Tony Hawk’s Underground
The Tony Hawk’s series is one of the most successful and influential franchises in videogames history. Before Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on Playstation, had you even heard of the man himself? Didn’t think so. I know people who have played the games, then have taken up skateboarding and even become quite proficient in it. The series grew and grew, spanning around 30 games on 11 platforms, but never tripping up and losing its unique touch. It’s become a benchmark in the genre, and countless other extreme sports game have taken ideas from it. The series really is force to be reckoned with in the world of extreme sports gaming.
So, what are we doing here? Where did Pro Skater go? Tony Hawk games have always been in the same mould, they’ve never differed from a set structure. I think THPS4 was the furthest they could take that format, as there wasn’t much left to improve upon. Time for some changes then.
Tony Hawk’s Underground (THUG) breaks all the conventions of the previous games. Instead of playing as a pro, you play as yourself. You can even download your face texture into the game. Of course, there’s always the immensely flexible create-a-skater mode if you don’t have the hardware to get your face in-game. It’s not quite clear how Neversoft hopes to achieve this, but hopefully it’ll be blindingly easy.
THUG is the first Tony Hawk game to have a storyline as well. You play as yourself through a plot with plenty of cutscenes created using the game engine. Presumably you’ll have to rise up the ranks, gradually becoming known, until you get to compete against the pros. From rags to riches, it’ll allow you to become a legend.
The levels are now huge, and I mean it. The only ones we’ve seen so far have been in towns and cities, but I’m sure there’ll be the usual crazy bonus levels. An interesting new feature is the addition of a night and day cycle, like we’ve seen in GTA. You can also interact with objects much more, including the ability to drive cars. Yes, you read that right. You’ll be able to drive around in a Tony Hawks game.
One of the most striking additions is being able to get off your board and walk around. You’ll be able to scale buildings and climb up to places that would be impossible to get to on a board. Tricks can now be mixed with running, producing some interesting combinations. Being able to get off the board also allows total freedom of movement, instead of having to carefully position yourself like in previous games.
Apart from the usual create-a-park mode, there’s also a create-a-trick mode. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for – Dave Mirra games always allowed us to modify moves, but THUG lets us make up whole new ones. The editor lets you create your ‘Backside Melon McTwist 180’, name it and then pull it off in game. I can see a whole series of fansites being built around this feature alone.
There’s no mention of online play yet, but I personally think Neversoft would be insane to leave it out of THUG. We all know just how good Xbox Live play would be with this, and it wouldn’t be bad on PS2 either. Other console specific changes will probably include custom soundtrack support for the Xbox version, like all the previous Tony Hawk games on Billy G’s machine.
There are also a couple of things that I didn’t like about previous titles, which I hope they will rectify in THUG. THPS games always used to feel too magnetic, like your character was in some way attached to his surroundings. It also seemed far too fast to be realistic. I’d prefer a more natural feeling, slower game. But then again, this is Tony Hawk’s after all, and arcade action is the name of the game.
If Neversoft can pull it all together and make Tony Hawk’s Underground as good as they say it’s going to be, then we’re going to be in for a hell of a gaming experience come November.