I’ll admit, I didn’t play much of last year’s Tony Hawk 4. They went in a new direction and I didn’t like it very much. I thought I’d give Tony Hawk’s Underground a chance this year with the new ability to actually get off your skateboard and run as well as being able to drive a car. So, is this more of the same or something completely different? Let’s check it out.

Graphics have never been the strong suit of the Tony Hawk games. They are nice, but they are not outstanding. Character faces still seem like they could get a little texture tweaking to make it look more real and the environments still seem a bit industrial versus artistic. The thing is this game doesn’t need to be a graphic standout because it has always stood on its control and gameplay.

Unlike the Xbox version, the PS2 version has noticeable jaggies and the framerate drops quite often. The nice thing about the PS2 version over the Xbox version is that it didn’t seem quite as fast and it was easier to stay in control of my skater.

Now this is a soundtrack to be proud of with a good variety of genres represented. Bands like KISS, Jane’s Addiction, The Clash and Social Distortion are represented in the 80+ tracks that come with the game. In years past Tony Hawk has been leaning on punk music for the most part, this time they have a more ecclectic range of tracks to listen to. Some many not like it, but I think it is rather cool.

The voices during the story mode are pretty well done and the bone crushing bails sound like they hurt a lot more than in previous years through Dolby Pro Logic II. Every terrain and everything you rail on have different sounds depending on what your deck goes over. This is just simple excellence and adds to the feeling of being there skateboarding.

How do you fix something that is pretty perfect? You don’t really. Tony Hawk’s Underground, like the rest of the series, prides itself on control. Control is nice and tight as always, but a point is taken off with the addition of walking without the skateboard and driving cars. Both have their problems with control. While running around it will feel like you are still on the skateboard except you can stop easier. When the time comes to jump, you press the X button and let go…then your player jumps. It’s not like platform games where he jumps as soon as you press it. You also have to use the R1 button to grab onto a ledge and then pull yourself up with the left analog stick. The car driving is also very loosely controlled, which makes it a mostly worthless add-on. Problem is there are missions in the story mode that use both of these engines. Other than that the manuals have come back for more, allowing you to combine tricks together to score massive points. The rest of the basic tricks are here as well and are just as easy to pull off.

I give the PS2 version an extra point because I find it easier to pull off moves with the PS2 controller over the Xbox controller. Something the latter has over the former is that you just have to hit the black button to go into running mode. In the PS2 version you have to hit L1 and R1 together to get off your deck.

Same smooth gameplay is found in here as there has been in the rest of the series. Tony Hawk’s Underground gives you a fleshed out story mode. You start off as a skater that you create and you go through missions in order to advance the storyline. It’s simple to pick up a mission, you just look for red stars and hit B when you’re close to them. There are a variety of missions for you to do, including using your new abilities of running around and being able to drive a car. The unfortunate thing is that most of the missions are timed and depending on what difficulty you are on you may have less time in order to pull off the mission. This makes the game difficult for those that are coming into the series new or coming in after taking a couple years off. Of course you can choose from the pansy difficulties, but what’s the fun in that?

The score is brought down a bit because of the timed nature of many missions. The car-based missions are especially tough because of the loose controls and the small amount of time you have to complete your mission. I do kind of miss going for goals on each section like high points, getting hidden tapes, etc. However I can understand the need to further the series and not let it rest on its laurels. The story in itself is pretty lame, but it is told over voice for the most part and that helps a lot. Yes, “cool” skateboard talk is said, but it doesn’t get into the way as much as you might think it does.

As in past years you have the ability to edit skateboarders, build your own parks, build your own decks, etc. You can even create your own tricks. Just don’t get too crazy with them because you may not be able to pull them off a simple ollie if you make it too long. I’ve never really been one to get into these, but I know a lot of people do and not having it in here would feel like a cop out I’m sure.

If you’re into a story mode instead of the old way of Tony Hawk, you might like this game quite a bit. As with earlier Tony Hawk games, the value and replay value are totally up to you. With the PS2 version you also get online play out of the box AND the ability to download any face you send to [email protected]. The instruction booklet explains in perfect detail how to get your face (or anyone/anything’s face sent to that address and how to get it onto your created skater). This is a cool addition and it’s too bad it wasn’t on the Xbox version.

You also have a myriad of online games to play as well. This is the first year I have played Tony Hawk online, so I know I will be the short man on the totem pole so to speak. There are lots of modes to choose from and it is Gamespy enabled so you can set up your “Homies” list and know when your friends are on. These are the modes available online: Trick Attack (highest score wins), Score Challenge (hit max point bar and win), Combo Mambo (biggest combo wins), Slap! (slap other skaters down), King of the Hill (find the crown and hold it for a set amount of time to win), Graffiti (most tagged objects wins), Firefight (shoot fireballs at opponents), Goal Attack (play Story or created goals…first one to complete wins), Capture the Flag (no need to explain), H.O.R.S.E. (2-player only, no need to explain) and Free Skate. For what I played I had a lot of fun, but obviously I was way outmatched by my opponents. I did notice some lag, but it seemed to be only when new players would join the game. Inside the actual online game the lag was few and far between, which was good. This is well worth the purchase of the game if you have the ability to go online. I have no clue if the headset works on this game or not as the box does not say.