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Tony Hawk's Underground 2 PlayStation 2

Published by Activision
Developed by Neversoft
Release Date: Out Now
Price : £39.99

There's not many game series that make it to the sixth version. After four excellent Pro Skater games and last years quality Underground game, the Tony Hawk's series of skateboard games not only established the extreme sports genre but has continually been the benchmark series in the genre. Reaching the sixth in the series does pose a few problems in regards to how you keep making things different. For games whose earlier titles show promise but could be much improved this isn't a problem but the Tony Hawk's series got a lot of things right from the very beginning. Let's take a look at what Tony Hawk's Underground 2 can add to the Tony Hawk's franchise.

The game offers a Story Mode, Classic Mode, Online play and a 2 player game. Classic mode is essentially the style of play in early Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games where goals have to be completed on each level. You'll recognise some reworked levels from earlier games if you are a veteran of the series. The main attraction for most though will be the Story Mode. Online play can only be found on the PlayStation 2 and PC versions of the game and all things considered it's pretty respectable offering games such as capture the flag and king of the hill to name but two. A split screen 2-player mode is also available and it's still as addictive as it was in previous Tony Hawk's titles. I should also mention that there is a free skate mode where you can practice for as long as you like.

The Story Mode begins with your skateboarder being thrown into a van with other skateboarders and it looks like something gruesome is going to happen as a chainsaw is wielded in front of you and other captured skaters. In actual fact your captors are Tony Hawk and Bam Margera. They reveal their plans to you about their World Destruction Tour. Essentially they'll pick their own teams from the skaters they've captured and then travel around the world skating in all kinds of venues. The idea being that the team that loses will have to pay for all the expenses. As the teams are picked it comes down to the last two, you and a boy in a wheelchair. Bam chooses the boy in the wheelchair because he likes his attitude so you're with Tony's team. The story mode has three difficulty levels, Easy, Normal and Sick. You'll also get to control other skaters in Story Mode which can make things interesting.

If you're used to the Tony Hawk's games the chances are that you will fly through the Story Mode and the Classic Mode for that matter. The controls remain the same although a few extra abilities have been added. You can now use surfaces such as a wall to gain extra air in a move known as a sticker slap. Focus Control enables you to go into a kind of slow motion but it doesn't really serve any worthwhile purpose or make any drastic changes to the game. A new freak out action has been included. When you fall from the board you'll get the chance to make your skater freak out by bashing the triangle button. If you're successful, aside from needing a new skateboard (as your character will smash his/her board if you manage to reach a notch on the freak out gauge), you'll also get extra points with your next trick (dependent on the amount of notches you reach on the freak out gauge). Whilst the new moves are certainly different they don't really improve on what was already an excellent control and trick system but I suppose some kind of variation is always welcome.

Once again the customisation options are extensive. The Create-a-skater mode has been enhanced this year and if you have an EyeToy camera you can actually put your face onto the skater which is a nice touch. If you don't have an EyeToy camera but you're connected to the PlayStation 2 online service, you can send a digital photo of yourself via email to Neversoft and they'll send you the necessary files to put your face into the game. As always you can create your own levels with Create-a-park which will keep many busy for hours as they try to create the best level they can. Fancy creating your own graffiti? Well now you can with Create-a-graphic. To round the customisation options off you can also Create-a-goal as well as Create-a-trick.

Like most series on the PlayStation 2, this years version has probably pushed the PlayStation 2 as far as it can go in regards to graphical quality. Assuming there is a Tony Hawk's game next year this will probably be the penultimate game in the series on PlayStation 2 as the anticipated 2006 release of the PlayStation 3 comes ever closer. Neversoft have done the PlayStation 2 proud though and it not only looks good but the frame rate remains fairly smooth throughout. The character models look sharper, and perhaps more exaggerated, than they ever did in the Pro Skater series. The aliasing on the character models is quite severe though, which is a little disappointing. There are also a few clipping issues such as other skaters going straight through you during a trick but this isn't really a problem. The games cutscenes appear to use the in-game graphics and they look pretty good and best of all is that they are not overly long and don't keep you away from the action for too long which is always a plus.

The Tony Hawk's games that we've looked at have always been no problem for deaf gamers and Underground 2 is no exception to this. The Story mode has cutscenes but thankfully there is the option to enable subtitles for these so there is no problems. The subtitles are clear and easy to read and the duration that they are onscreen is also adequate for most people to read them comfortably. Your goals can be accessed at any time as can the text messages that you receive from the pause menu. As ever trick scores and tips and tutorial messages that are given whilst you're skating are all shown in text, which again is most welcome. On some levels you hear comments from passers by and these are not shown in text but it's of little consequence as they don't provide any information.

The Tony Hawk's series of games is still great fun and they are still the benchmark titles in their respective genre. However, most who have played other games in the series will find that the games are losing their wow factor and that the games aren't vastly different from what has gone before. The main reason for this is that even with the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game the formula was pretty much spot on and with little broken there has been little to fix. Graphically, as we've already mentioned, the series isn't going to improve until we're using the next generation consoles but even then it's difficult to see how the basic mechanics of the game could be improved. As long as you're not expecting vast changes you'll be thrilled with what Tony Hawk's Underground 2 has to offer but if you had grown tired of the previous games there's going to be little here to revitalise your interest.

Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10
It's the sixth in the Tony Hawk series and it's still a great experience but it is becoming more predictable and the wow factor isn't there any more.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all for deaf gamers.