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Skater Reviews Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 | Best Tony Hawk Game Yet?

Going into this game, I was really expecting not to like it. I remember not being too happy with it back when it came out, but I actually found myself having a lot of fun with this game. It’s stupid and completely over-the-top, but it works. After just playing Underground 1 and seeing it trying to tackle some slightly more serious drama, it was actually refreshing to play this one and just kick back and have fun doing stuff.

This game has the lowest metacritic score of the whole series so far – around 83, depending on the platform. I’m playing it on Xbox, like I always do, because I happen to have it, but I would probably recommend the PC version. It takes a little patching to get it to work right these days, but it’s worth it because of the mod scene. I’ll talk about that later. There’s also a PSP version, which was great back in the day. I want to start covering handheld games soon, so I’ll talk about that some other time. It has some different levels and things, so it’s not really the exact same game. They call it a Remix.

The controls have been updated a bit since the last game. Now, you do pressure flips by holding down the trigger instead of tapping it. That makes more sense, especially if you think about it like you’re putting pressure on your board. Of course, on an Xbox, that’s the spin button too, so you basically can’t do a pressure flip without spinning.

Also, you can slide to a stop, which isn’t really that helpful.

You can do sticker slaps too, which is used in the story sometimes, but is mostly a way to turn around and keep your combo going. You can also spray tags on stuff, which is a pretty big deal in the game.

Something else that’s changed is the focus on vertical height. The levels are the same size as Underground 1 if not a little bigger, but you’re going to spend a lot more time on the roofs. You’ll do spine transfers off of buildings and get tons of air, and you’ll hit fans and go flying. The game is getting less and less realistic as things go on, but it’s actually a lot of fun, so I don’t mind.

You can throw stuff, like tomatoes, and you can do Natas spins, and flips and rolls.

Also, THUG 2 introduces focus mode. In focus mode, the game slows down, and it zooms in on your board, making it easier to time things out. Nothing else changes, but you can more easily tell if you have enough time to squeeze in that extra flip trick. It’s really cool.

They also put in an option to Freak Out. When you bail a trick, this bar comes up. If you tap the grind button fast enough, your character will freak out and throw his board or break it or something, and this will give you some points, but also give you some of your special meter back. I didn’t find much use to it. This is one example of the series constantly needing to innovate and sometimes coming up with stuff that nobody needed.

But the biggest upgrade is the way the challenges are laid out. If you’ve been following my reviews of this series, you’ll know that I’ve been really frustrated with the timers on everything. If you have to get to the top of this building, it’s timed. You have to find something? Timed. Casual photo session? Timed. It drove me crazy – and Underground 2 finally fixes it.

Here’s an example. This game is kind of obsessed with tagging. I skipped a lot of these challenges because I don’t like the walking and climbing controls very much, but you’ll always have to tag over this guy’s stuff. When you start a level, you can spot one and tag it, then do a couple of other things, then find the second one, and just keep on going from there. It makes a lot more sense. It’s just something to keep your eyes peeled for as you play, not something that you have to take 2 minutes and actively search for, then retry if you run out of time. I’ll talk about the way this is set up more in a second, but I have to talk about the story mode.

And something I want to mention up front is the day/night cycle. Time is constantly moving while you play, and at some point, the sun will go down and lights will come on. It’s really hard to see at night, especially with the capturing setup I have. Plus it seems like it’s ALWAYS night time. It’s like winter solstice every day. It was one of my biggest frustrations while I played, and I’m just hoping the footage will look okay on your end.

I’m not really going to explain the story that much, because it’s honestly not important. Basically, Hawk and Bam both have teams, and you’re going on a World Destruction Tour around the world to get points to cause as much mayhem as possible. It’s basically the cartoon version of King of the Road. Go to a city, complete challenges, meet up with secret guests, and try to get the highest score. The grand total of cutcenes in this game is a lot less than Underground 1, and it really keeps things moving. In theory, you’re the same character from Underground 1, because they kidnap you from your hometown there, and Eric Sparrow is on the other team. It would have been cool if I could import my character here and play as her again, but I didn’t get that option. It’s not a big deal though.

The theme of the story is really ideal for a Tony Hawk game, because it removes all the excuses. There doesn’t have to be a reason that people do anything – it’s because Tony Hawk says it’s worth points. So instead of trying to make the gameplay fit around a story idea, they just made up whatever challenges seemed like fun.

So, some familiar challenges are back from earlier games, like doing tricks that are called out. This time though, you have to do it to the beat, and it’s not very common.

There are also combos, but without the COMBO letters. You start a grind on a certain obstacle, and the next one will light up until you reach the end.

Aside from that, you’re mostly destroying stuff. Beheading the statues, flipping tables at a restaurant, arming explosives, that kind of thing. There’s also a high score arcade in each level, which will start you on a timer. They’re incredibly easy. There’s also this interesting section of the game where you dress up as a guy to frame him for stuff. You make birds poop on girls on the beach, and you have to fart on construction guys. There’s always something interesting going on.

When you start a level, you’re given your choice of pro that you can pick. He will be available to switch to in the level, and he has his own list of goals. Aside from that, there’s a guest skater that you can find, and also a secret skater. This will be someone like Benjamin Franklin in Boston, or the Grim Reaper in New Orleans. From time to time, they’ll be on some other kind of vehicle, like this tricycle thing, or a motorized Segway. They only have a couple of tricks each, and they don’t really feel right. You can’t wallride or do a lot of other basic stuff. It feels like playing Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure all over again.

