Tony Hawk's Underground 2
Four up, four down. It has been an entire generation since Neversoft released a Tony Hawk game worth playing over THPS2. All five sequels in the franchise now have taken the same formula and, after a slight change and repolish with some new levels, were repackaged and sold as a new game and not since Dreamcast hit us with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 have any of these titles recaptured the longed for charm I miss so dearly.
Keeping with the slightly innovative theme of Tony Hawk Underground, Tony Hawk Underground 2 is still the same game only this time you have absolutely no idea where to perform your next goal without studying the barely revealing pictures in the list from the start menu. There have been times when I would run around aimlessly hoping to combo off of something as part of a goal just to advance the game and get off of the current level, hoping the next level would be more fun. They never were though. The level designs are, for the most part, horrible and banal when compared to such goodness as the school from THPS and the Bull Ring from THPS2. Nearly every goal forced upon you feels like a gimmick searching for a cheap laugh, be it a combo off of a run away bull or dancing to the beat of a song via flip tricks. Fortunately the 1 minute timed score attacks return as a saving grace for the goals.
The Bam Margera vs. Tony Hawk story is somewhat interesting and often comical. You play as a custom skater and you embark on a worldwide skating tour with Bam and Tony, drafted onto Tony's team. Play through the levels, find the two secret skaters and the professional skater and perform their respective goals to rack up the 500 points to defeat the opposing team. This leads to some funny cutscenes almost worth going through the levels for. Almost. Hop back into the game as your custom skater (mine was completely blue, skin and all mind you) and perform certain requirements to rack up your stats, be it grinding for 5-20 seconds to manualing forever. The stat system has taken a turn for the worse as you no longer have the option of putting the stats into categories of choice but rather into the category predefined by the state requirement.
In THUG2, few new abilities are added. You still have the often pointless ability to get off your board and walk around as introduced by the original installment. Perhaps the only worthwhile addition to the series is the new "sticker slap" move in which you skate into a wall and perform a wallplant off of said wall accelerating you in the opposite direction. Also available is the focus mode which can be enacted when in "special" and slows everything down to about 1/5-1/10 normal time allowing one to perform tricks with relative easy...if you want to call it that. The newly introduced "freak out" option is totally useless and becomes more gimmicky as the game advances. Every time you fall you get the option to pound buttons to fill the "freak out" meter allowing you to throw your board, break it in two, kick it, etc. for some points...points which are totally worthless in nearly every goal that isn't a timed one minute arcade run,
Fortunately THUG2 on PS2 and PC has the online mode which is much more fun than anything single player has to offer aside from perhaps skating in custom created parks. The classic online modes return including capture the flag, graffiti, and score attack but two new modes enter the fray: Scavanger Hunt and Elimiskate. Scavanger Hunt has one player dropping coins throughout the level and the rest of the players picking them up in hopes of collecting the most and Elimiskate is a Tony Hawk version of a racing game with players being eliminated at intervals.
Only diehard fans of the series need apply. It has been four years waiting and I think I am finally through with the Tony Hawk series after so many disappointments. Neversoft fed into their own hype and never did much to improve on the series and it is finally taking its toll. If you have been enjoying these games year in and year out, then you will surely enjoy THUG2, but don't go into it expecting anything new as you'll surely be disappointed.