RETRO REBOOT - Tony Hawk's Underground (PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube)

The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise was netting Activision a TON of money throughout the early 2000's these games took over the planet and capitalized greatly from the height of X-sports. With no real competitor in the medium, and the "if it's not broke, don't fix" control scheme, the almost annual releases were enjoyable, but began to run a tough monotonous by the third entry. In comes Tony Hawk's Underground, which borrowed from the growing trend of more substantial open world games to flesh out its core mechanics.

THUG was released a year after Tony Hawk's Underground in 2003 for the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox. Neversoft coined the play style, the map puzzles and, mini-games the series is known for, but something needed to be added in order to make the satisfying arcade play feel more substantive for a solo experience.

Underground introduces pretty robust customization features for your create-a-skater to take into a single player story mode. Work your way up from the streets and parks with your friend "Eric Sparrow" (seriously, that sounds like an undercover cop name, trying to bust college students selling fake IDs). It's probably the closest the world of gaming can get to a proper Skate or Die game with a narrative. Maybe Skate has a plot, I'm late to that series. The plot definitely captures the feel of the time period, with the jokes and personalities. Ah, early 2000's, that last bastion of rebellious individuality from MTV, when everything felt like Jackass or The Osbournes.

There isn't a ton to discuss with the gameplay, a good chunk of it is the same style of previous entries, combining analog stick motions and button presses to maximize point chains. New to Underground is the ability to dismount the board and run around on the map, which is a refreshing break from attempting to roll past dudes who want you to finish an objective. It becomes second nature, as you can also launch into tricks from this with an ollie or neutral/manual controls.

The graphics are a little more polished, but not that much of a far leap in visual prowess. The Xbox and GameCube versions look far superior to the grainy PlayStation 2 port, and since those consoles allow for native progressive scanning, they look even better on early high-def TVs at the time. I have experienced some clipping and glitches while playing, but the engine never felt overly stressed or caused too much lag. It's now reached a threshold in technology where this era of game visuals are starting to look funny. Sure, there's hundreds more polygons per model, but still some blockiness to come off comically awkward. I know there's that crowd that doesn't like "looks like a PS2 game" as a means of criticism, but it's valid, and it doesn't age artistically as well as pixels.  

Makes me vaguely curious about how people's online experiences were at the time. THUG also had the ability to map your face to your skater using your cellphone camera (tested and worked best with Nokia brands)! Send an email to with a bitmap, jpeg, what have you, and log into your PS2. Okay, that shit had to have been kinda wild, it's also sobering to think that camera phone technology is 20 years old now.

As always with the Tony Hawk games, the soundtracks are awesome, and Underground is no different. This may be a longer game, theme-wise, but the tunes of the Dropkick Murphys, Kool Keith, and Bad Religion will be jammed in your head. I'll be fair, the track from Underground overall isn't as strong as Pro Skater 2 or 3, but there's a lot of variation. The pro skaters return once again to voice their in-game character models, and prove again why they aren't professional voice actors. They all sound comically wooden. I don't think it's a knock, it's a part of the charm of the series at this point.

The Underground series were great games in the Tony Hawk series and breathed a little bit of new life into a franchise that was beginning to wear its welcome. There's enough here to keep one playing for quite a while, and the story mode is enjoyable for what it is. With tons of creator features, this is still an awesome game to revisit. Tony Hawk enjoyed some final hurrahs before Electronic Arts' Skate series would put a stop to that.

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