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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Activision

 

Developer

Neversoft

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2003

 

 

-Already excellent controls and trick system are refined to near-perfection
status
-Large levels with more "real world" design incorporated into environments
-Ability to get off the board and run around helps accomplish some goals
easier and also prevents some major bailing damage
-You get to go to an old-school KISS concert!

 

 

-GTA-inspired story mode isn't a huge innovation for the franchise; skating
is still the main focus of the game
-Parents beware! Earns its "T" rating because of minor cussing related to
street instead of just for nasty bloody crashes
-STILL no Xbox Live Support

 

 

Review: Tony Hawk 4 (Xbox)

Review: Splashdown (Xbox)

Review: Aggressive Inline (Xbox)

 

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Tony Hawk's Underground

Score: 9.1 / 10

Right from the get-go, the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (THPS) skateboarding game franchise has been an instant classic. Not only is it the penultimate skateboarding game that no one has come close to rivaling in terms of quality, but it has already established itself as one of the most successful gaming franchises ever. The only danger facing the THPS series is becoming too repetitive in its offering. With that in mind, Neversoft, the developers of the game, have added a new gameplay element borrowed from another classic gaming franchise in its fifth THPS title, Tony Hawk's Underground (THUG). By adding a Grand Theft Auto-style story mode, bigger "real world" levels, and tightening the already-tight controls and trick system, THUG continues the high-quality tradition of its predecessors and adds to the excellent legacy of THPS.

 

tony-hawks-underground-1.jpg (25072 bytes)          tony-hawks-underground-2.jpg (28901 bytes)

 

Any THPS veteran will already know what to expect from the controls and trick system. It's the same basic setup as has been part of the series from the beginning, enhanced through each version and now in THUG, absolutely tight and responsive as you could ever expect. Pulling off highlight-reel moves was never easier to accomplish for the skilled skater. There are the old familiar vert tricks, grinds, and handplants along with newer additions to the trick system such as manuals and transfers to go along with a bunch of new skating moves to the already long list of available THPS moves. New to THUG is the ability to actually get off the skateboard and walk or run around the THUG world. This helps in a few major ways. First, it is a lot easier accomplishing some of THUG's goals by being able to jump up onto hard-to-reach-with-a-skateboard places such as the rooftops in New Jersey, and also to walk carefully along narrow areas such as hotel window ledges as seen in Hawaii.

 

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Jumping off the board also keeps a trick combo going while you quickly search for new obstacles to grind or skate. While skating, and stringing a bunch of combo tricks such as grinds, if you suddenly find yourself coming up short on grindable objects, you can hit the button on your controller, jump off the board, run to a suitably grindable object, and grind it to continue the combo. The best use of the jump-off ability is when you are in the air pulling off a trick that's gone horribly awry. Instead of becoming a bloody permanent fixture 

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on the ground below, you can hit the corresponding button, jump off your board, and land safely on your two feet. Using this jump-and-land technique will save many a visit to the virtual THUG hospital.

One readily apparent aspect of THUG to any players of previous THPS games is the speed of the game. THUG moves at a much higher clip than before, and this is a good thing. The sense of really flying at rapid speeds heightens the whole skateboarding enjoyment you'll get from THUG and also makes it much easier to accomplish goals that require huge air time or transfers.

The biggest addition to THUG is the new story mode that changes the way that anybody who's played THPS games in the past will remember. Now, instead of each level basically containing the same goals no matter what the level (high scores, spelling out S-K-A-T-E, etc.) there's a story mode that seamlessly sends you to real-world levels where you'll still have to accomplish goals, but this time around with a more bad-boy twist and more variation on the actual goals, although it does again get repetitive in some of the same-old-same-old goals eventually. THUG's storyline in this mode is actually pretty good, but no one will miss the fact that it essentially follows the model of the mega-hits of the GTA series and its lead character, Tommy Vercetti, complete with the chance to drive a variety of vehicles, including a police cruiser, gardener's cart, and a leaf blower (yeah, really, a leaf blower). You will be doing some minor crime infractions as the story progresses, but nothing like the murderous and insidious doings of Mr. Vercetti.

I'll issue a parent alert here: THUG, like all previous THPS games on the Xbox, has a "Teen" rating. But it isn't only the blood spill from skaters crashing that gets THUG its "T"; it's the minor-league cussing that is incorporated into the story mode to give it some GTA "street cred" that parents should be aware of.

