One of the best games of last year in terms of ‘sports’ titles was Activision’s Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, also known as T.H.U.G.2. The essence of the story is that Tony Hawk and Bam Margera have squared off in what they are calling the “World Destruction Tour”, and you are a part of the competition. Your two teams battle it out to see who can score the most ridiculous tricks while leaving a path of destruction across the globe. The game was fantastic as it featured a classic mode reviving the old goals like collecting the word SKATE throughout the level as well as introducing a new and exciting multiplayer modes and a new story. All this is fine and dandy while you are chillin’ out on your couch, but you can’t take it with you – until now.
Activision has readied T.H.U.G. 2 Remix just in time for the Sony PSP launch. This isn’t the first spin Tony has had on a handheld, but let me assure you that it never looked quite like this. Hang on skate fans, this game scores combo tricks in all categories!
Previous trips into the world of Tony Hawk on a portable have always taken place on a 2D plane. T.H.U.G.2 spells the first true 3D port (barring the ill-received N-Gage version) of what you can get on your home console. Shabba Games is the genius behind this game and I’m sure your jaw will drop just like mine did when you see what they have accomplished. The games graphics are strikingly similar to the console versions, just slightly blurred or pixilated. If you notice after an hour of gameplay I’ll be both shocked and amazed.
Just like its predecessor, the story is told via the in-game graphics. Each level is spelled out by Tony or Bam or some other character in the T.H.U.G.2 world with your objectives graphically highlighted. As you pick your Pro Teammate and get onto your board you’ll find a very familiar look on the screen. This game looks almost exactly like the PS2 version. Now, we both know that the PSP is not quite as powerful as the PS2 so a few corners were cut. Occasionally you’ll notice blurred signs and stickers, wafer thin level barriers, and some jaggy edges on your fellow skaters. During one particular scene I did see some texture tearing but I couldn’t replicate it in the few days that I’ve played it, so I’m chalking it up to a dust mite or some lint.
The framerate, as odd as this is to say about a handheld, is a true testament to the programming skills at Shabba Gamess and the power of the PSP. I couldn’t find a single area in the game that I could see framerate issues. Occasionally you’ll see a bit of a jitter when you are selecting things in a menu (such as a song or which Pro you will use) but it never seems to happen during gameplay. I wasn’t able to test multiplayer, so I can’t attest to how well the game holds that framerate when there are four players and heavy wireless traffic.
One of the staples of the Tony Hawk series is an impressive soundtrack. Akin to the likes of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series, Tony Hawk has always used licensed tracks for their background music. Although this is on a handheld, there is no exception here – there are 52 full length songs from artists such as Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ween, Jimmy Eat World, Metallica, Disturbed, and The Doors just to name a few. Just as in the home version, you can select which tracks you’d like on your playlist, preview the tracks, and sort them by genre. If you can’t be satisfied by any of the songs on the list you can turn off the music entirely.
The sounds in T.H.U.G. 2 Remix should sound familiar – they are spot on perfect renditions of the console version. All of the usual suspects have loaned their voice to the title again including the likes of Tony Hawk, Bam, Wee Man, Steve-O, and Phil Margera (It is just not right what they’ve done to that man). The voices aren’t the only area where the game shines, you also get the same sounds for grinding rails, wheels against the pavement, wipeouts, cars honking and more. The only issue I encountered with sound was some odd popping sounds during cutscenes. It wasn’t very noticeable without the headphones on, but it was loud and clear with the headphones. Odds are if you are picking this title up at launch, you’ve probably seen the storyline on the console versions, so it probably won’t even matter at the end of the day.
As with the graphics, there has to be a chopping point. In the console version there is constant chatter from pedestrians and fellow skaters. In the PSP version the voice chatter is greatly reduced in number.
For whatever reason, this area seems to concern most people when it comes to handhelds. I don’t think this is going to be an issue anymore with the impressive layout of the PSP hardware. Just as in the console version, X is crouch, letting off of X makes your character jump. Flip tricks are the square button and grab tricks are the circle button. Grinding, manuals, lip tricks, fastplants, nollies, pressure flips, wallrides, spine transfers and the rest are all handled in exactly the same fashion. Given the comfortable positioning of buttons the controls were immediately intuitive. The only difficulty I ran into was the use of the analog stick. While it was good when you got off the board, it turned into a runaway train when you try to use it to skate. If you stick with the D-Pad and only use a quick tap of the analog to go into focus mode you’ll never notice the issue. I tried to use the analog and found the camera swing to just be obnoxious, so I left it alone.
For a game as high-speed as Tony Hawk, you need responsive controls. You can tell a lot of tuning went into keeping the pace of the game high without outpacing what the PSP will allow in input level. Other than the analog, the camera and controls were very well behaved.
The gameplay of the previous handheld versions of the Tony Hawk series was very much a flawed event. Often you couldn’t tell what was going on on the screen or the objectives and gameplay were so distilled that you couldn’t justify battling the controls enough to enjoy them. Let’s put all that behind us, shall we?
Shabba Games set out to make T.H.U.G. 2 Remix a flawless port of its console predecessors, and for all intents and purposes they succeeded. Just like you would on the PS2 or Xbox version you would stop and talk to people around the city who would give you bizarre and often destructive objectives. Sometimes it was as simple as doing a drop off of a pipe for more than 15 feet, other times it meant spray-painting the side of the local library or jumping over a statue. If you played the previous versions you’ll not be surprised here – the objectives, skate lines, and moves are the same. In fact, there are a few surprises present that have remained the same – you can still create your own skater, upload your face onto him like you could in the PS2 version (albeit via the USB or memory card), create tricks, create-a-goal, create a graphic for your graffiti, and play in classic mode, free skate, or story mode…its all here! Not content to stop there, Shabba Games added 4 more levels to the PSP version to give veterans of the console version something new to play with. The addition of the WiFi multiplayer is just more icing on the cake. The cake does have a fly on it though, the initial loading time is fairly long. This is extended by having to click past an Activision movie, a Shabba Movie, a Neversoft movie, and the T.H.U.G. 2 warning screen just to get to the point where you can start loading the menu to load your character and load the game. The whole level is loaded in one shot when you get past this point, but its getting to this point that stings a little.
If this is your first trip to Tony Hawk’s world, you couldn’t have picked a better port for a handheld. If you are an old-school Tony Hawk fan, T.H.U.G. 2 Remix will allow you to take a near-perfect rendition of the console version with you wherever you go.
I honestly cannot begin to estimate how many goals, secrets, unlockable characters, or hours necessary to master the tricks there are in this game. The addition of 13 local WiFi modes just makes the value of the title even higher. If you are like me and played the console version to death you are going to very quickly have a been-there-done-that feeling for this title. The four new levels help alleviate that feeling, but its not going to transform this title into a whole new one. All that said, you could certainly do worse than a near-perfect port of a console game that you can take with you.