There was a time where Tony Hawk games were the coolest thing around, I remember the first Tony Hawk game I ever got to play was Pro Skater 3. Back when Blink 182 were at their height skating was so cool kids had finger skateboards. For me, Underground was the last great Tony Hawk game.
Many will argue that the series died when the “Pro Skater” title was abandoned, but personally I really liked THUG as it was known. This was the first game with a proper storyline, and though many missions are repetitive, and at times the difficulty level can be sporadic, for me the plotline overcame any other shortcomings. Having said that, I’m the type of person who plays Pro Evo for the Become a Legend mode. I guess I’m a sucker for RPG.
But with your customised character, and the characters and pro skaters you meet along the way you really feel like you’re becoming a true street god. Admittedly there is a sharp jump from being an amateur skater out in New Jersey to hanging out with Tony Hawk and Bam Margera. They could’ve held that off slightly longer given that you’re aiming for that throughout the game.
As with THPS4, the game is without time limits. You have the ability to walk around the (small) cities you’re in, so it’s easier to get immersed in the game, giving you time to hone your liptrick-manual combos. The gameplay is generally enjoyable – it’s a typical skating game, oversimplifying the complexities of an ollie to a simple tap of a button. It’s not the greatest Tony Hawk gameplay on PS2 – I’d say American wasteland was better, but that particular incarnation of the series suffers from a lame plotline and the removal of customising your character’s face and body. The soundtrack to THUG is of course fantastic, as with all Tony Hawk games, I’d say that Burnout is the only long running game series which consistently turns out better soundtracks than Tony Hawk games.
As you raise your profile in THUG you get all the advantages of being a pro-skater: better customised decks, more clothes, and even your own pro-board. Though the more you play, the more you have to put up with the grating voice-acting and the constant “keeping it real, staying true to the streets” nonsense that they spout. In addition, some of the pro skaters clearly objected to recording lines as their delivery is heavy with loathing resentment for the player.
Many have complained that the game’s plotline is lame and ineffectual. I think my memory of the game clouded out most of the bad parts, and upon replaying it more recently, the plotline does leave a lot to be desired. It focuses around the rivalry between you and a fellow skater. Unfortunately he serves to be annoying and rather two dimensional, leaving you with resentment for the plot direction as a whole, specifically the random tangents the story takes. One example is being asked to recover instruments for a band in San Diego. Truly, I think the premise for the plot is good, and the fact that it’s the first in the series to offer a plotline of note makes me appreciate the game more than the sum of its parts.
After this game, THUG2 put the focus on antics and pranks, and less on skating. Though they brought it back in American Wasteland I’d say that Underground proved to be the most memorable for the RPG aspect of it, but ultimately brought about the death of the good Tony Hawk game.