At the tender, young age of ten, I wanted to become a professional skateboarder. The idea of extreme sports was beginning to take shape and find an audience back in those days. My parents, in an effort to humor my suicidal tendencies, got me my first deck for Christmas that same year. I was so excited and couldn?t wait for the snow outside to melt and get the chance to shred the streets of the old neighborhood. Two days later Mom gave me the okay to ride and I hit the pavement with a mad fury?so much fury that I broke my elbow in two places after trying to clear a six foot jump. Despite being stuck in an itchy cast for almost two months, the first chance I had I jumped on that board once again. I continued to skate for the next nine years until I broke me knee trying to grind a hand rail on the stairs that lead from one of the dorms to the main quad at Saint Louis University. It was at that point that I swore off skateboarding forever. While I was laid u, a friend of mine got me a copy of Tony Hawk Pro Skater for the Playstation. At first I wasn?t a fan, but as time progressed I found myself using the game to satisfy my skating fix without the risk of major injury. The Tony Hawk series has quickly become my favorite video game franchise and the games have only gotten better with each sequel. With the arrival of Tony Hawk Underground 2, Neversoft has finally achieved perfection, even in the mind of this bitter and angry critic.
In its early incarnations, Tony Hawk games were high on action and low on storyline. Each stage would contain a set of goals and completing these goals would earn you points that opened up new locations and equipment. There was no character development or plot twists?it was all so simple. This changed with last year?s release of Tony Hawk Underground, which added the storyline of you as an up-and-coming skater trying to become a noticed major competitor and take on the man himself, Tony Hawk. In addition to adding some depth to the gameplay, Tony Hawk Underground also got rid of the two minute time limits for each challenge that many players (not me) were happy to see gone. Underground 2 adds even more depth to the game by introducing some decision making options. You will take part in a national tour?a tour of destruction?either with Tony Hawk or the extreme Bam Margera. No cameras or fans, just destruction and skating?the way it should be. The only stipulation is that the losing team has to pay for the winning team?s expenses during the trip. Will you be the hero of the winning team or the dog of the losing end?
Within story mode, players must be ready to take on a number of different tasks. For players of the Tony Hawk series, some of the tasks will be familiar and common from earlier installments. These tasks include doing certain tricks off of specific surfaces, beating other skaters? scores or racing times and the good old fashion get an item and skate to a location with a time limit. In addition to these standard mission types, there is a variety of new challenges including graffiti tacking certain areas and objects, performing tricks to the beat of a boom box, car jumping, etc. But the fun is not limited to just skateboards either. You?ll be able to execute some sick moves on a go-cart, electric wheelchair or one of those two wheeled scooter things that can?t be tipped over (I can never remember what those things are called). While these vehicles are fun to operate, performing 50-50 rail grinds on a moving half pipe while riding that freakin? scooter thing can be real tricky. Tasks like that and doing tricks to a beat might drive players insane as they will take a few tries each in order to pass. Once mastered, players should find these vehicle challenges a fun switch from the routine of skating around (not that skating around gets old?it?s quite fun).
Unlike actual skateboarding, Tony Hawk Underground 2 contains controls that are very user friendly and allow players to execute complicated trick combinations with ease. There is also an in game tutorial that gives players a chance to practice what they?ve learned. You can also take a run at various locations in free skate mode, which allows players to skate for the sake of enjoying skating. You?ll quickly realize that button meshing can lead to some cool tricks, but actually learning the buttons will lead to huge combo tricks that will award you the big points. Just be patient with yourself and eventually you will be a high scoring, skating fool in no time.
Graphically speaking, Neversoft must have sold their souls to come up with the perfect graphic balance for Tony Hawk Underground 2. Let me explain that last statement. If you lined up Underground 2 next to Chronicles of Riddick or Halo 2, the graphics don?t look so hot. However, the idea of the Tony Hawk Underground 2 world looking like a work of art is laughable. The graphics area a little rough around the edges and even down right dirty looking at times?everything you?d expect in the world of underground skating. The characters look amazing realistic, especially Tony Hawk, Bam Margera and Bam?s father Phil Margera, complete in his only underwear outfit (Viva la Phil).
Sounds like (a tear rolls down my cheek as I write this) Neversoft must have been reading my previous reviews. In addition to having an amazing soundtrack including rock, punk, hip hop and everything in between such as Johnny Cash (nothing quite as cool as skating to Cash?s Ring of Fire) and Frank Sinatra. And for those who don?t find that soundtrack cool enough, the wonderful custom soundtracks option is offered (skating to Dolly Parton?s 9 to 5 and the theme song from Greg the Bunny on repeat at all times in my version of the soundtrack). Also sparing no expense, Neversoft brought in many notable celebrities to act as voice talents for Underground 2. Such celebrities include Steve O, Wee Man, Jesse James and the almost legendary Phil Margera (and of course Bam Margera and Tony Hawk). As far as the sound effects are concerned, they are amongst the most realistic cartoon sounds in recent memory (yep, try to make sense of that last statement if you can).
This would normally be the area where I would tell you what is wrong with the game. The only problem that I could find with Tony Hawk Underground 2 was the lack of online play. It?s a real shame considering how awesome it would be to shred the streets with eight friends via Xbox Live. About the only bad decision Neversoft ever made was working an exclusive online deal with Sony. I feel this is a minor setback that can be fixed in due time, similar to getting Grand Theft Auto games on Xbox and EA Sports titles to be online playable on Live. While this is a definite drawback, I would not fault Tony Hawk Underground 2 itself for a mistake its creators made so many years ago. Now some have complained that using the alternate vehicles (electric wheelchair, scooter, etc.) can be awkward and too challenging. I found that with a bit of patience, you should be able to complete any and all tasks on any vehicle in no time, even find the fun in the long run.
Overall, Tony Hawk Underground 2 might very well be the most impressive game I have ever played on the Xbox, and that is including Halo. The challenges are fresh and full of variety so you should never feel bored with the game. Being able to decide which side to skate for is similar to leading to the dark or good side of the force in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. Graphics are amongst some of the best I?ve see for the subject matter and the sound is enjoyable and energetic (really gets me pumped to skate and destroy. The only flaw in the design is the lack of online play, but I feel this is so minor that the overall greatness should not be affected to much. If you?re a fan of the series, then this new installment is definitely worth your time and money. For those who?ve never played a Tony Hawk game and always considered doing so, make this the one you check out. Bottom line, this is best game I?ve played in years. Thank you so much Neversoft.