Tony Hawk's Underground 2 should've stayed there

Nov. 24, 2004, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 16 years, 1 month ago

Newest title in series offers nothing new

It's not that the newest Tony Hawk game is bad, per se. It's just that there's not a single drop of new or original gameplay to be found anywhere.

Expanding on the wildly popular Tony Hawk Pro Skater series and doing little more, Tony Hawk's Underground 2 follows the format of (surprise!): Tony Hawk Underground. The main mode, Story Mode, follows two teams, Team Hawk and Team Bam. During the opening cut scene, which features more quasi-celebrity voices and slapstick humor than actual value, the gamer finds out that the skater he or she has selected (or created, as the game gently nudges you in that direction) will be joining one of the two teams on a "world destruction tour."

Yeah. We're not trying stretch the franchise, we swear.

The gamer starts (or at least, I started) out on Tony's team, after Bam selected a teenager in a wheelchair over me (which, by the by, is patently hilarious). After a brief and frustrating training session, the somewhat familiar skating mode begins, with the skater presented with various goals to complete in a familiar area, the first of which is Boston. The skater also gets to select a pro teammate to help them in each level (the pro has a separate set of goals to complete). Some of these goals are the familiar standbys: collecting the letters in the word SKATE, completing various high scores, grinding or gapping various spots. Other, more recently added goals include "tagging" spots in the level (i.e. spray-painting), destroying random stuff, throwing things at passersby or finding various "special guests," who, in turn, open new goals. The player skates around until enough of these goals are completed to advance to the next level, which comes in the form of a "text message" from the team leader. Oh, how clever!

While the levels look beautiful, as does just about everything in the game, they are sprawling and surprisingly poorly laid out. Things are incredibly difficult to find, especially at "night," which is a feature new to the Undergrounds. And many of the goals, even with the hints given in the pause screen, are incredibly ambiguous and confusing. The ending point to each level is also apparently arbitrary: Tony text messaged me about halfway through my exploration of Boston and told me to get more points. I completed one more objective. Then Tony texted me again and told me we had enough points to win the level. Okay, score. Moving right along…oops. Cue unnecessary cut scene, where it turns out that in fact Bam's team won, and the pro I'd selected to accompany me in the level was sent packing. Um… what?

Oh well. On to Barcelona, the next level where nothing is visible at night.

Like past Tony Hawk games, however, Story Mode is not the only option. Classic Mode allows players to play the Story Mode levels like they did in the original Tony Hawk, in two-minute sessions. Each level has ten or so goals to be completed over several sessions, and ten original levels have been added with new goals. This mode also allows players to choose the way in which the levels progress. Unfortunately, the two-minute timer is extremely aggravating and forces players to focus on getting one or two goals per level. Players can also free skate in levels that they've already unlocked in Story or Classic Mode. Where the innovation comes in, though, are the Create-A-Modes. Gamers can create their own skater, park, goal or even trick, which creates (pun intended) a great potential for replay value. The Create-A-Skater mode is probably the most intuitive and rewarding of the modes, followed by creating your own goal. Park design is neat but rather time consuming, and trick design is incredibly time consuming and confusing (or rather, nearly impossible).

It's hard to hate this game only for its seeming indifference to innovation. After all, the same football game with slightly improved graphics and updated stats (cough cough hack Madden) is released each year to hundreds of thousands of dollars of success. However, the Tony Hawk franchise has always been about creating cutting-edge games while still maintaining some aspect of pick-it-up-and-playability. The first two Tony Hawks were unique for their high-tech graphics, intuitive controls and hours of replay value while still managing to be almost completely different games. As the series has progressed, however, the makers have run out of new abilities to give skaters: THUG 2 adds lamosity like getting off your board, "focus mode," where you do a trick in Matrix-style slow-mo, and oh yes, throwing tantrums when you fall (an indication of the severe lack of maturity displayed by the game as a whole). THUG 2's graphics are admittedly pretty, but that can only take a game so far. Unless you're die-hard fan or enjoy throwing tomatoes at people in poor imitations of major cities whilst riding a skateboard, skip this one.

Tony Hawk's Underground 2 is rated T(een) for blood, crude humor, language, suggestive themes, use of alcohol and violence

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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