Review / Test:
I'll be straight forward: the best extreme sports title I've ever played is Acclaim and Z-Axis's Aggressive Inline on GameCube, it was creative and extremely fun. Underground, on the other hand, is the first Tony Hawk game I play through, it has some interesing qualities and some decent features; the main one is that this time you're not going to play as a star, but as a nobody who wants to become a pro skater. As such, the game is constructed a bit like a movie, it's delivered through numerous cinematics and several twists in the storyline. In addition, you get all the usual Tony Hawk goodness: many large levels and tons of tricks to get the best out of them, a huge soundtrack which could fit on 3 or 4 CDs and incomparable editor systems which allow you to edit practically everything in this game (levels, skaters, boards, tricks, and even your own goals, soon you will have to make your own Tony Hawk game).
Of course, even if you're just the well-named street punk, you will cross the path of famous skaters, mostly when performing taskes. At some point, the decisions you take will determine which skaters you're going to see. But the first thing you are asked to do is to create your character in the game, quite much like in the wrestling game, with all sort of weird accessories and clothes so you have more chances to end up with a total bozo than with a virtual lookalike. The create-a-skater is not very good indeed if you are looking for accuracy rather than fun, the face editor especially is pretty bad and it's difficult to know exactly what you're doing. Next you are introduced to your jolly neighbourhood (pollution, gangs, drug addicts... charming) and to your best "friend" Eric, the best category he would surely fit in is the best evil guy in a video game actually. It takes little time before we realize this guy is one hell of a bastard, unfortunately, it takes the whole game for our character to do the same. This is already one reason for not liking the story mode and for getting annoyed at the game.
Forget Eric, forget the little version of Hell which stands as your home town, and focus on skating because after all, that's all what matters. Tony Hawk's Underground gameplay quickly arouses a few questions, you can't help noticing how they took some ideas from Aggressive Inline or Z-Axis in general, and how they didn't turn out so well. Did they make the right choice ? Is it really an intuitive gameplay ? Aren't there too many tricks and motions for the sake of simplicity ? And above all, was it really a smart idea to add so much freedom off the skateboard ? In this Tony Hawk, you are free at any time to get off your board by pressing Z. This is very handy to perform some time-limited combos, however the controlling is far from excellent, the character control responds badly and heavily, with this kind of ridiculous jump seen in games like Spider-Man and Rebel Strike. Gosh, it feels like game makers haven't still mastered the art of making a character jumps in a 3D environment. We're going to suffer on the next consoles.
Beside walking, at times, you will also have the opportunity to use vehicles such as cars and even flying machines. What it adds to the gameplay and fun is close to zero. The control is very bad, the dynamic disastrous, if you take a turn too sharply, your vehicle starts to go upside down in slow motion like if you were in space, though you're still able to drive with the roof of your car on the road. All this, in the end, is useless. What is more frustrating though, is that the pure skating gameplay is not great either. Being a Tony Hawk novice, I'm unable to say if it's just because I'm used to Z-Axis gameplay and if it's always been like this, but the fact is, I really disliked Tony Hawk's Underground gameplay, I thought it was very difficult to control and even though you improve by gaining experience (arigato Aggressive Inline), it still remains unpleasant. At no point during the game did I feel the joy of performing tricks like one might enjoy moving his character in a well made game. Combos are difficult to link if you do something else than walking, everything which requires balance is more unstable than it should and difficult to handle, the tricks are too many and you don't always end up doing what you meant to do.
Difficulty varies a lot throughout the game, some challenges are plain easy while some others seem impossible no matter how many times you try, this constitutes a weird mix which doesn't help to like the game. Fortunately, the levels are pretty good, they are not so big, but there are many and rather diversified and you generally don't spend too much time in them. Is it really good or bad actually ? Levels are not all equal in term of quality, and the less time you spend in them, the less time you will have to get bored and realize the level is not so cool. One annoyance is how strict the limits are and how bad they are indicated, so you are always reset to your last position. Is there a single thing in Tony Hawk's Underground that one can't criticize ? Yes, there is... but it's not the graphics ! Creating your skater is a good start (a bad one for Activision) to realize the graphic engine is relatively poor. Faces are fuzzy and unclear most of the time and the game lacks details and polish practically everywhere. Graphically, it is one step backward.
Seriously, there is one absolutely lovable thing about this game, it's the soundtrack. There are probably less famous bands than in many other games with licensed music, but, instead you get the quantity and, the quality too ! The game counts 75 tracks, which is a damn lot and the player is very easy to configure unlike True Crime for instance. You can easily get rid of all the rap by selecting among the three musical genres. And even though many bands are not famous or are some oldies (The Clash, Kiss and others from the 70's and 80's), you get some real good sound there, some energetic punk rock, some darker rock, Scandinavian heavy metal, there's a lot of choice and every rock lover should find something he likes among Crash and Burn, Dropkick Murphys, the Hellacopters, In Flames, Queens of the Stone Age, Smoke Blow, Unida, just to mention my favorites.
Tony Hawk is getting old and so are his games. Underground is still fun to play, but not so much of a revolution in the series, it's just a different twist with several noticeable failed attempts to revitalize a tired genre. The new gameplay elements are too lame to be exciting, the storyline is weak and somewhat childish (I wanna be a star but my best friend is a bastar'), finally the most attractive is what hasn't changed, the skating part, even though the gameplay is far from perfect, it's still enjoyable because extreme sports are a fun genre, for the time you play them at least. No matter how many create-a-something the makers added, once you are done, it's difficult to play it again, the difficulty and some frustrating scenes will have worn out your motivation in the end and even bonuses such as Iron Man and new levels won't be so much of an inspiration to get back into the game to try harder modes or finish the challenges you haven't completed. Pleasant while it lasts, sure, but fails to achieve more than that.
Samurai Nintendo thinks this game is not suitable for children