Sunday, April 30, 2006

Review: Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (Xbox)

Platform: Xbox
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: October 2004
Genre: Extreme Sports

This is a rushed, mediocre effort that could have been much better if it had spent more time in development.

The Tony Hawk series has recently been declining in quality as of late, and Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 was the game to lead the downward spiral. This is a rushed, mediocre effort that could have been much better if it had spent more time in development.

After a disappointing fourth entry in the series, Tony Hawk’s Underground really seemed like it turned the series around for the better in 2003. It had a great story mode that warranted a few play-through sessions, a terrific soundtrack, and brand new game play elements that brought the series up a notch. However, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 takes the series back a few steps with boring yawn worthy level-design, a mediocre story mode and a total lack of any online play whatsoever.

Instead of continuing the last game’s interesting story, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 attempts to cash in on shows like Viva La Bam and Jackass. While many of you might think this would make for an extremely funny, out of control storyline that mimics those shows, it actually makes for a goofy and mostly annoying story that is only occasionally funny and joyful to play (unlike how the first Tony Hawk’s Underground’s story line was entertaining the whole way through).

The level design is also sorely lacking. Neversoft (the game’s developer) really dropped the ball on this aspect of the game. Many would argue that the level designs in the Tony Hawk games are one of the most important parts of the game. Even locations such as New Orleans, which you might think would be fun to play and full of character, are generic, boring metropolitans that you’ll definitely not want to replay after you’ve completed all the level’s missions (or enough to pass).

Tony Hawk’s Underground 2’s second portion, the Classic Mode, is a mode where you complete goals in a timed matter just like the original three games in the Tony Hawk series. While old-school Hawk fans may be stoked to hear that this mode has returned, they’ll be turned off after an hour or so because it’s extremely boring and tedious to play through. While the original three games had well-planned goals and extremely great level design to the make the timer based-modes fun, none of that applies here, as the level design is awful and the goals feel half-assed at best. This mode does not warrant a play through of any kind.

On top of all that, this game fails to truly take advantage of the Xbox’s power and strengths. Although it contains the typical custom soundtrack feature, the graphics wouldn’t look out of place on an average Playstation 2 game and there is a total lack of any Xbox Live online play.

A big reason why the Tony Hawk’s games are rapidly dropping in quality is that this ill iteration was released exactly one year after the original Tony Hawk’s Underground. With such short development time, it’s no wonder why the games are being released with such a dramatic shift in quality. Instead of releasing well-planned, extremely thought through games, Activision is simply churning out sequel after sequel and ruining this once-great series. Unfortunately, the gaming mainstream is eating these sequels up and they’re selling great, so it’s unlikely the company will have to worry about releasing a top-notch game in the series again.

At least Neversoft got the soundtrack right. A great soundtrack has always been a series trademark, and with artists like Faith No More, Less Than Jake, Dead End Road (whatever happened to that band? The only song I can find off them is “Sin City” which is included on this soundtrack. It’s a great song though), The Doors, Ministry, Sugar Hill Gang, Metallica, Ween, Rancid, and Johnny Cash (among dozens other various artists) the great soundtrack will get you through even the most boring parts of the game without a problem. Of course, even if you aren’t a fan of the artists featured on the soundtrack, you can always use your own music as this game supports the “custom soundtrack” feature.

Unfortunately, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 does very little else right. While it may have a few redeeming qualities such as the series’ trademark game play, a terrific soundtrack and a few great story mode moments (such as a hilarious grand finale), it also includes an average story mode, an awful classic mode with mundane tasks, horrific level design, and low replay value (you can’t even play the game online). Even die-hard series veterans may have a tough time playing through this one.

Rating: 5.8 (out of 10)


At 3:11 PM, Blogger Wedge14 said...

I picked this up for ps2 for like 14 bucks. It was definatly worth the value for me, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. But I should mention I was out of the phony hawk loop since tony hawk 2.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Ender said...

Yea, for me the series peaked around Tony Hawk 3. Everything since then has been "meh"....

And what the hell is with Bam Margera being everywhere? Jeebus, is this guy taking over the world. I hate him.....

Anyway, good review Ross. I agree 100%.

At 6:24 AM, Blogger gnome said...

So, no need to buy an Xbox yet. Good grog.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Ross said...

Well Gnome, there are plenty of great reasons to own an Xbox...

Here are some great games I can think of off the top of my head

Mechassualt 2
Halo 2
Kung Fu Chaos
Ninja Gaiden
Oddworld Munch's Oddysee and Stranger's Wrath
Panzer Dragoon Orta
Shenmue II
Knights of the Old Republic, etc.

At 5:04 PM, Blogger Ross said...

And to Wedge and Ender...

Maybe thats the reason why you liked it. You should check out Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Wedge. It had the best level design by far...

And Ender, I have to agree about Bam. He's extremely annoying, and I can't even turn on the TV without seeing him (he's even in deorterant commercials - geez!).

Thanks for the feedback everyone!

At 5:27 PM, Blogger gnome said...

Hmmm... how much would a used XBOX cost these days?

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Ross said...

Well, even though used Xboxs may come cheaper than new ones I woulden't really reccomend buying one used. The parts inside are probably worn out and you may end up getting a crappy Thompson drive (the worst of the worst, and the one I'm unfortunately stuck with since I bought one in 2002). In the end buying it used may be more trouble than its worth as the parts inside are getting more and more complex and needed to be treated better...

Also, they dont make Thompson drives any more so if you buy it new you're guaranteed not to get the faulty hard drive.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger Ender said...

Some titles to add to that list of great Xbox games:

Jade Empire
The first Halo (HELLO?!?!)
Dead or Alive 3
Soul Caliber 2 & 3

Definitely agree on Fable. Not all it was touted to be, but still one helluva play.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger gnome said...

Well... Thanks a lot!!

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Wedge14 said...

Aren't alot of the tracks you unlock playing arcade mode from Tony Hawk 3 anyways?

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Ross said...

But then you're missing great levels like the cruise ship...

But I'd say that Tony Hawk's Underground was probably the most entertaining to play through overall (the story mode was simply great, and far superior to THUG 2's).

At 6:09 PM, Blogger Tomleecee said...

Great review there. It's true that the first Hawk games were top class affairs - I'm still hooked on Tony Hawk's 2. It's hard to see where the series can go from here though.

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