Destroy the world in the sixth game of the legendary skateboarding franchise.
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (THUG 2) is actually the sixth Tony Hawk game, and though the series is showing its age in some respects, the core gameplay is still a lot of fun. This newest game offers plenty of new real estate to explore (and vandalize), and the “Create-A-_____” modes generate ridiculous longevity for the game.
The chewy center of Tony Hawk games has always been the fun goal structure and trick-based gameplay. THUG 2 continues the series’ recent trend of streamlining the goal structures into a free-roaming story mode. The goals can be completed in any order, and most of them have no time limit. You don’t even have to activate them by talking to certain people; just hop on your board (or off, in some cases) and attempt whichever ones you want. Sometimes you may even accidentally finish a goal, but most of them require specific maneuvers or combo lines that will take several attempts to figure out. If you prefer the older style of two-minute skating runs, THUG 2 offers a complete classic mode, which brings back goals like “Collect S-K-A-T-E” and “Find the Secret Tape”. Though story mode and classic mode share the same new levels (classic also includes some remakes from past games), they play quite differently, and it’s definitely worth playing through the game both ways.
The stock of grinds, flips, and grab tricks hasn’t changed much since the very first Tony Hawk game, but the series has made numerous additions to other facets of skateboarding. In the first THUG, the big new feature was being able to get off your board and walk around, jump across gaps, climb ladders, etc. You can also link this move into a combo if you get back on your board within a few seconds. THUG 2 retains this feature and enhances it with a new graffiti move, which lets you walk up to any wall and tag it with your custom graphic. The tagging feature gives a good excuse to climb up to hard-to-reach areas, but otherwise it adds little to how the game plays. You can only tag a wall when off your board and completely stopped, so it doesn’t open up any new combo possibilities. And, unfortunately, Neversoft has still not fixed the twitchy walking controls from the last game. Nevertheless, you’ll probably get used to them eventually, and then walking can be a convenient method of getting from one place to another without having to worry about stairs and other obstacles. The only other new move is the Natas Spin, which can be used on top of any pointed object (fire hydrant, signpost, etc.). It looks very cool but can only be done in specific locations, so it doesn’t open up a lot of new combo potential. Focus isn’t really a move at all, but once your special meter fills up, it can slow down time and help you balance grinds and manuals or get a perfect landing.
THUG 2’s story mode plays out as a world-hopping competition between Tony Hawk and Bam Margera, each with a group of pro and amateur skaters in tow. It would have been cool to pick between the groups and get different goal sets, but your character’s affiliation is determined by the storyline. The goals in story mode often involve destroying public property, annoying the local authorities, and generally causing havoc. Cut-scenes between each level share the same spirit of rebellion, with over-the-top action scenes and dialogue like something you would expect from a Jackass or CKY movie. It’s all arguably humorous, and the events transpire in a comic-like style in which no one really gets hurt. Bam Margera, now sharing equal billing with the Hawkman, has plenty of spoken lines and comes across as utterly obnoxious, naturally. The story mode is basically very silly and full of classic skater pranks that will probably be lost on players who have no experience with real skateboarding culture. There are, nonetheless, some extremely cool events in story mode, particularly a goal in New Orleans that unleashes forces from the underworld to completely transform the level into a maelstrom of zombies and party favors.
Graphically, THUG 2 manages to keep a steady framerate while processing its large, detailed environments. The character models are fairly detailed, too. Texture quality and color saturation could be better, as the game does sometimes look washed out. The camera does a great job of pivoting around and showing each type of move from the best angle. Most of the voice acting in THUG 2 is overplayed, but it fits with the goofy story. The soundtrack is made up of punk, old-school hip hop, and a few rock songs. Some of the more eclectic selections include Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and The Doors’ “Break On Through”, both of which fit surprisingly well within the game. There’s also the worst Sinatra song I’ve ever heard, and it sounds completely out of place. Some levels also have special music that can be activated by talking to a local musician.
On the GameCube, THUG 2’s multiplayer is limited to an assortment of two-player modes. It’s a shame that Neversoft hasn’t implemented a four-player feature to make up for the lack of online features in this version, but the two-player games can provide some entertainment, particularly old favorites like Horse and Graffiti. Some other games don’t make sense offline, but are included in the GameCube version anyway. The Create-a-Modes have never been deeper; creative players may find themselves tinkering away for hours with the extensive customization tools. THUG 2’s Create-a-Player is the most versatile of its kind, even compared to wrestling games. Create-a-Park is complex and intimidating, but you can really create a masterpiece if you invest enough time into it. Create-a-Trick lets you combine multiple actions at various speeds to create one fluid, amazing physical feat. The Create-a-Goal and Create-a-Tag features are not as deep or useful, but some players may enjoy them.
THUG 2 won’t rein in anyone who has disliked the previous Tony Hawk games, but the newest sequel is more than enough to chew on for those of us who already appreciate the series. The biggest draw of any new game in this series is its slate of new levels, and THUG 2 has several big new worlds to grind out. I’d like to see the series get a real overhaul soon, from the ground up, but THUG 2 is a fine expansion that is worth buying for fans of the series.