The rise and fall of the Tony Hawk franchise is akin to watching a botched 900 — the starting motions and looks of it are an incredible sight to see, but an under-rotation near the end, winds up throwing the skater to the ground in a spill. There’s no denying that those early Tony Hawk Pro Skater titles were some of the best in gaming as a whole, offering the player some sick skating tricks, killer music and sky high replay value. Fans of the series sometimes proclaim the second installment as not only the best of the series, but the peak of it as well. While there were titles after Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 that were solid on their own right, the true peak of the series, as well as the best of the series, came out on the PlayStation 2, with Tony Hawk’s Underground.
THUG established several successful elements that helped push the overall package to new heights. The Career Mode, while occasionally hammy, creating your own character (you can even have your facial features embedded onto your skater for a more authentic look and feel) and following through the story gives the player more of an emotional attachment and reason to care about continuing through the story. No longer are you leashed to a linear score attack, tape collection or anything. You can skate around large, mostly open world stages, finding different tasks to perform. Sometimes it might be grabbing several stock items, or performing tricks at certain areas. Overall, THUG opens up a form of diversity that the franchise desperately needed.
Among some of the newer mechanics to THUG includes driving a car, which is incredibly clunky but thankfully not overused, as well as traveling off of your skateboard. Again, while somewhat clunky, this mechanic helps to extend your current combo and score, as it acts as a sanctioned rest period of sorts, allowing a few seconds to run to a farther trick spot, or if there’s no combo going, just another method of getting around. The rest of the controls are as tight and responsive as ever before.
Thug’s world is one that’s rich with both life and activities. You’ll never encounter gaps of areas that you can’t bust some tricks out on. You’ll literally trek across the globe throughout the Career Mode, going from New Jersey, to Moscow, right on to Hawaii. While each stage has its stereotypical vibe to it, they are all crafted quite well, with a seemingly endless amount of places to grind in each area. The player models themselves look clean and well detailed, although the feature that lets you embed your face onto your character via online connectivity didn’t always produce a savory end result. The audio is all classic TH fare, though the music isn’t as powerful and immersing as previous TH titles. While it’s still an excellent list of tunes, it’s certainly not the strongest line up.
There’s more than enough content and excitement in Tony Hawk’s Underground to last you for months. If the online connectivity were still a viable means of life extension, this package would hold an even larger amount of replay value. But with the Career Mode and its freedom and flexibility, as well as solid controls, impressive looking stages and killer tracks to skate to, Tony Hawk’s Underground is the peak of the series, and is more than deserving to be named to my Top 25 of the previous decade. THUG can be found in most gaming outlets for under $8 used, in most cases. It’s more than worth full price, even today.