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

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I won't say this game is awful but it is really, really bad.

How do I start a review for what is now the sixth game in the Tony Hawk saga? I had a big presentation planned, I was going to crack open the champagne and let the good times roll; then I played the game. Without putting you off the review entirely I compiled a list of words that best describe this game: annoying, disappointing, uninspired. This game just like Underground before it takes a break from the concept of grabbing your favourite Pro Skater and thrusting them into a variety of familiar goals. Infact this one doesn’t even link up with the first Underground in the sense that you play no part in the continuation of your past journey to stardom. Instead the game centers around a World Domination Tour that pits two teams of skaters against each other on a global scale, sound exciting?, it really isn’t. One team is led by Ban Margera, the whacky bare-chested Jackass himself, the other is led by none other than Tony Hawk himself. Once you have chosen your side you will jump into various levels around the world causing havoc and destruction wherever you can. This results in some pretty insane goals and also some pretty mundane ones along the way. This game puts the board in skateboarding, it’s the funhouse without the fun, it’s the….well you can add your own here.

Ok that’s quite enough of the niceties; there is a main Story Mode here that consists of three difficulty levels. However once you beat the hardest difficulty it will still require you to finish medium and easy in order to complete the game. The story isn’t exactly the best, ok you have to go around causing chaos but that’s it really. There isn’t really a side story of any real note, no rise to fame, no clever twist. This rather dull storyline is pushed along through the cut-scenes between levels which usually consist of some pointless dialogue between the two rival teams.

The mode is set-up a lot differently to what fans should be used to, you won’t be skating up to random strangers with circles above their heads; instead all goals are found on a list within the pause menu. Clicking a specific challenge will give you a brief description and from that you have to decipher what you’re actually supposed to be doing. This results in a large amount of confusion and an even larger amount of reading on your part, which is not where you want to be. Each goal is worth a different amount of points and progression through the levels will be solely down to how many points you accumulate on your travels. These points won’t just be acquired through means of your default skater; each level consists of four characters complete with their own traits. You will always start off as the relative amateur the story is loosely based around and you will bump into a Pro Skater located around each level. There are also two hidden skaters that are usually linked with the level in some way. For example you will find George Washington hiding in Boston. While this is a nice addition it falls short in what it could have achieved, there are only three Pro Skaters to choose from first of all. Then you have the secret skaters who seem to fall under two categories, a flimsy fairy who balances on the brink of their board and some guy in or on a vehicle of some sort. These come complete with the same attributes and the same animations as every other secret skater.

The game also includes a Classic Mode which ironically turns out to be rather a lot better than the main mode. This brings back the nostalgic two-minute timer and many of the retro goals along with it. Skate, Combo and even the three High Score goals all make their return and when compared to some of the lackluster goals from the main mode makes me think a return to the old structure wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The levels here are a healthy mix of the ones you will have played through via the main mode and the others are a nice selection of classics from past Tony Hawk games. Some of which are my personal favourites such as Canada, Los Angeles and Airport all from Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3. Combine with the new abilities your skater has at their disposal the levels feel somewhat fresh in terms of what you can actually do within each of them.

The gameplay in Underground 2 will be more of the same for fans of the series; you essentially have the same abilities as you had in Underground. There are some thing’s thrown into the mix that are worth a brief mention but none radically change the way you play the game, although with gameplay as solid as this who would really- want change. Perhaps the most important addition is the Sticker Slap, it may not seem much at first but once you learn it’s potential it can help you do thing’s that were previously impossible. For example if you’re hurtling towards a wall via a manual or a rail you can now jump up and Sticker Slap the wall, which will push you back the way you came. This will gain you speed and grant you more opportunities to continue your combo in another direction. There is the not so welcome addition of Graffiti Tags, why would Activision want to promote the defacing of walls and other objects? There are some graffiti based missions integrated into the main mode but as many of the other missions on that mode they’re rather pointless. There is also Focus Mode which is pretty much the slow-mo cheat; when your special meter is full you gain the ability to hit L3 and slow down time considerably. Keeping your balance for manuals and rails just became a hell of a lot easier; this mode also lets you hit perfect landings on your tricks with relative ease. There is the Natas Spin which is perhaps my favourite of the new abilities; this lets you spin on the top of random things such as poles and other equally pointy objects. I suppose the last ability worth any form of a mention would be the Freak Out meter, every time you bail a meter will now appear on screen; a quick bash of triangle and your meter will begin filling up. Button Bash for long enough and your skater will proceed to Freak Out by throwing their board in rage or simply snap it in half. It’s just a shame with some of these pretty neat new features on show most of the level designs are plain awful.

The regular host of Create-A-Modes return, you can create anything from skaters, skate parks, goals, tricks and decks. New additions to this mode include creating tags and stickers; not the most inspiring of features. You can once again add your face into the game although this time it offers EyeToy support which makes it a lot more accessible. The online mode is pretty much the same; you have your standard modes seen in just about every other Tony Hawk’s game and two other modes not really worth a mention. They offer nothing in terms of entertainment or value and if you own an Xbox or GameCube don’t even expect to get an online option at all.

This game has a slightly different look to what you may be used to, everything looks that much more exaggerated. While this may work for some games I don’t think it quite suits a game like Tony Hawks all that well. Most of the animations found here will have been seen time and time again, to the extent where they’re starting to grate on me. You may have been hoping the frame rate holds strong? It doesn’t at all. When almost anything big comes within the vicinity of your screen expect slowdown; not to mention the frequent flickers the whole screen suffers with from time to time. Ok it must be said the overall graphics are improving with every installment but not enough to impress me.

This game does have an impressive line-up of songs but that’s almost expected now, every track is as good as the next. The audio is so expansive this time around that you could be listening to Metallica one minute and Frank Sinatra the next; for a game to pull that off is pretty impressive. Something else I have unfortunately come to expect from almost every Tony Hawk game is the recycled sound effects; to the trained ear you may recognize a handful from Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3. Perhaps the best thing about the sound this time around is the addition of voices for a whole bunch of the Pro Skaters. This is a pleasant change from the same default voices that were thrown at you over and over again.

I don’t want to say this game is awful but it is really, really bad by Tony Hawk standards. I guess that’s the fallback of creating and revolutionizing a genre, you are constantly going to be judged by your own high standards. This just cannot be accepted when I know what Activision is capable of, infact I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5; hopefully the point where they finally decide to get back on track. It seems as if the Underground sub-series has gone stale before it has even really begun. The game even crashed on me when I was about 95% towards completion and I had to do the whole thing over again; a fitting end.

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