With Birdman himself having his digital comeback with the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1=2, Rory Donohoe looks back at his personal favourite from Neversoft: Tony Hawk’s Underground.
Game Title: Tony Hawk’s Underground
Publishers: Activision Blizzard
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Gamecube, PC
What was once one of the most popular and acclaimed series of its genre, Tony Hawk’s skateboarding video games have fallen from grace in the two most recent console generations. Yet for the longest time, no other skateboarding game came close, becoming one of the best-selling videogame series of the early 2000s. Released all the way back in 2003, ‘Underground’ was the 5th entry in the series and the one that saw the biggest changes. Dropping the Pro Skater name, Underground focused less on professional skaters and more on the amateurs trying to reach that next level. Everything revolves around your personal character (with creation tools that still hold up today), and the story surrounding them is surprisingly strong. Having that desire to become a pro brings you all over the globe, giving the player more of a reason to complete levels rather than just beating high scores. The main highlight here is your friend/antagonist Eric Sparrow: a foul-mouthed (and possibly insane) New Jerseyan who serves as a catalyst for many of the events that occur. You just love to hate the guy.
As far as presentation goes, the game is fantastic. The graphics don’t hold up in the slightest, but the varied and excellent level design is timeless; from skitching cars in Manhattan to grinding the roof of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Only adding to the fun, the soundtrack is an incredibly memorable blend of what you’re used to from previous ‘Tony Hawk’s’ such as rock and ska, except with a fresh injection of hip hop to reflect the new age of skaters. Having Bad Religion and MF Doom on the same tracklist is wild.
Gameplay, unfortunately, has its ups and downs. So many new features were added both content and mechanic-wise, but it’s partially to blame for a lack of polish that you would have seen in the earlier games (especially 3 and 4). Having the ability to jump off your board is great, and it adds much to the levels in terms of verticality and combo potential, but it has its issues. Wonky controls with acceleration and bad camera angles lead to a clunky experience, which left me wanting to stay on my wheels. Furthermore, while I loved the story, the final few chapters were essentially filler, with a huge difficulty spike to boot. The final showdown between your character and Eric is incredibly frustrating and left me feeling slightly sour after loving everything else.
I was able to beat the story section in a day, but there are so many reasons to keep playing, including secrets to unlock, an impressive park creation suite and multiplayer modes to play with your friends. Besides a few issues with off-board gameplay and difficulty, I highly recommend Tony Hawk’s Underground to skating game veterans and newcomers alike. It is a fantastic time capsule for gaming back in the early 2000s.