Tony Hawk’s Underground is my third favorite game of all time.
Tony Hawk’s Underground (THUG) was released in 2003 for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, and Game Boy Advance. A PC version was also made, but it was pretty obscure; the port was released in 2005 and, for some reason, only in Australia. THUG was the first game in the series not to bear the ‘Pro Skater’ title.
Much like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, THUG was a game I hadn’t really put the time into. I mentioned how I started the series with THPS3, and Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 was the game I played the hell out of in high school, and just moved to each subsequent installment from there. It was probably around 2011 when I got to this one.
THUG took the open ended goal structure of THPS4 and built one huge addition onto it: a story mode. At the core, it was nothing more than your basic “rise to the top” story, but in a Tony Hawk game it seemed almost surreal. You actually had motivation to do what you were doing, and, to a sense, it was more grounded in reality than the Pro Skater games. By no means was it striving for realism, but you weren’t skitching elephants while they defecated on you anymore.
The other most important thing THUG introduced in that context was a character that is considered by many to be one of the best villains in any game ever (and in a skateboarding game at that), and someone who mentioning his very name gets people angry.
Of course, I’m talking about Eric “A-Face” Sparrow.
Eric was that guy you kept helping out and then he’d always return the favor by stabbing you in the back. You head to Tampa for a skate competition, and he gets arrested. You bust him out of jail, and he “forgot” to sign you up. He “loses” your skate footage and takes credit for your epic building jump in Hawaii. He gets drunk in Russia, hijacks a tank, and blames you for it.
At least the alternate ending made putting up with all the suffering he caused worth it. You ‘did’ get the alternate ending for beating the story mode twice, right?
The story mode took you all over the world. Starting from the streets of New Jersey, you ventured as far as Manhattan, Hawaii, Vancouver, and Moscow. Each level felt right too, in its own weird way. Hawaii had palm trees everywhere, Moscow had tons of snow and tanks, and Vancouver had a hockey rink. Again, this was more grounded in reality than the THPS games; no more skating around in smelting factories, aircraft hangars, zoos, or prisons.
Several ‘hidden’ stages from THPS2 would also reappear in THUG: Hangar, School II, and Venice. The levels that most people who played THPS2 would call the best ones. The Neversoft guys knew how to please their fans.
And please their fans they did. In terms of gameplay mechanics, not much was changed, but rather built upon. ‘Hip transfers’ were an addition to the spine transfer introduced in THPS4, and allowed you to exit quarter pipes at an angle as opposed to just a straight line, the ‘wallpush’ stopped your manuals from ending if you bumped into something, and the ‘acid drop’ let you drop into ramps and pipes from a high angle, propelling you higher than otherwise possible.
But perhaps most importantly, they introduced the ability to get off the board. This was huge for gameplay, as it let you reach otherwise inaccessible areas, or allowed you to temporarily pause your combo and move to different location to keep it going. It was glorious.
There was also something about drivable vehicles, but the less said about that, the better.
I can’t talk about the soundtrack, simply because I can’t do it justice. The whopping 78 song soundtrack, which is still to this date the largest in the series, covers all bases. You a punk guy? They’ve got NOFX, Social Distortion, Sublime, and The Clash. Metalhead? Mastodon, In Flames, and High on Fire are for you. Maybe you’re into stoner rock like I am, so Clutch, Fu Manchu, Queens of the Stone Age, and Unida would be up your alley. You may have noticed I haven’t talked much about the hip hop songs in the series; they’re great, but I’m just not a hip hop guy. Nevertheless, you’ll be satisfied.
THUG is a game I can’t articulate in words how much I adore. I make an effort to finish it at least once every few months, and have this wonderful knack to bring it up within completely irrelevant questions. If you haven’t played it yet, you owe it to yourself to do so. Or if you did at one point, play it again, and remind yourself why this series was so great.
Following THUG came a sequel, simply titled Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (THUG 2). This was when many started to say the series began its decline, and although that may have been true to an extent, the fun factor wasn’t going anywhere. Be sure to check back next week.