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
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,
more video games...