Replay Value: 8.8
The Tony Hawk series is one of the longest running non-sports series of games on the market, yet unlike old-timers like Tomb Raider, Hawkís games always seem to earn high scores. However, people have begun to grumble that the tried and true formula is starting to grow stale, and the yearly updates are looked upon with a little less enthusiasm each time around. This year, Neversoft has done a major overhaul of the game, giving it a new name: Tony hawkís Underground (THUG) and lessened the focus on professional skaters. While the core gameplay that everyone loves remains intact, the new feel to the game is a bit hit or miss. Some of the new additions are a breath of fresh air, while others feel like they were thrown in simply for lack of better ideas.
Instead of choosing a well-known, professional skater when you start the game, you are asked to create a character to take through the gameís 27 chapters. The Playstation 2 version of THUG allows you to upload your own picture into the game, and while the process isnít flawless, itís pretty cool to finally see the promise of putting your face in a game realized after all these years. You start off in your house, working on your skateboard when your buddy Eric comes to tell you that Chad Muska has come to your run-down New Jersey town to skate a demo. After skating around a little and getting your bearings, you have the opportunity to impress Muska by skating in front of him and reaching a certain score. Since the game has four different difficulty levels, youíll know pretty quickly what level you should be playing at. If youíre getting enough points to impress Muska in a few seconds, you can bump up the difficulty a notch or two, but if itís your first time playing a Tony Hawk game you can start at the bottom. The easiest setting is not only more forgiving with time limits, but it also makes it a lot easier to keep your balance and land tricks. If youíve played and of the previous Hawks before thereís no need to play it on easy. But itís certainly a welcome addition and makes the game less intimidating.
After youíve impressed Chad, the game opens up and you can start talking to various townspeople so you can accomplish whatever challenge they have for you. These challenges often donít make a whole lot of sense, and a lot of times they are vague and difficult to figure out, but they do fit into the game better than collecting S-K-A-T-E for the thousandth time in the series. The biggest addition to the game is that you can now get off your skateboard, either to continue a combo, or to climb to somewhere you couldnít reach while on your board. Allowing you to get off your board allows you to create combos in almost every way you can imagine. Whether itís grinding a rail, then picking up your board to another grind spot or running to a ramp, the possibilities for major points are near endless. However, you canít run forever and continue a combo, as a meter pops up and will run out if you donít get back on your board within a few seconds. If you were to stop looking at the gameís new additions here, youíd have what would look like a normal upgrade to the series, but, there are a few other things that have been added that donít work out so well.
The ability to get off your board is cool when you use it to skate more creatively, but Neversoft has added some goals in the game that can only be accomplished on foot. The first one you come across is trying to get back some stolen property from the local drug dealers, who are all over the neighborhood. The game takes away your board, and forces you to climb onto porch roofs and even shimmy across power lines to accomplish your goal. Itís really lame, the controls are poor, and it feels really out of place in the game. The second addition is the ability to drive a car, and quite simply put, itís a disaster. The cars control horribly and the levels arenít particularly conducive to driving. Itís great that the developers will take such big chances with an established franchise, but this idea doesnít seem like it was very well thought out.
THUG is an impressive looking game, especially considering its large scope. The levels are bigger than ever before, and the level of detail is quite good. Almost anywhere you think you can go, you can, and there are tons of ambient details that bring each level to life. Now more than ever, it seems that the levels were designed a little more realistically than in the past, and itís up to you to find the best skate spots. The character models are still lacking when compared to current games, but the gameplay is so tight, little problems like that can be overlooked. The gameís framerate is, for the most part consistent, and only chugs when the action gets a little hectic. 16x9 display is also supported, and the game not only looks really nice on a widescreen television, but you can use the extra screen area to help judge jumps and landings.
One of the biggest trademarks of a Tony Hawk game is a huge, varied soundtrack, and THUG is no exception. KISS, Janeís Addiction, Nas, Jurassic 5, Bad Religion, Sublime, and The Clash are just a few of the bigger names on the soundtrack, though itís mostly lesser known bands that provide a majority of the tunes. You can also add or delete genres that you like or dislike, so youíll never have to hear a song that you canít stand. The gameís voice acting isnít too bad, but the script is rather corny at times. The storyís not really one that can be taken too seriously, so itís not that much of a big deal. The gameís ambient sounds donít seem too different from the last few games, but if it ainít broke, donít fix it.
Neversoft has done an admirable job of keeping the Tony Hawk series fresh, though it seems like they finally may be running out of ideas. The car driving marks a first time in the series that a new idea simply falls flat on its face, and the ability to get off your board, when used improperly, does the same. That being said, the online mode, which allows you to download and upload created parks, and take on people from all over the country in a variety of events, might be an indication of whatís in store for future incarnations of the game. The online content is solid, and then menus are easy to use, making it clear that the PS2 version of the game is the one to purchase if you have the option. If youíre a fan of the series, then there is enough new here to keep your interest, but if youíre growing a little tired of the games, then a rental might suffice.