Tony Hawk's Underground
In order to survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment one must learn to adapt. Forget about watching the discovery channel, one must only follow the adventures of developer Neversoft in order to learn the ways of progression and adaptation. Just look at its excellent Tony Hawk franchise and the manner that it continues to please and innovate, even after all of these years. Just when I thought that I had seen everything there was to see from these guys they pull out another ace from their sleeves and produce yet another amazing title.
Forget about playing as the Pros, in THUG you get to become one. Instead of sending you on a cavalcade of nonsensical goals this year’s iteration adds a new storyline that gives your goals and actions some weight and meaning. As the game’s tagline implies you’ll start out as a skating punk, a little thug whose only life’s purpose is to trick and grind off of every possible surface. One day Chad Muska rolls into your ghetto New Jersey neighborhood and gives your life a bit of meaning and hope. After impressing him and getting his board you’re off on a whirlwind tour that will take you across the globe and by the end of it, you’ll have your own sponsor, your own board, your own motives and most importantly, your own persona.
THUG utilizes the same open-ended system that THPS4 employs. When in career mode you’ll be able to skate throughout the environment without the pressure of a timer to hinder your experience. When you think you’re ready to progress through the game you just need to approach a character with a floating icon to get the next goal. Most of the same elements that we’ve seen before have been recycled here. You’ll still have the standard score X amount of points and touch x amount of objects. What I really liked about this version is that it adds a new twist on the generic S-K-A-T-E goal that we’ve been doing since the very first title. Instead you’ll have to get some letters in a combo while spelling out the name of a brand. So let’s say that you’re vying for a sponsorship with CIRCA, you’ll have to collect and string together a set of letters so that it spells out the word. It’s not so easy though because if you collect them out of order you’ll spell something like RICCA and will have to start the goal all over again. This new goal type is a nice twist on a rapidly aging formula.
New gameplay elements also factor into the goal structure. Making the largest impact is the ability to get off of your board and walk around the environments. On the gameplay side this allows you to get up to ledges and saunter across ropes and wires that allow you to access locations you can’t reach on boards. When it comes to tricking it allows you to string along even larger combos because you can now walk between gaps as opposed to having to depend on your manuals. Thankfully the game employs a timer system when you walk in the middle of a combo, putting some pressure on you to pick up the pace so that you can’t form infinite combos. Now you can wallplant which open up new goals where you’ll have to place posters on walls to advertise upcoming events. A new wall push that allows you to push off of the wall with your hands so that you can quickly turn around when there’s not enough room to satisfy your turning radius. The new Acid Drop allows you to plunge from large heights at a steep angle to make your tricks look even more insane and dangerous. Finally, rounding out the new tricks is a new type of angled transfer that lets you launch onto adjacent ramps in the skate parks. In all these new additions give the game even more variety and makes the gameplay much more intuitive.
Perhaps the goal type that brings the largest variation to the gameplay are ones that place you in control of a vehicle. I thought that these had potential but the shoddy physics and weakened goal structures made these cumbersome and annoying. Most of the goal ideas are fun but the fact that they’re so trial and error makes them so difficult to endure. I like the idea of driving around and running over a bunch of hot dog stands but I need a bit of guidance. Just telling me that I need to smash five of them and sending me into a massive landscape isn’t enough. The sluggish controls make them all that more difficult and painful to endure. The vehicles stick out like a sore thumb too because everything has a very refined look to it while the cars all look blocky and generic. Maybe if Neversoft contracted the folks at Luxoflux (True Crime: Streets of LA) to work on the vehicle physics these could be more enjoyable but for now they really aren’t all that fun.
Lip and flatland tricks also function a bit differently in this installment. Instead of pushing triangle and a direction to shift stances you have to push combinations of the four face buttons. So if you want to shift into a handstand while in a manual you can press circle, circle and so forth. This allows for even more massive combos than ever before, but perhaps a bit too easy. While I laud the versatility that THUG brings to the table I can’t help but feel that it’s too easy to rake up the points this time around. On my first time out I scored a 400,000+ point combo and now I’m able to get over a million with relative ease. I guess it’s nice for integrating newbies but perhaps we Vets are in need for a larger challenge.
Your tour will take you to Hawaii, Vancouver, Moscow, Tampa, an indoor skate park, Manhattan, a KISS Concert and a few of the best levels that THPS2 had to offer. Remember how impressed you were with the “massive” levels of Tony Hawk 4? Well prepare to be impressed all over again. These levels are massive and feature more lines and ramps than ever before. What appeals to me most about these levels is just how realistic each of them look. While THPS4 added some life to the game by throwing in some pedestrians THUG goes all out and fills the levels to the brim with life, featuring tons of vehicles, pedestrians and other skating punks like yourself. Even more impressive is just how structurally realistic these levels are. Trolling around these levels, I was able to get the impression that they could really exist in the real world. Instead of being based off of locations these are the locations, landmarks are abound and anyone who has been in these areas will probably be able to notice all of the nice touches and nuances.