But the good thing is that these are the only weird vehicles you’ll be driving throughout the game. There isn’t a leaf blower challenge or a car chase in every level. That was a good call.

Switching between different characters is cool, but it kind of messes up the stat progression in the game. There are different characters, but as soon as you unlock them, their goals are available for everyone. So in theory, you can switch to everyone once, then just play the whole level as the pro, because he has really high stats. But then you’d never be playing as yourself, so they made the stat goals really easy. As soon as I figured out where the list of stats was, I basically maxed my character out right away. It works the same way as Underground 1, but it doesn’t really have that much of an effect.

The stats are completely different in classic mode. I’m going to talk about this more in a bit. But the scale of your stats is much much bigger than any other Tony Hawk game. In Pro Skater 2, your base stats are enough to beat the game, but it’ll get pretty hard at the end. If you crank a bunch of points into speed, you’ll feel like you got a little faster, but it’s not that noticeable.

In THUG2, it’s a huge strategy issue. Riding switch is much much slower than regular if your stat is low, and your ollie height and everything else changes drastically. In most Pro Skater games, I would just max out manual and rail, then do whatever. In this one, you have to think things through and kind of plan out how it will affect your skater. This is kind of a cool upgrade. It’s just kind of funny that the stats are almost meaningless in the story mode, but incredibly important in classic mode.

So when you complete enough challenges to move on, you’ll get a text on your Nokia… Wait a minute. That’s a Motorola i860! I used to have one of those. It has a button on the side that will make it flip open on a spring. It was so awesome. But what’s up with Motorola? The Tony Hawk games have had Nokia in them for years. Luckily, McDonald’s is still around. Whew.

Anyway, you get a text, which this phone could only do if you went 10 menus deep, and you can go to the next level. It doesn’t matter how many points you get, because you’re not going to change how the story plays out. So it’s not like you have to ignore the text and do as many challenges as possible. Unless you want to.

When you finish a level, you’ll either be sent to another one, or you’ll be faced with a set piece of some kind – like this scene where Chad Muska steals a helicopter and you have to do acid drops and spine transfers with it, then he crashes it and gets arrested.

In the finale of the game, you finally get to play as Bam, in case you were waiting for that. He decides to blow up all of Skateopia with giant fireworks. When you get them all armed, there’s a ton of slowdown. The game was almost unplayable at this point. I think this is about the time that the series started to outgrow the current hardware. The next game drops down from 720p to 480 to try to fix that.

Anyway, although Bam’s team is winning, he gives you the opportunity to get free points if you can combo all the way through the burning level. You win, and you also get to screw this guy over. His name is Nigel Beaverhousen, and he’s been filming you this whole time, and he promises to pay your damages if he can use your footage. But Bam switches the tapes on him, and he ends up broadcasting this.

It’s happy ending for everyone, except Nigel and all the people whose lives and property you’ve destroyed.

Now we can finally get back into classic mode. This is kind of cool. They actually thought it out and put some effort into it instead of it just being an afterthought, which is what happens in American Wasteland. So what you get is all of the levels from the main game, plus remakes of classic levels, like School 1 and Philadelphia. As you play through the game, you can choose which level to go to, which really boosts the replayability.

The goals are what you would expect – collect SKATE, find random stuff, and so on. They added in a high combo score too. This mode is a lot of fun, but there are a couple of issues with the fact that it’s added on to the main game. First is just the size of the main levels. They’re so big that it’s kind of cut into sections. The SKATE letters will all be over here, then you have to skate through a big unused portion of the level, then the other stuff you have to find will be over here. It makes sense why it worked out this way, but it still doesn’t feel right.

One of the cool parts about this is replaying old levels. Not only do you get to do the newer moves in them, like spine transfers here in Los Angeles, but all the challenges are new as well. So you have to do a roll over this gap, or in Philly, you have to collect hoagies. And also… smack the bags?

You play through 9 levels, then you unlock the Bermuda Triangle, which is a pretty crazy level full of aliens and crashed ships, like the one from Pro Skater 3.

All in all, I think the classic mode was a great addition to the game. But as much as I loved the original Pro Skater games, this mode didn’t really have that same feeling for me. As much as it doesn’t really feel like an afterthought, it still kind of is.

But the fact that so many classic levels are in this game, like even the Warehouse, which you use for training, opened up the possibility of THUG Pro on the PC. This is a mod I’ve talked about a bunch of times that unlocks a ton of different levels. It’s based on Underground 2, but you can play all kinds of levels from the Tony Hawk world. It has an active online community, and it’s pretty awesome. I did a review of that a while back that you can check out here.

So what’s the final verdict on this game? It might not have been considered the best game when it came out, but it holds up really well these days. The series is starting to get some useless features, like the Freak Out and the body flips, but the way the story mode works is really modern and it is still worth playing these days. I don’t want to say it’s my favorite game in the series, but it’s a lot higher up than I thought it would be. You can see my original thoughts on the game in that THUG Pro review. I had a lot of negative memories of it. I think, back when I first played it, I didn’t like it just because of where I was at in life. I was 16, and I was kind of over childish, cartoony type of stuff. But that’s not really fair to this game. If you felt the same way, it might be worth another look. Check it out.

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