marino's Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (PlayStation 2) review

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A Step in the Wrong Direction, But Classic Mode Rocks

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THUG2 is the 6th Tony Hawk game in as many years from Neversoft.  Every year people expect the series to stall, but every year the guys at Neversoft churn out another masterpiece of skating.  Last year they took the series in a new direction by implementing a story mode that focused on you becoming a pro.  This year they continue with this idea but take yet another step farther away from the original games.  In THUG2, you are a pro skater, and you have been kidnapped and taken to an undisclosed location along with a half-dozen other pros, including Eric Sparrow, your rival from last year.  It is then revealed to you all that Tony Hawk and Bam Margera have devised a plan to create two teams and go on a World Destruction Tour in which the teams will compete in a scavenger hunt of sorts earning points for stunts and tasks.  That's the core of the game, but THUG2 offers so much more around the edges.     
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Graphics have never been a highlight of the Tony Hawk series.  The skater's faces have been improved greatly, especially the animations, but everything else is still lacking.  NPC's are very low texture and the environments are far from striking.  In fact, the levels in THUG2 seem even more claustrophobic than last year.  Call me crazy, but I expected the levels to get larger over time.  That's not to say the levels are poorly designed though because they're not.  Each level has an unlimited number of lines to skate and lots of things to do, but everything seems jammed together into a small area.  One thing that did catch me off guard about the graphics though was the environment effects like the change between night and day while you skate.     
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The gameplay is as solid as ever.  The controls still feel perfect on the PS2 controller and, for me, impossible to play on any other.  They've added a few minor tweaks, such as the ability to do a Nata Spin on posts or hydrants and the ability to do front/back flips. On foot, they have added the ability to tag walls with graffiti and throw projectiles at people.  Another new addition is the Sticker Slap which is an upgraded Wall Plant that was underused in the previous games.  Skate or grind straight towards a wall, ollie, then hit X again and you will smack a personally selected sticker to the wall as you push off and return in the opposite direction.  Lastly, they've added Focus Mode, which is a glorified slow-mo that is probably only helpful to newcomers.  The on-foot stuff could still use some work, but for the most part it works pretty well.  Nothing sticks out as a major probelm with the controls.  Neversoft has their game almost perfected.     
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Once again, Neversoft has brought a truckload of songs for the soundtrack.  Over 50 tracks are available, and they range from one side of the spectrum to the other.  I can honestly say this is the only game in which you will hear Frank Sinatra immediately followed by The Doors and Johnny Cash.  Sadly though, only about 15 of the 50+ songs are "good."  The rest I could do without.  To make up for that, the voice work is top of the line.  Bam and Tony especially seem to have put in a lot of time.  The effects are basically the same as before, but that's fine.     
Replay Value 
Okay, there's not enough time or space here to go through the details of everything, so here's a list of shit you can do in THUG2. 
  • Story Mode - 10-20 hours depnding on your skill 
  • Classic Mode - My favorite part of the game.  Take all the levels from Story Mode, plus some old classics, and play through them in THPS style by collecting S-K-A-T-E, getting Sick scores, finding the hidden video tape, etc.  It's basically an entirely separate game within THUG2 and will take just as long, if not longer, than the Story mode to complete 100% 
  • Online Mode - All the online modes return including King of the Hill, Trick Attack, Firefight, etc.  You can still download YOUR face into the game and map it to your created skater.  You can access Neversoft's vault and get old levels.  You can upload your own created levels to share with other people and download theirs. 
  • Create-A-Everything - Skaters, Tricks, Graffiti Tags, Skate Parks, Decks.    
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As you can see, the game offers something for fans of THUG and THPS alike.  The story mode isn't as in-depth as last year though, partially because it focuses more on Tony and Bam than it does on you.  It's still fun though, and there are several "holy shit" moments when you finally pull off a combo or massive airs.  The classic mode is by far my favorite portion because it returns to what the original games were all about, the skating.  THUG2's story mode is moving farther and farther away from the focus on the actual skating by adding even more adventure elements that force you to get off of the board and go running/climbing to find different things.  That's fine I guess, so long as they continue to offer the classic mode as well.  In the end, THUG2 is a good game, but it's definitely not the best in the series, and if it weren't for Classic Mode, I would even say it's not as good as last year's game.     
*** This review was written for shortly after the release of the game. ***


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