Title: Tony Hawk's Underground
Developer: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision
Date Published: October 27, 2003
Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, Gamecube, Gameboy Advance

Tony Hawk's Underground, or THUG is quite a departure from the rest of the series, while still maintaining the essence of the original. No longer can you skate career mode with a multitude of famous and not-so-famous professionals, but you can skate as you, with a complete plot, several new tricks, a new stat system, and an ever-challenging difficulty.

About that difficulty: you can set it yourself. There's four modes: Too Easy, Beginner, Normal, and Sick. The physics in each mode get more scrutinizing as they progress. For example, the only way to crash in Too Easy is to fall backwards in a manual. The only way to not crash in Sick is to land each trick absolutely perfectly, and to maintain perfect balance during grinds and manuals. The goals also vary. Another example: At the start of the game, in Too Easy you need to make 15,000 points in front of Chad Muska, as he drives along. In Sick, that number is raised to 150,000. I shudder to think what the rest of the game would be like.

The first notable change is that you can create your own character. This even includes applying your face to it, by means of a digital camera. Everything imaginable can be changed and set up to look like anything you want. Yes, you can be shirtless and barefoot with an orange mohawk. Yes, you can skate as Rei Ayanami. Very fun, even just creating the characters.

Once you're out there skating, pushing L2 + R2 will pick up the board, so you can walk around. That's right, no more clumsy maneuvering on the board. While on foot, you can jump, climb ladders, and grab ledges to get to various points in the level. Some goals require you to do small amounts of roof hopping, for example. Also, jumping off the board counts as a trick, so long as you get back on it without too much time passing. Perfect to continue those almost dead combos.

There's also a new feature called Create-a-Trick. This feature allows your character to essentially perform moves that were cut-and-pasted from preset moves in the game. For example, I made a trick where my character was spinning in two directions while doing a double kickflip. These tricks are automatically scored by their length and difficulty of execution.

One more thing that got added: cars. Yeah, you can drive. I didn't think that the driving model was too good, or that it was even necessary, driving around a level the size of THPS 4, but I suppose Neversoft thought it was. To me, the driving is the weakest point of the game, as it has nothing to do with skating.

The stat system has also been revised. Rather than purchasing points, finding them, or using them in your deck, stat points are obtained by doing challenges related to the stat that needs growing. Note that these challenges are not separate goals. You can raise them anytime, even while in a goal. A sample stat list for "rail" might be: grind for 5 seconds, grind for 10 seconds, grind for 15 seconds, 50-50 once in a combo, 50-50 twice in a combo, lipslide once in a combo. The difficulty the game is played on also affects the stat challenges. For example, in Sick Mode to raise "spin" to 5, you have to do a 1080 with a grab trick. Quite challenging.

If ever the in-game goals aren't very challenging, you're free to make your own, even on the story levels. This is called (you guessed it) Create-A-Goal. Anything goes here. SKATE letters, COMBO letters, high score, high combo, skate tricks, staketris, and just plain driving. Make what you want.

THUG has a brand new slew of levels, each about the size of those in previous THPS's. Nothing new here, just people walking around, some give goals, others get hit when you skate into them. Sometimes both. You can go back to the previous levels to do the goals you missed, as you don't have to do all of them to complete the story.

And now for a few spoilers. You can unlock Gene Simmons. You can also unlock the Hangar, School II, and Venice Beach from THPS 2, although they have no goals in them. And there's a bunch of movies to open up, too.

I C! this game. It's good times.

Sources: GAMEFAQs, many wasted hours.

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