Tony Hawk's Underground 2

We've spent all weekend with a near-final version of the game. Impressions await you inside.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: September 20, 2004
Good work, kid, you did it. You played through Tony Hawk's Underground and took your little dweeby skater punk from nobody to pro, learning plenty about the biz along the way. Sure, you may have noticed things were a bit more serious than in those old outings where you played make-believe as Tony rather than grabbing your own deck and heading out, but hey, look at the bright side: you're pro, and Tony wants you on his team.

"What team?" you may ask to the monitor as if we can hear you (don't worry, we can -- and we can see you too, so put on some pants for Chrissake). Why, the World Destruction Tour teams, silly pantless gamer boy or girl. Created by the Birdman and everyone's favorite highly paid prankster, Bam Margera, the WDT will take you, fresh from induction into the pro circuit, and a couple other pros around the world to generally cause as much damage and mayhem as possible while seeing the sights, pulling off some insane tricks and completing challenges in the process. Meeting goals will get you points, and the team with the most points wins. Oh, and losers get to pay for the whole shebang. Sounds fun, no?

In case you can't tell, things have lightened up considerably after the first THUG drama-rama, what with the friends betraying you and taking credit for your stuff and whatnot. THUG2 is all about bringing back the humor that the THPS series ladled on so heavily, and they're not pulling any punches. Just ask Pauly "Wheels of Fury" Ryan, the 10 year-old, wheelchair-bound body cast-wearing bad boy of Team Bam. If his massive headgear rack and missing teeth don't tug your heartstrings, his incessant verbal abuse will.

Since you can't yet play THUG2, we decided to schlep our butts down to Woodland Hills to report back on how the game's turning out. With just a little over two weeks to go before the game's release, we got plenty of play time with the multiplayer modes, and spent the better part of this weekend pouring over the first two levels of the single-player game. We'll save the big stuff for later updates, but here's the gist of what's been changed and added.

After a couple of hours with an online-enabled build of the game, we're happy to report that everything that made the old online modes so fun is utterly intact. All of the established multiplayer offerings were on hand, but two new modes offered plenty to digest. Elimiskate lets a handful of skaters battle for high scores. When the pre-determined time runs out, the player with the lowest score is cut, and the game goes on until there's only one skater left. Scavanger Hunt arms everyone playing with five coins they can drop by simply doing a kickflip. Since you can put the coins anywhere you can skate, it creates an interesting challenge; do you drop the coins in out-of-the-way spots in the hopes that nobody can scoop up your five (you can pick up your own coins, as can everyone else, since they don't disappear once collected), or do you drop them in places where you know you'll have a guaranteed five before you start hunting for the others. Playing with some really good players could indeed turn the game into a hunt if the coins are all placed in hard to reach areas.

Ah, but it was the single-player stuff that we were interested in most, and where the majority of the changes have taken place. Neversoft's design department continues to transform ordinary locales into perfectly skatable venues, but with each game, it's also been a process of going from pre-built objects that wouldn't normally exist in a venue to more organic, believable things to grind and trick off of. To this end, they've added a handful of new moves like flips and rolls (pulled off holding the grab button and double-tapping in any direction) and the classic Natas spin (where you can finally pirouette on top of poles and fire hydrants just like Natas Kaupas).

The levels themselves have been overhauled to allow for miniature scripted events and a major cutscene-driven change that reshapes the environment. In the two levels we have access to, Boston and Barcelona, grinding on a couple cannons while your deck is on fire or tossing tomatoes at a caged bull causes a building under construction to fall apart and the bull to take out a towering brick smokestack, respectively. Both events add new lines to the courses and allow access to areas previously unreachable. It's a cool concept, and we can't wait to see how it plays out in some of the other worldwide locales.

