Tony Hawk's Underground Review (PS2)
When one thinks of extreme sports games and skateboarding, Tony Hawk always seems to come to mind. “THUG” is the third installment of “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” on this generation of consoles. The developers did away with the tired numeric naming system in favor of a nice name with a cool acronym. Enough with the boring stuff, let’s get to the gaming.
After a while, there is only so much you can add to a skateboarding game; re-release it and still call it “new.” However, Neversoft added a few new things to “THUG” to try and make it interesting and fresh. First and foremost, you can now actually get off of your skateboard. In previous versions of “Tony Hawk”, you could only get off of your board by accident while falling. Now, getting off of your board is both an option and a requirement to make it past certain missions and goals in story mode. When freed from your board, you can run, jump and climb certain objects to reach skate-able areas that would otherwise be unreachable. You can also use this new feature to continue a combo. When you get off your board in the middle of a combo, a timer starts. If you can get on your board before the timer reaches zero, your combo will continue.
The skater in this version of “Tony Hawk” can also drive certain cars that are arranged throughout town. The driving model in the game is average. It might be considered decent when you recall this is a skateboarding game, after all. However, this begs the question: how come a skateboarding game is trying to introduce a driving model in the first place? There are also a couple of goals that require the user to drive a car, and smash up peanut stands, for example. I think the main purpose of these types of missions is to get the player to say, “Hey, here is something new.” Again, though - why try to expand the skateboarding genre into something else unless the developers are completely out of ideas?
Once you are in story mode and you get past the new “features” you realize the game is actually a lot of fun. The story mode in this year’s “Tony Hawk” centers on you - trying to make it as a poor unknown skater. Your goal, of course, is to get sponsored and make tons of money. The coolest part about this “you” story mode is if you are playing on the PS2, you can import your own picture to use. This is done by snapping a digital photo and e-mailing it to a website. From there, you log on your PS2 and enter a certain password to download your picture automatically. It’s nice to know you are no longer forced to skate with some ugly punk. Now when you skate, you can say, “Hey, that ugly kid is me.”
“THUG” looks very similar to the other games in the series. The graphics are pretty good, but they’re not going to blow you away. The water textures in this version looks especially nice. I kept jumping in just so I could get a closer look.
The most important aspect of a fast paced game like Tony Hawk is it’s frame rate. I don’t know the exact frame rate of the game or what it’s supposed to be. However, the game does play pretty smoothly for the most part. There has been a time or two where the frame rate dropped when the screen is populated with a lot of objects and animation, but nothing major.
The game excels when it comes to customizing your skater (even without the custom face). You can add all sorts of tattoos and clothes to your skater. You can also customize your board in more ways than you can imagine. I personally don’t care much about accessorizing in a video game. However, those that do will not be disappointed.
The “Tony Hawk” series is not known for having great audio effects. This series is better known for the music it sports. When I first got the game, I looked at the credits in the back to see what or who was included this year. I was pretty disappointed; knowing I only recognized a few of the artists including NAS, KISS, Sublime and The Clash. However, some of the songs are still pretty catchy; even though I don’t know who sings them or what they are about. There are more than 70 songs included in the game - so there should be something for everyone.
The music in the game is organized like a jukebox. One of the nice features of the jukebox is that you can easily turn off an entire genre of music. For example, you might not like classic rock, so you can uncheck the classic rock box and not have to worry about hearing KISS. This is a very nice feature for those with narrow musical tastes. You can also just check and uncheck certain songs if you prefer to micro-manage your music.
One of my biggest complaints about the audio in the game is it does not have any surround sound effects. Of course, they are not really needed, but maybe some skaters falling down behind you while playing would be a nice effect.
In general, nothing can beat sitting next to a good friend and gaming away in co-op or versus mode. However, online gaming has been booming over the past year. “Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3” was the first PS2 game to go online; so I was hoping this version would either add to or build upon this foundation.
Unfortunately, the online play was not very entertaining. The main thing the game is lacking online is voice chat. I am so used to being able to talk to the person I am playing that I simply couldn’t play this game online for long. Every few seconds, I would pick up the headset and try it, even though I knew it wouldn’t work. On the other hand, the game does support USB keyboard chat. During online skate mode you have to just hit Enter and then you can type away.
The online mode works just fine. However, there’s nothing special there that is going to keep the average gamer coming back for more. I don’t expect to play online anymore due to the simple fact that there is no voice chat.
If you liked the previous two versions of “Tony Hawk” you won’t be disappointed in this one. However, if you expect or need some earth-shattering changes from the previous versions in order to upgrade, then your gaming dollars might best be spent elsewhere.