This used to be non-existent in TH, but as of late the Story Mode of the Underground games has created a plot for the series. This time, a crew of pro skaters and Jackass clowns accompany you and some other skaters around the globe on what Bam (featured in MTV's Jackass and Vive la Bam) calls a "World Destruction Tour." The point of the tour is to simply destroy things, vandalize cities in many countries, and have a good time. The humor in this game will most likely appeal to the crowd it caters to, but some more sophisticated fans might be slightly appalled at the numerous fart jokes and crude activities that occur in this game.
The story really doesn't play much of a role besides giving a reason to do some of the dirty deeds performed by your player. Nevertheless, the story will delight most gamers, and it is hardly time-consuming or of vast importance to the gameplay. On a more positive note, the ongoing contest between Tony Hawk and Bam Margera is humorous, and the ability to shift allegiances and team up with other skaters is interesting. The pure ridiculousness of the plot is enough to make the most uptight person chuckle. How many other games begin with a kidnapping that really is a joke/recruiting mission anyway?
The most ironic thing is that Tony Hawk, long the icon of classier skateboarding and advocating it as a sport, would approve of such a game that fulfills practically every bad stereotype of skateboarders. The plot does its job: take it or leave it.
Easily the central aspect of the game, Story Mode is the free-roaming opus that pleased gamers so much in the first installment of Tony Hawk's Underground. On your World Destruction Tour, you will visit cities such as Barcelona, Boston, Berlin, and New Orleans, making a hearty amount of mischief in each. The custom skater you play as can be tweaked with the game's myriad of customization tools (more on that later), but the pro skaters are back as well. In each level, players will skate as their own skater, a pro skater, a guest character, and a secret skater. Each character has his own set of goals that can be completed. While the skating really doesn't change between each character, the hidden characters will usually have some quirk (i.e. poor balance, goofy outfits, incredible jumping ability) that makes it an experience to play with them, and the guest characters often have vehicles to ride on. Jesse James and his motorized scooter make for a particularly fun time in Boston.
The levels themselves are gigantic, offering hundreds of rails to grind on, a large number of gaps to discover, and plenty of air time. Since there is no time limit, any amount of time can be spent examining the levels in detail, seeking a hidden gap in a previously unnoticed nook or cranny. The cities all have their distinctive theme, and Neversoft has done a stellar job at recreating each city and the aura that goes in it. Sadly, there are only 5 offered during story mode.
Each city must be unlocked: to advance to the next level a certain number of points must be earned. These points, naturally, are awarded when goals are completed. The goals themselves are nothing special, but provide challenges along with an old school flavor. In each level, you'll have to set the high score on the arcade machine found somewhere in the level (in other words, beat some score in a limited amount of time), collect the 5 letters of SKATE (a signature goal present in every Tony Hawk game), find 5 other hidden objects, and collect the 5 letters of COMBO. The last goal is easily my favorite: you must be doing tricks non-stop while collecting these 5 letters. The letters in COMBO become farther apart with each level, making the goal increasingly difficult. In addition to the aforementioned goals, a combo of a certain point total must be accomplished in each level, and the other ones usually involve finding a secret character or (surprise!) destroying or vandalizing famous artifacts or buildings. The best thing about these new levels is the complete interaction offered with each: cannons can destroy buildings, you can catch fire, almost anything can be skated on, and pedestrians roam the streets waiting to be clobbered.
In short, Story Mode offers a different style of gameplay that will be fresh and exciting to those who have yet to play an older Tony Hawk besides Underground. The antics of your fellow skaters will provide a few laughs. For those who have already played THUG, this game differs little from the original, mainly just adding in certain spots onto the free-roaming ideas sported in the first game.
The inclusion of both Story Mode and Classic Mode is what truly makes Tony Hawk's Underground 2 worthwhile. While Story Mode is supposed to be the wave of the future that allows more freedom and offers more entertainment, Classic Mode will please hard-core fans who miss the features of the earlier installments of Tony Hawk. Make no mistake about it: THUG2 will please die-hard veterans and new players alike with Classic Mode.
All of the features and gimmicks of the traditional Tony Hawk games return in THUG2: every trick and skater ever offered is present in Classic Mode. All of the tricks included in THUG and Tony Hawk 1-4 make appearances, along with some of the more popular levels from the old games. Some of the notable inclusions are the classic Airport, School, and Downhill Jam levels. While all of the retro-levels have been modified to accommodate the more recent features and tricks, the reproductions are almost exact duplicates of the original. These older levels, now open for long combos and manuals, things unavailable in the earliest games, really enhance the gameplay, and many a fan will reminisce on these gems Neversoft decided to include in THUG2.