Also specific to the two levels were secret characters, in both themed and celebrity flavors. Boston hides Ben Franklin and Monster Garage's Jesse James, and Barcelona has a matador and Steve-O tucked away. Unlocking the celeb characters gives access to some insane vehicles (Jesse's tricked out scooter and Steve-O's mechanical bull were a blast to drive around), and the hidden characters offered some signature moves that everyone can then use. Finding them both also unlocks previously hidden goals for the level (you'll have to complete them to get the points necessary to unlock the next venue; 250 for the easy difficulty, 500 for normal and 800 for sick), that anyone can usually complete.

With all those pro teammates you have, and their skills (Team Hawk begins with Bob Burnquist, Chad Muska, Rodney Mullen and Mike Vallely), you can switch to them at any time to help ease the burden of completing some of the tougher goals and unlock more pro-specific ones, or work on boosting your stats by completing context-sensitive prerequisites like grinding or manually for a certain amount of time a la the first THUG.

Also added was a Focus mode that slows time and allows for better reaction to some of the tougher goals (we certainly could've used this in the final goal in THUG) and skate line requirements. Clicking down the left analog stick once the Special meter was maxed out actives the mode, and continuing to do tricks can keep you in this slo-mo limbo, since it quickly drains your special meter. A sticker slap allows you to turn a wall plant into a stylish way to double-back and retrace an old line; it's great for turning a long grind back on itself, and should make for some even more insane combos.

With all these new changes, old-time fans may miss the classic gameplay of the first three games where a time limit and a set of goals was all that was needed. Neversoft aims to please here too, offering the aptly-named Classic Mode, which brings back the time limit, intro flybys, set of 10 goals and thinks like stat point collectables and C-O-M-B-O and S-K-A-T-E letters. Neversoft claims the Classic Mode alone has more to do goal-wise than the whole of Tony Hawk 3, and it's amazingly just one part of the game.

There's also a renewed dedication to allowing you to use the tools the developer has crafted to make just about anything you'd like. The Create-A-Skater is massively improved, and offers an almost ridiculous amount of detail in pre-set heads, bodies, clothes, and the ability to readjust all of them on the x,y and z axis to make sure they're EXACTLY what you like. Our creation of Cap'n Bubby YARRRRG, the diaper-wearing, parrot-shouldered, jean jacket wearing paper hatted sea captain may not have gone over well with the resident crowd, but he brought a tear to our eye.

The Create-A-Park mode has been expanded even more, offering a new tool for creating better grindable lines and the ability to create your own goals for you own courses. With the number of Create-A-... options, it's entirely possible to make your own tricks, levels and goals and in effect re-create the complexity of the first two Tony Hawk games. Freaky, but true.

There's also the matter of tagging. Graffiti has crept to the fore in just about every area of the game, from the menus to the level designs to one of the overlaying goals throughout the different levels. To add yet another level of customization to the whole mix, a Create-A-Graphic lets you make impressively complex tags. 10 independent layers of text and graphics can be stretched and skewed, fonts can be changed, and existing graphics can all be changed, and using them in-game is as easy as getting off your board and hitting the triangle button. The bigger your combo score is when you deboard, the bigger the tag will be.

There's more we're probably forgetting, and even more that we just don't have the finger dexterity to keep talking about, such as the more 3D approach to the levels, allowing for more height and depth in the different lines and bowl transfers, the new, almost cartoony look to the characters and color palettes, and plenty more. Sufice it to say that with just a couple weeks to go, we'll have stored up plenty to talk about in our review. For now, feel free to suck down all our bandwidth with all the movies and screenshots we were able to smuggle out of Neversoft below.

With a return to the sense of humor and attitude that made the first three games so damn good, and an expansion on the story-driven direction of the first THUG, plus the inclusion of the Classic Mode for all the haters of the new style, there's literally something here to appease everyone. One of our biggest complaints with the first THUG was that it felt like the game just didn't have the soul of the older games. With this new style and the return to form, we can happily state that the Tony Hawk videogame franchise's soul is indeed intact, and may have gotten just a bit more mischievous during its break.