For most of my life I have had a skateboard. On and off over the years it has come and gone as something I've been interested in but nothing more. And over the years, one thing has united all of those experiences with the skateboard. Something, that, despite the effect it has had on my self-esteem has kept me coming back to it again and again: I suck.
I am, and have pretty much always been, a pretty crappy skater. I figured that there wasn’t much no hope for me to ever really improve or gain any level of skill at skating, especially this late in life. When the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game came out I found something that I could take solace in, something that could make it at least tolerable that I sucked big time.
All these years later I find myself sitting in front of Tony Hawk's Underground 2 and I am still impressed and excited by the franchise. As each one has been released it has improved in sometimes significant, sometimes small ways on the previous release.
In the newest incarnation of the Tony Hawk series you take on the role of a rookie skater who is kidnapped and talked into taking part in the World Destruction Tour skate competition led by Tony Hawk on one side and Bam Margera on the other. Not so concerned about the plot, it's there, it provides the necessary catalyst for a carnival of juvenile humor. You are embarking on a team competition around the world, the goal being to win, of course, as the losing team needs to pay for the entire trip. Not really great motivation for playing, but it works. Really, we're just here to skate anyways so the plot is kind of inconsequential, which is good. Because the story is in general pretty lowbrow, and not in that great face slap that Jackass always gave you, it's sort of a half assed homage to the short lived phenomenon of watching people injure/embarrass themselves. Yep. Expect tons of guest appearances including, but not limited to, Jackass Steve-O and Bam's dad Phil.
On top of the Story Mode there are several different ways to play the game making this bigger then any of the other past Tony Hawk games. You can choose Classic mode giving you the ability to play through levels in the game as well as go through classic levels from Tony Hawk games of the past. You have the standard two minutes to complete as many goals as you can before the timer runs out. On top of that great addition to the game there is a fairly robust creation mode that allows you to edit and create tricks, parks, characters and goals. This feature of course has the possibility to make the game infinitely playable, but we’ll see how that pans out, the park creation systems of the past have been mediocre at best.
And, of course, my favorite, multiplayer. The multiplayer experience has always been my favorite thing about Tony Hawk games, spending hours upon hours sitting with friends, taking turns challenging each other at horse (of course using whatever stupid word or phrase that was currently making us giggle at the time for the horse word.). A few new modes have been added to the multiplayer. Of note: Fireball, where you and an opponent hunt each other around levels attempting to shoot the other to death with fireballs that you shoot by performing kick flips, pretty good fun, and, a treasure hunt game where you and your opponent collect items around levels, the winner being the one who collected the most items when the game ends.
So, overall I would say this is a pretty standard next step in the Tony Hawk franchise. Tons of unlockables, great graphics, but nothing groundbreaking (but at this late stage in the PS2's life I can't see us really pushing the graphics any farther in the first place). A few new innovations to the game, but you can really only do so much when you can't deviate from the basic theme of "ride around on a skateboard, do things,".
The soundtrack for the game runs the gamut as usual, I think, in this case being slightly higher quality then usual. There are the usual pretty good hip-hop tracks along with a handful of crappy mainstream rock music, and a higher then usual number of rocking gems. With 53 tracks total in the playlist you end up with everything from Frank Sinatra to Faith No More to Handsome Boy Modeling School. I actually didn’t have to shut the soundtrack off for once. Thanks guys.
There isn't much new in the gameplay, the main addition there being the focus action which can be done when your special gauge is full. This slows the game down and allows you to be a bit more exact with your combos. You can tell that the level designers have really honed their skills in making huge combos an easy thing to achieve as you can pretty much move seamlessly through levels and generally find an easy way to continue a combo as long as you can manage your characters balance. In this way the difficulty of the game seems to have been decreased as the ability to land huge scoring combos has become easier.
Another feature that has been added to the story mode of THUG2 is the ability to play as other characters in the game. Unlockable special guests and teammates, as well as created characters that you meet through the completion of different goals in the game. Each of the various other characters you can play as on any given level unlock different goals that only they can complete and this helps build up your score and move you toward the ultimate goal of outscoring Bam's team.
The tasks you are assigned to do throughout the course of the game fall into two categories: incredibly easy, impossibly hard. Nothing really falls in between. Some of the tasks being so obscure or pointless as to make you think that maybe the goal designers’ tanks are running on E. That's probably to be expected though, with a game like the Tony Hawk series as there isn't much room for deviating from the previously mentioned main theme of riding around on a skateboard. After a while I would think you're going to find it a little harder to come up with truly interesting things to have players do, which I think is where the goal creation system comes in handy as it gives you the chance to try out your skills at coming up with creative, challenging things to have people do. Overall though, the design is tight and well made and the game is still enjoyable to play, the lackluster points in the design don’t take enough away to keep it from being another great Tony Hawk game.
Basically, if you’re a fan of Tony Hawk you should not feel disappointed when you slide this one in. It’s more of what you’re used to with a few new bells and whistles. So, it’ll be a new game for you and your friends to sink your teeth into for a few months. If you’re not a fan of the Tony Hawk games...well, what the hell is your problem, go get this game.