Despite the inclusion of the number "2" right in the game's title, Tony Hawk's Underground 2 is the sixth Tony Hawk game that has been released in as many years. Over these past six years, the series has created a genre and, with every entry, reshaped that genre. Early installments in the series basically rewrote the book on the rewarding combo system every year, but with the gameplay already in a rock solid state, the more recent entries have made more subtle changes. THUG2 hangs on to the great gameplay of the previous games, makes a few minor tweaks, and wraps it all up in a new Bam Margera-centric package. The result might be more satisfying for those who haven't seen most of this stuff already done before in previous Tony Hawk games.
Tony Hawk and Bam Margera want you!
Yes, professional shopping cart destroyer Bam Margera, and his brand of destructive fun, figure much more heavily into the latest Tony Hawk game. The game's story mode essentially plays out like a Viva La Bam scavenger hunt, with two teams--one led by Tony Hawk and the other by Bam Margera--setting out on the World Destruction Tour. So your goals don't focus so much on becoming a star of the skateboarding world; here, you're just trying to fly around the world and break stuff.
THUG2's story mode is a whirlwind tour that gives you four skaters and a mess of goals to accomplish in each level. You start out each level as your created skater, though you'll also pick a pro skater as a partner. You'll also find two other skaters--or at least, people who ride skateboards, since it seems weird to call Ben Franklin or a shrimp vendor "skaters"--hidden in various spots on each level, and each time you encounter a new skater, you'll unlock another set of goals for that level. Some of these new characters don't even ride boards. You'll run into Steve-O, who rides around on a wheeled mechanical bull, and you'll meet an Australian in a small go-kart.
Goals are handled a little differently this time around. Rather than having people on the street that you can speak with to get your goals, you're given a list and set off into the world. There aren't any on-screen indicators to point you in the direction of a goal, though if you happen to do a trick off of a piece that is part of a combo goal, the rest of the pieces will light up. If you want the skinny on what, exactly, you're supposed to be doing, you have to pause the game and go into your view goals screen, which will give you more details on what you need to do. While this approach frees the game of clutter and on-screen icons, it also means you're going to be spending a lot more time reading text in the pause menu. Each goal is worth a different amount of points. Once you've earned a specific number of goal points, you'll be able to move forward. This also triggers a cutscene, which puts some more backstory to the Bam versus Tony adventure. All in all, the story mode is satisfying in its structure, but it's also short. Despite having three difficulty levels, players should be able to burn through the story mode in around five to seven hours. Fortunately, that's not all that THUG2 has to offer.
Underground 2 also contains "classic mode," which brings back the two-minute run timer and goal structure of the first three Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games. Many of the game's levels are the same levels you see in the story mode, but a number of levels from previous entries in the series--all the way back to the school and downhill jam levels from the very first game--appear here. While it's nice to have a separate mode like this, the concept of working to unlock levels that you've either already played in the story mode or remember from earlier games in the series makes the mode a little underwhelming. More unique levels for this mode would have been a big help.
Sure, it's got Phil, but where's Raab Himself? Rake Yohn, even?
The gameplay in THUG2 starts with THUG, which added the ability to get off of your board and run around, and expands from there. Probably the most important addition in THUG2 is the sticker slap, which is an airborne wall plant that shoves you off with a good deal of acceleration, making it perfect for finding your way back onto a rail and continuing a combo by going back the way you came. The rest of the gameplay changes aren't really as useful. You can also execute vertical wall plants while going up some ramps, giving you an extra height boost that you'll rarely need to actually use, but it will occasionally come in handy. You can now spray graffiti tags when you're off your board, which factors into some goals. When you're special, you can enter "focus mode," which is essentially a glorified slow-motion effect. A few goals in story mode require it, but beyond that, all focus will do for you is make it slightly easier to land cleanly or to balance on rails, lips, and manuals for longer periods of time. If this is your first experience with the Tony Hawk series, you might find that useful, but anyone with even limited experience with the games won't need the help. There is also a new move called the natas spin, which lets you spin in place on top of poles, fire hydrants, trash cans, and other pointy items. It, like most of the other new moves, figures into a couple of goals, but doesn't really seem all that necessary.
The game also has a new "freak out" function. After some falls, a freak out meter will appear, and mashing the grind button will cause it to fill up. If you reach a certain point on the meter before your skater stands back up, you'll make him get mad and destroy his board. A new board gets tossed in and play continues as normal, but your tantrum translates into a couple thousand points of base score. So if you can get a combo going a few seconds after your bail, you'll get some bonus points to throw in there. However, freaking out just means it'll take longer for you to get back on your board and start skating again, and the game has almost completely de-emphasized point scores in its goal-based modes. The score bonus isn't enough to justify the extra time it takes to get back on the board, so you're usually just better off keeping your cool. While not all of these changes are all that great, the core gameplay in THUG2 is still very strong. The refined gameplay that comes from six years of tinkering still works, and fans of the series should still enjoy themselves quite a bit.