Everything else looks exceptional as well. Every character in the game has some nice facial animations, including some excellent lip synching action. Even your create-a-character has some excellent lip synching, proving that the game doesn’t just plaster a texture of your image onto a face, but rather actually renders your face in the same fashion as the rest of the game’s characters. Some new effects make the water look more realistic and while the enhanced texture work makes the gritty environments look greater than ever. As before the animations are superb and the frame rate holds up quite admirably, even when a number of characters and vehicles are on the screen.
Although it appears that many of the sound effects have been recycled they’re as clear and crisp as they’ve ever been. To add an extra layer of depth to the game all of the real skaters leant their voice to their characters. What’s really nice about this is that they act like themselves too. Tony’s always willing to be a little helpful while Bam always acts like a sophomoric teenager who’s been set loose in a candy store. Each of the generic characters in the game are voiced quite well as are the lead character and Eric Sparrow, your best friend at the onset of the adventure. I was very surprised to find that your create-a-skater actively speaks in the game’s numerous cutscenes. Seriously, I was expecting the game to take the route that many similar titles take and just have all of the other characters do the speaking. Not the case here; each pro lends his voice to his character and all of them do an excellent job with their lines.If you’re a fan of skating you’ll be able to appreciate this impressive soundtrack. It lacks those all-too-popular country hits that are all the rage with the kids nowadays but it contains a wide array of Hip-Hop, Rock and Punk tracks that will really get your adrenalin flowing. Although there are a few mainstream tracks such as KISS’ “Rock N’ Roll All Night” the majority of the tracks are from lesser known artists that you wouldn’t normally see on MTV. None of that lame Good Charlotte crap here, it’s all about NOFX, Alkaline Trio and Rise Against. Even the bands that are well known bring lesser known songs to the table that you wouldn’t normally hear on the radio.
To really get into the game PS2 owners can send in pictures of themselves which can be scanned into the game. Without a doubt, this is the single most impressive feature of this year’s game. While other games allow you to tinker and meddle with some preset options THUG goes all out and uses the same technology that it uses for the pro skaters to place you into the game. Forget about modifying silly things like noses, eye brows and lips, your character is based on the real deal, and that’s what makes it so damn impressive. After you download the picture with your Network Adaptor you’ll be surprised to found that you’ll get a pretty damn realistic representation of yourself. Everyone I knew was surprised to see just how much my avatar looked like myself. If other companies are smart they’ll adopt this same technology for use in sports, extreme and even adventure and RPG games. Once again, Neversoft treads us into new technology and with a little luck, it’ll be a whole new way of playing games.
Like before you can make your own levels but now they take place within the confines of the pre-made levels as opposed to in the middle of nowhere. This makes them much more realistic and plausible than some lame track that’s surrounded by miles and miles of pavement. You can also create your own goals so that you can challenge your buddy’s ability to shred up your levels. If that’s not enough you’ll be able to create your own tricks by stringing together a number of pre-existing animations. I thought it would be a lame afterthought but it’s actually a pretty neat little feature that adds even more to the game’s personalized feel. Rounding out the new create-a features is the ability to make your own board. This didn’t pan out quite as well as I had hoped, mainly because the textures that you can use to make the designs aren’t very appealing. It would be nice if Neversoft had allowed you to make a design in Photoshop and then upload it into the game like the face-mapping technology.
Online play makes another return appearance and it’s another weekend killer. Make sure you have a huge amount of free time before you sit down to play the online mode because you’re bound to have your ass glued to the couch for a good while. One day I started at four in the afternoon, just sitting down and enjoying the experience. Next thing I know I take a glance down at my watch and it’s nearly ten. This is bound to happen to you as well so make sure that you’re adequately prepared to handle it. If you’re too cheap to spring for the network adaptor you can still get single-console multiplayer. It’s still pretty fun but playing one-on-one against a buddy tends to get old rather quickly.
If I had to fault THUG I’d say that the career mode is a bit too short and easy to accomplish. There’s an excellent amount of variety in the goal structure but you can plow through it far too easily. Scoring points is far too simple this time around and it makes most of the goals far too easy to accomplish too. As long as you know how to use the revert and manual functions correctly this game’s a piece of cake. Also, the vehicles are pretty atrocious and do more to detract from the game rather than to add to it.
Aside from these small gripes I’d say that Tony Hawk’s Underground comes with a hearty recommendation. It’s not for everyone though; if you’re of those people who are feeling a bit of over saturation then you might want to hold off. Although there are a whole host of new additions the core gameplay remains virtually unchanged Fans of the franchise or anyone who’s remotely interested in the series shouldn’t hesitate to pick up a copy though, it’s one of the best games that you’ll experience this year.
Without a doubt, the most comprehensive, addictive, insane and out of control extreme title ever created. If you're a fan of the genre don't hesitate to pick up a copy of this game.
Rating: 9.4 Excellent
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile