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. The game runs at a pretty constant 60fps, which always gives me a bit of motion sickness (only game to really do this). The game runs a tad too fast for my liking, but if I played it as much as others I could probably handle it.

Now this is a soundtrack to be proud of and you can put in your own music. 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 Digital 5.1. 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 couple points are 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 A 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 R trigger 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.

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. 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. I found that the most exciting thing was to see the levels and do tricks off all the cool environments. I was never really pulled in by the story mode and would rather have something Amped-like in my Tony Hawk games.

As with earlier Tony Hawk games, the value and replay value are totally up to you. It is too bad Activision did not include face mapping or online play for the Xbox. I can’t beleive it would have been that hard to do, but I suppose Activision has the same problems EA does with Xbox Live…they want to control their own stuff. You can play this through XBConnect though, so there is some multiplayer online ability there, but probably not as much as the Playstation 2 version.