"Okay then, folks, a quick show of hands. Who knows who Tony Hawk is? Good. Now how many of you had heard of Tony Hawk before the videogames? R-i-i-i-ght. "
Okay then, folks, a quick show of hands. Who knows who Tony Hawk is? Good. Now how many of you had heard of Tony Hawk before the videogames? R-i-i-i-ght.
Extreme sports titles are seemingly a fairly new genre, but that's not strictly true. 720º saw you skateboarding back when games were young, and Skitchin' on the Mega Drive cast you as a rollerblader out on the streets. So when people say that the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater invented the extreme sports genre, they are well and truly wrong, the fools. What they probably mean is that it reinvented it. It was an absolute classic that, despite many people's reservations, managed to deliver a skateboarding sim that boarders and normal people alike could, and did, enjoy. And so it was no surprise to see the sequel appear. What may have surprised some, though, was the fact that it was far from being the same game with different levels - it improved on the original in almost every way possible, and went on to become on of the greatest games ever to grace Sony's grey magic-box. Nice one, Tony!
It doesn't all start off looking so rosy, though. The first level (an airport hanger, in the amusingly named Mullet Falls) is really quite small (even with the two hidden areas), and is at first the only one open to you. You check out some of the career mode tasks that you need to complete, which at this stage are as mundane as knocking over barrels. You skate a few runs, and realise that, due to the low stats of your skater, you can't pull off any of the cool moves - in fact, trying to do most things will see you crashing to the ground like a fool. Persevere, though, and things get much better. When you earn enough cash to open up the second level, the school, you'll realise just how much variety there is in the stages. The school level is far bigger than the Hanger, and there is so much more to do. You may even work out how to open up the gym, leading to a hidden part of the level that's half the size of the entire Hanger in itself! This is also the stage where you'll start to notice the atrocious fogging, but by now you'll be having too much fun to care. Make it to the next stage, your first competition, and you'll be hooked. Such is the majesty of this game - it may take a few hours to get it's claws into you, but once it has you, it has you for quite a while.
The brilliance of this game stems from it's sheer simplicity. That isn't to say that the game is shallow (far from it), but it's one of those concepts that seems so obvious when you play that you wonder why skateboarding games were so rare before the 32-bit era. Controlling your selected boarder, you pursue the mighty dollar by attempting a variety of tasks across increasing diverse stages, stopping off occasionally to try your hand in a skateboarding competition. And that's it. The money you win can be used to buy yourself some new tricks, or some statistic points to increase your skater's prowess in certain areas (speed, balance and such), but the money really plays second fiddle to the pure, unadulterated fun that is to be had as you perform wacky tricks on any available piece of scenery with increasing confidence - you can perform mid-air tricks that see you spinning in mid-air like a one-winged bird, you can grind along most edges - be they pavements, rooftops or even the board on the back of a basketball hoop, you can perform 'manuals' - essentially skating on two wheels, and the more you play the more points you can rack up by successfully performing a combination of the different moves available. And the learning curve for all this is pitched so perfectly that you end up being genuinely surprised at how easy the first few stages really were, since the subtlety of the increase in difficulty is such that you genuinely don't notice how hard the game is getting.
There is more to the levels than just finding ramps and surfaces to pull tricks on, though - there is a genuine sense of exploration involved, as many levels contain at least one hidden area. Some are easy to find (such as those in the first level), while some are much more obscure - oddly enough, the hidden section in the second level (the gym) is probably one of the best hidden in the entire game - far more difficult to uncover that the hidden sections in the subsequent two levels. These hidden areas aren't just in there as an afterthought, either - some (most notably the skate park in New York) are like whole new levels in themselves - and although very few of the career mode objectives relate to these areas, that doesn't mean you'll be any less determined to spend hours exploring every inch of them, uncovering all that you can before you reluctantly move on.
There's far more to this game than simply the career mode, though. You can elect to take a standard two-minute run in any of the stages you've unlocked for the sake of nothing but attempting to perfect your score, you can choose to play 'Free Ride' in a level without the constraints of a time limit - enabling you to get in as much practice as you want, or you can pick the multi-player. There are several multi-player options in this game, ranging from the completely cack (two player Free Ride.... why?) to the genius of the tag game - performing a trick on an area of the scenery paints it your colour, and your opponent must then perform a better trick on it to steal it. At the end of the run the winner is the one who has painted the most. The multi-player mode that draws the biggest smile, though, is the 'Horse' mode. You take it in turns to perform tricks. The player who performs the weaker trick gets a letter in a word of your choosing (Horse being the default). When the word is spelt out, the looser is bluntly told that he or she is a 'Horse'. While the skating is fun, you just know when you start out that the biggest laughs will come from changing the word so that your seemingly innocent Playstation tells you that you are all manner of things that simply can't be reproduced here. It's crude, it's juvenile, but it's bloody hilarious.
And there's so much more to this game, too. Get fed up with looking at Tony Hawk or one of the other real life skate 'stars' in the game? Create your own skater. Get tired of playing the standard levels? Build your own. While such editing features are usually a tacked on extra, thrown in by desperate developers who know that their game is just far too short, here it really does feel like the edit feature is an integral part of the game, and it is as well thought out as the rest of the package. This isn't just a gimmick intended to increase the longevity of the title, this is almost a game in itself!
And the icing on the very tasty gameplay cake is undoubtedly the sublime controls - every single trick feels intuitive and easy to pull off. While you get to choose which trick is assigned to which button or combination of buttons, you cannot edit the button combinations themselves - you have a set menu of button presses, and choose which trick you wish to be assigned there, meaning that the more outlandish (and rewarding points-wise) moves can be achieved by a simple tap of the button. Astoundingly accessible, really, considering the wealth of moves at your disposal.
Presentation wise, though, it seems that Neversoft (Tony's creators) were just a bit too ambitious. While the animation is superb, and the characters and levels all look very pretty, the levels are occasionally just too big for the Playstation to handle - all too often parts of the level will be enshrined in a thick fog until you are nearly upon them. Also, the graphics do tend to break up quite dramatically in some of the busier areas, although there is remarkably little slowdown present in the game. Still, while the graphics engine may well struggle to bring you epic levels, in the minute little details it excels. Find yourself sprawling across the asphalt after a trick goes balls-up and small flecks of blood will fly from your boarder. Walls in areas such as New York and California are adorned with kaleidoscopic graffiti. Everything right down to the pattern on your character's skateboard is presented in astounding detail. Although the big picture makes it plain that this is a 32-bit game, up close this game could rival several efforts made by bigger and technically better consoles (as demonstrated in the astoundingly small degree of visual difference between this and the more capable N64 and Dreamcast editions of the game).
While the graphics are a little restrictive at times, though, the sound department comes out unblemished. This game contains fifteen tracks by rock and rap bands the majority of which I have never even heard of. While I only really liked two of the songs, it's hard to deny that the songs all fit into the style and pace of the game, complementing the action perfectly. The genre of music may not be completely to my taste, but every single song is just right for this game.
This is a game that can, and should, be enjoyed by everyone, whether you like skateboarding or not. While it's appeal will fade with time, you're likely to spend several months with Tony and friends before this happens, making this game well worth the price you can expect to pay. It may have some fairly major graphical flaws, but these are hard to truly criticise, as they are born out of good intentions - the game that Neversoft wanted to bring you was simply too big for Sony's machine. This game is a true masterpiece, and a genuine benchmark by which all other 2-bit extreme sports titles are judged, and found lacking. Forget any doubts you may have, because Tony Hawk's 2 is a superb game that you simply must play!
Community review by tomclark (March 06, 2004)
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