Two teams, facing off at 6 locations around the world, tagging, skating, and destroying anything in their path. This is the World Destruction tour of Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, the story mode that has you playing with and against two teams of thrill seeking pro skating degenerates led by Tony Hawk and Bam Margera. As the latest in six years of the ‘genre unto itself’ series of Tony Hawk games, THUG 2 has the benefit (and detriment) of building on the high quality gameplay of it’s predecessors. Is it enough this time around, or has the formula gotten stale?
Visually, the game is pretty good looking, and you can tell the addition of graffiti into the gameplay really influenced a lot of the style. Characters are distinctively modeled and animated right down to the Pro skater’s signature moves and Steve-O’s trademarked smirk (one of the special guests). Combo and trick animations are top notch and very convincing, and the environments are expansive and lush with detail.
Customization plays a big part in THUG 2, and the ‘Create-a’ features are robust and downright fun. I resurrected my zombie jester with the Flava Flav Clock and chain, while my son created a red-skulled cyborg with angel wings and a green Mohawk. The amount of body part, color and sizing choices allows for an incredible amount of possibilities. You can also create your own graffiti tag and sticker stamp in an editor that looks and works like some bastard midget offspring of Photoshop, right down to layers and transparency.
This is the first video game that I have ever played that had a song by my favorite band Ween! Other notable favorites are “Add it up” by the Violent Femmes, “Warsaw” by Joy Division, X, the Ramones, and even “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. All I was missing were a few select tracks from the Repo Man soundtrack to make the experience complete (unfortunately, you can’t add your own), but with very few exceptions the track list was great- definitely the kind of tunes that I could enjoy skating to. The few that I found annoying I simply shut off in one of the options menus.
Every trick, every flip, every grind sounds just like it should. After a few hours of gameplay I could tell what kind of grind or skating surface I was on just by the sound made.THUG 2, like it’s predecessors, boasts a highly intuitive control scheme that is very quick to learn. The ‘A’ button is soon going to be your best friend, as crouching and jumping are crucial for gaining speed and launching into most of the other tricks. ‘A’ is also used for the sticker slap, where you jump staight into a wall and kick back in the opposite direction, leaving a ‘sticker’ graphic on the wall. The ‘Y’ button activates grind tricks and wallrides, while ‘X’ and ‘B’ execute flips and grabs respectively. Once you get the hang of those it’s time to move on to the advanced controls with the left and right triggers in concert with the others, giving you nollies, spine transfers, and pressure flips. Tricks can occur with just about any button sequence, and even first-time players can pull off satisfyingly sick combos. Once you take the time to really learn the moves, the wow factor increases exponentially; by the time I got to the third city (Berlin), I was discovering lines and executing tricks and combos I never thought I could possibly do when I started.
Some games are very involving, requiring a lot of time and effort to get to the ‘fun’. Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 is very much a ‘pick up and play’ kind of game, great for parties and players with varying degrees of mastery to enjoy together. The Story Mode is a blast with irreverent humor and wacky scenarios throughout. Each city has one or two major events of destruction that you set in motion, getting a little harder and a little more odd as you progress. These events significantly change up the environment allowing you to whip up even more interesting trick variations or opening up whole new areas of the city. There are 3 or 4 additional skaters that you can play per level, some of them forgoing skateboards for souped-up segeways, go-karts, or motorized wheelchairs. Each skater brings with him a new set of goals that when completed contribute to the overall score- when enough points are accumulated the next city is unlocked and you can move on. While a majority of the tricks can be accomplished by any one of your skaters on any given level, some of them require special abilities such as speeds greater than a skateboard is capable of to complete. This encourages playing as all of the characters at your disposal and each one will give you a different perspective of the skate lines in that city.
But Story Mode is only half the fun! Old-school Tony Hawk enthusiasts should love ‘Classic Mode’, which resurrects the classic gameplay of the Pro Skater line, even going as far as bringing back several of the favorite maps from the various games of the series. I preferred the easygoing more open nature of the Story Mode to the twitching nature of performing specific tricks within a time limit of Classic, but playing that way certainly increased my discipline and mastery of the controls.
Multiplayer is limited to two player split-screen on the Xbox, a move that I found kind of baffling considering the robustness of Live. (The boys at NeverSoft did address this when I conducted my preview of the game, but its absence is still sorely missed). There are no less than 10 different games that you can play, but I recommend a large TV.THUG 2 is jam-packed with hours of gameplay. Whether you play for short periods at a time or marathon all-night sessions, this game is even fun just to watch. The inclusion of Classic Mode practically makes this two games in one, and the create-a-modes give customization enthusiasts a full palette of tools to extend the game beyond what the developers have given us. Multiplayer, while fun, doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, and the omission of Live support prevents this title from becoming a must-have party game. Maybe in the next version I’ll be able to share my wacky skater design with other players online…