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games > tony hawk: underground

tony hawk: underground

If you were walking down the street and someone came up to you and said, "You're a punk," you'd be extremely offended. However, if someone came up to you and said, "You're a thug," you'd probably extend your right hand and smile. No one wants to be a punk. But being a thug isn't so bad when it means you're in tune with Tony Hawk's Underground, the latest addition to the Tony Hawk family.
THUG is not at all what you'd expect. It could very well be considered a side-story to the Tony Hawk series. Just incase you haven't heard, I'll briefly bring you up to speed: THUG does not star Tony Hawk; it stars you. Average Joes and plain Janes are in place of the pro skaters we know and love, for what reason I'm not quite sure. You can play as Tony Hawk and other pro skaters, but that aspect is downplayed a bit.

Truthfully I don't really care who I'm playing as. The secret characters are always great, but when I'm struggling to complete a huge combo, land into a grind and finish with a special, I'm not thinking about the aesthetics. The moves differ to some degree, but the characters are mostly the same.

Neversoft's mission to improve the controls in every Tony Hawk game continues with THUG. It's much easier to grind and to hold a grind for a long period of time. The grind balance is a little more solid, giving players the chance to take further advantage of it. Hawk masters may not consider this to be all that important - some might even consider it to be a downgrade in terms of the challenge. But the game is still challenging. You won't be spending all your time collecting the letters to spell "SKATE," nor will you performing the same actions over and over again. Not that you did that before, but Neversoft has been trying hard to stop the yearly installments of the Tony Hawk series from becoming mere upgrades. They want each to be full-fledged sequels. That's great, but there should be a limit to how much diversity a game has.

THUG diverts from the extreme sports path by trying to include a little bit of everything. The developers seem to have caught the Grand Theft Auto bug that's been going around lately. Expect to be baffled by some of the new gameplay mechanics, including walking and climbing. Even more baffling are the objectives that you must complete using these new mechanics. With a tiny amount of stealth you'll have to re-claim stolen goods. Or - you're never going to believe this one - get in a car and drive around in circles. This isn't why I play Tony Hawk games (to drive around circles), but if it were fun, I'd say bring it on. This isn't a big part of the game though. Some of the worst objectives can be skipped, or temporarily avoided while you take on other, more entertaining tasks.

Gamers, let's play a game called Praise Predictions. You remember how great Tony Hawk 3 was, and how the following game was even better, right? The courses were much more expansive and featured improved level interaction (better placement of ramps, pipes, etc.), keeping players entertained for weeks at a time. Now let's see if you can guess what I'm going to say about Tony Hawk's Underground. It feels weird to be giving similar praise to another Tony Hawk game, but as long as Neversoft continues to improve the courses that can't be helped. THUG's courses are the biggest yet. They're very urban - expect to see lots of houses and other neighborhood content. (Try jumping from the roof of one house to the other!) The visual field is nearly perfect, giving you the illusion that the world goes on forever. Sadly it doesn't, but any time you step out of bounds the game will automatically take you back to where you belong.

The upgraded Create-A-Park feature is going to be cherished by aspiring level designers. The Xbox hard drive takes away all memory worries, so the only restrictions are the ones created by the developers. THUG's empty course space is larger than in the last game, and there are many more pools, trees, rails and ramps to choose from. The controls feel a little odd in player-created courses since you can't control the camera, but other than that my only gripe is that the empty course space does not go into infinity. Having that would be impractical, but a guy can dream, right?

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