time you’ll want to use them is to complete a few goals in the single player modes. The only move I found of real use is the ‘Sticker Slap’ where the skater bounces off the wall, kind of like how Spider-Man would. This handy move can save a mistimed jump and lead you back on track to more foreseeable grinds and air tricks. Although on a scale of how it effects my gameplay I only rate it about on par with the Spine Transfer included in the fourth game. I don’t want to sound too nitpicky, this is still the same Tony Hawk gameplay we all know and love, it just seems the developers struggled in THUG2 to make these significant improvements they’re known for.

One thing that can’t help but be noticed is that THUG2 is a walking advertisement for Jeep, Motorola, Butterfinger, Napster, and several other mainstream companies. This title is like the I-Robot of video games. The’re logos and advertisements everywhere from graphics to slap on your created skater, to Butterfinger vending machines and Jeep vehicles populating the various stages. This is freaking ridiculous, if THUG2 happens to sell poorly this year (which it more than likely won’t); whatever losses Activision accumulates is made up by all these endorsement deals. I’m sure everyone knows of certain actors and music artists ‘selling out’ but until now, I would have never imagined a video game series taking the dubious honor.

Despite one obvious omission, THUG2 is loaded with extra bells and whistles. All the create-a-modes from THUG are back along with a couple of new ones. Besides creating skaters, parks, tricks, and goals like we could before, we now can create our own custom graphics for the skaters to tag the streets with. Now Activision doesn’t want to have Xbox Live support for the Tony Hawk series for some odd reason, and to no avail they skimp out on it again. Even more shocking is they removed the system link support that was a part of all four of the previous Xbox entries in the series. So while the PS2 online crowd gets 8-player online support and that awesome custom face mapping feature for custom skaters, it looks like split screen two player support will have to suffice this year for the Xbox crowd. All the same multiplayer modes are still here, including my own personal favorites like Graffitti, Trick Attack, and Horse.

The visuals are still holding up well for the franchise in THUG2, the skaters are vivid with detail and match their real-life counterparts. Neversoft does a tremendous job again creating more memorable locations in this year’s game that range from the bullring’s of Spain, to the Atlantic coast of Boston. All the moves retain their signature animation the series is known for, so don’t worry about the ‘Y-eaaahh Right’ manual looking slightly different this year. Another thing that won’t be different is the jam-packed soundtrack, THUG2 features a whopping 53 licensed songs from a wide array of rock, hip-hop, and punk bands like Metallica, Jimmy Eat World, Disturbed, and the Doors. However, there are a few older entries that even I was surprised to stumble across in here, ever want to ollie it up with Frank Sinatra? As always, custom soundtrack support is here to make your own playlist if you don’t like the selection here. The grinds, kickflips, and other sound effects still sound just as we remember from previous Tony Hawk titles, and the voice acting from the celebrities and pro skaters is well done and have a very believable tone that make the cut-scenes in the story mode come alive.

All in all, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 is more of the same skate-loving fun from Neversoft. It is great to have the Classic Mode back, and combined with another enjoyable story mode, you’re looking at least a good dozen hours of gameplay at your hands. If you own the previous versions, then you probably are going to want this one too. However, if you want your online play badly, then you probably want to consider the PS2 or PC versions instead. Asides from online play it seems the developers were missing one other key ingredient I think they were aiming for in this year’s release, that damn Nike swoosh.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 9.1
Gameplay: 8.6
Replay Value: 7.5

Overall: 8.4

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