In THUG, you star in the role of a Jersey kid looking for a way out of the dead-end town you live in. After just-happen-to-be-passing-through-town pro skater Chad Muska gives you some encouragement, you decide to set off with your "friend" Eric and attempt to go from skate punk to skate superstar with the help of a stable of familiar THPS skaters, including Tony Hawk himself. Again featured is a roster full of the usual pro skater superstars of today, including Bam Margera, Bob Burnquist, Bucky Lasek, and a bunch more that have been in previous THPS titles.

There's some really interesting plot twists along the path to skate stardom, filled with backstabbing and double-crossing galore, but in the end, if you persevere, what you seek will be well within your grasp. This toned-down, GTA-inspired story mode isn't a revolutionary gaming splash as was GTA when it came out, and it can be completed from start to finish in a relatively short playing timeframe, but it does add a fresh new infusion into a franchise that hasn't had its core gameplay change much in five renditions. 


As part of the "keeping it real" flavor of the story mode, THUG's skate levels are real-world locales that you visit as part of your character's evolving from unknown to star. These include New Jersey, Moscow, Hawaii, Vancouver, and Tampa and each contains a more "Vice City" feel, with plenty of buildings and less fantasy style composition and overall elements that quite a few previous THPS levels have had. These are some radically huge exploratory worlds. The story mode gives you, much like GTA, the freedom to just roam around and skate or partake in the missions of the story. It's your choice, but you'll find yourself freestyling through the expansive levels just to take in some sightseeing and to scope out some primo skating spots. The one fantasy level is a KISS concert complete with the classic rock-n-rollers themselves. Spell out K-I-S-S on the level, and the supergroup will actually perform on a pyrotechnically enhanced stage. And hey, when you get a KISS concert as a bonus for all your hard work completing the story mode, what's not to like?

 

tony-hawks-underground-3.jpg (23823 bytes)         tony-hawks-underground-4.jpg (23329 bytes)

 

There is unbelievably no Xbox Live support for THUG, and that's massively disappointing, considering that the PS2 version of THUG has online options and also allows you to have Neversoft, via online capabilities, scan a real photo of yourself that can be used as the face of your created skater. I can only conjecture that there has to be some behind-the-scenes dispute concerning controlling Xbox Live server content between Microsoft and Activision similar to the out-in-the-open Electronics Arts and Microsoft dispute preventing THUG from being part of Xbox Live.

Even worse, THUG only supports two-player multiplayer match-ups. Jeez, the Xbox has four controller ports for a reason, Neversoft! THPS2x had four-player multiplayer games, but it did run unreasonably slow, so apparently the developers would rather continue to have the more stable but much more complicated method of system link multiplayer support for Xbox gamers who want to square off in more-than-two games. THUG features the basic multiplayer modes that have been part of THPS games but also includes a new one: firefight. In firefight, you can shoot fireballs at your opponent. The better the combos you do, the bigger the fireballs you can shoot from your skateboard. Using the fireballs, you must knock out your opponent before he knocks out you.

A big bonus of THUG is the chance to become an editor without a journalism degree. THUG has not only a create-a-skater and create-a-park editor, but it also has a create-a-deck, create-a-trick, and create-a-goal editors that give you a unique chance to design a totally customized game experience from top to bottom.

Looking at THUG reveals little visual enhancement from THPS4, but those were some good graphics to begin with, and if you have HDTV, THUG cranks it up a few notches with full HDTV support. THPS's music soundtracks have always been one of its highlights, and THUG is no different, although either I'm getting older without a firm grip on today's music scene or the guys at Neversoft are getting more eclectic in their musical tastes, because with the exception of the KISS rock anthems I thoroughly enjoy each and every time I hear them, I've never even heard of most of the artists and their work throughout the game. Nonetheless, the soundtrack again hits hard and heavy with good thrashing tuneage that is good stuff, even if you don't know who's playing it.

Not like we ever doubted them, but Neversoft has done it again with THUG. While it's inexcusable that there's still no Xbox Live support, and the GTA story mode isn't the revolutionary addition it could have been, THUG's overall great features and customary amazing skating action assure that this is again not only a great skateboarding game, but a great game period.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(December 15, 2003)

 

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