Tony Hawk's Underground 2
After six years of Tony Hawk games and two years of Underground games, Activision still manages to squeeze something new into this ultimate skateboarding franchise, and Tony Hawk's Underground 2 is no exception. THUG 2 doesn't so much change the way you play the game or it's look and sound as it tweaks the storyline and basic feel of your goals. Instead of seeking out to become the best skateboarder in the world, THUG 2 is a fun and very bizarre around the world romp dedicated to skateboard hooliganism and destructions. Put it this way, THUG 2's co-star is Bam Margera, of Jackass and Viva La Bam fame, so expect a lot of over the top humor and strange encounters with skateboarding historic figures, sumo wrestlers and jesters.
Fortunately, the game is still built on the very strong mechanics of the original THUG, so Bams absurdity only leaks into the plot, which is a good thing, and not into gameplay, which would be an exceptionally bad thing. The only real differences to the game mechanics are the addition of a hand plant against a wall, which allows you to slap a sticker on a wall and then push off and jet in the opposite direction. You can also now enter a focus mode if you score enough points which allows you to slow time down for a few seconds, making combos, balancing and landing a bit easier.
There are three ways to play the game: story mode, classic and multiplayer. The most robust of the three is by far the story mode which has you take on the role of a personalized skater who is recruited to join Tony's Hawks team in the World Destruction Tour against Bam's team. The object of the tour is to go through cities around the world performing tricks, stunts and creating lots of mayhem. When you arrive in a city you are given a list of goals, which have to be accessed through the pause menu. As you complete the goals, which include things like performing certain tricks or breaking things, you typically will unlock more advanced sets of goals. Each time you complete a goal you are awarded points, get a high enough score and you can go on to the next city. The cities are pretty well constructed, typically mid-sized affairs with tons of multi-level stunt possibilities and little hidden areas. While the story-mode is a blast, it's a little too short for my taste. Fortunately, there are three skill levels and it's a lot of fun to return to the different cities.
The classic mode is essentially the same maps, and maps from previous games, set-up to allow you to play them like in the original Tony Hawk, pre-underground, days. This is a bit of fun, but the lack of any new maps prevents it from really adding a lot to the game.
Finally, the multiplayer mode is a huge, huge disappointment. For some reason Neversoft decided to allow online play in both the PC and PS2 version but not in the Xbox version. What a horrible decision. Because of this you can only play split-screen modes with a friend and while they are fun you can't help but think constantly of the unrealized online potential of the game.
The graphics are about on par with the original Underground, though the eclectic mix of new characters makes better use of the over-the-top animations. Like in previous Tony Hawks, this game features a fantastic soundtrack and really does a job of capturing the sounds of the street.
I like this game a lot, as it does a good job of adding a much needed irreverent sense of humor to the Hawk franchise, but it could have been a bit longer for my taste and the lack of online play is just mind-boggling.