Of course, this isn't enough to please Tony Hawk fans who have seen all this before, and Neversoft provides a multitude of new features that make the game original as well. One of the more notable additions is the "Sticker Slap" move that allows you to plant a sticker on the wall while in mid-air, in effect changing your direction and giving fresh life to a combo that might have otherwise reached the end of its rope. Naturally, these stickers can be customized to your liking, and the size of the sticker slapped on the wall depends on the size of your combo. This feature is fun to use and is the largest effect added onto the ever changing combo system.
The other huge new feature is "Focus," a technique that is basically Bullet-time on a skateboard. After a certain number of moves have been performed or the special bar has been full long enough, your character will enter a glorified state of slow-motion, making it easier to land combos, grind and manual longer, and transition from one piece of equipment to another. While used in goals a few times, the advantage of this feature is that it makes parts of the game easier. This will be especially helpful for beginners or average players who are looking to improve; however, to veterans, the slowing of the game's pace and action may disrupt their style and disappoint or annoy. Not to worry, though, as the Focus feature can be disabled.
The new levels offered in Story Mode appear in Classic Mode as well, along with a few exclusive goals as well as Stat Points to improve your skater. Here, the exploration is limited, but the pace is exciting. The two-minute timer is back with a vengeance, and the pressure of a ticking clock is the cure for a gamer bored by Story Mode. Levels here must be unlocked by completing goals as well. Of the 10 goals in the level, three involve high scores, one is completed by breaking a combo point total, two involve collecting letters (SKATE and COMBO), and the secret tape must be found as well. In addition to these standard goals, each level has two or three level-specific goals such as "grind over the bridge without touching the ground." Unfortunately, there is usually a goal or two that involves finding objects as well, seldom exciting. These goals seem like filler compared to the rest, but at least they require exploration of the level and often lead to exciting discoveries.
The other new features play smaller roles but inject some vigor into the game. After wiping out, your character can "Freak Out" and throw a tantrum, resulting in extra points in your next combo. The Natas grind allows you to spin on an object such as the top of a pole and receive points. While both can be fun, neither really improve the gameplay significantly: the Natas spin is rarely used, and the tantrums usually take up more time than they are worth. Basically, the minor features amount to very little change or improvement while the two larger additions change the gameplay significantly.
Online play is basically the same as it was in Tony Hawk Underground. A few new games have been added, but for the most part the experience remains similar. This is not a bad thing though, as the online capabilities of THUG were more than enough to entertain the pickiest gamer.
Your digital avatar's appearance and customized look will be especially important as you skate with players around the world. It is cool to think that you could have a unique skater that no other person in the gaming community has when you use the tools to customize your player.
The games vary from the traditional multiplayer game such as graffiti, horse, and trick attack to other forms of competition. The interface is extremely easy to use and makes it easy for any level of player to hop online and play against players of their skill level.
Simply put, everything and anything is customizable. You can tailor your digital self to an obscene degree of precision, and the surroundings you grind on and trick off of can be altered as well. Your face is, with a little effort, grafted on to your character. This, along with an extensive wardrobe at your fingertips and very detailed skin colors and hues, makes quite a bit of difference. The game suddenly becomes more personal when you see yourself skating.
Your deck can be changed to your liking, with a multitude of graphics to place on it. In addition, your tag (graffiti) is yet another item whose image is under your discretion. Tattoos are an option, as well as more obscure items of clothing or varying types of facial hair. All of these factors combine to make your virtual avatar exactly the person you want. If you can imagine it, count on it being easily reproduced with THUG2. The system is remarkably easy and fun to use, at least for a while.
The Create-A-Park mode is a slightly different animal. A novice who doesn't understand the capabilities of every piece of equipment might not be able to construct a park as well as an expert. A hard-core fan is the most likely person to enjoy this tool, as it is challenging to build a park worth skating on. The system itself is rather simple and requires only a little effort, but the insight required to create a park that measures up to the numerous pre-made parks included in THUG2 is overwhelming. While it can be fun to tinker around with various terrain and obstacles and eventually skate on them, I found it much more fulfilling to play some of the parks Neversoft was kind enough to toss into the game: they were creative and different. Some of the parks had themes (an option for your very own park as well), and a few even had people standing around to give you goals (very much like the first THUG). The create-a-park will appeal to hardcore skaters or fans of Tony Hawk that have the vision necessary to erect a park worth experiencing. Otherwise, it offers little to amateurs and casual fans of the series, entertaining for only a short period of time.
All in all, the gameplay remains engrossing and entertaining, and it took very little time for THUG2 to hook me into the virtual skateboarding experience. Having removed some of the more useless features from Underground and added a few others, the gameplay has improved. All of the joys of a standard Tony Hawk game remain and will amuse plenty of gamers this season. While it doesn't have the same shock value that TH4 or THUG did, there are enough changes (most importantly Classic Mode) that it is worth purchasing. Neversoft has continued its tried-and-true formula: make a few major changes to market the product, add some minor ones to please fans further, and keep the general gameplay the same.