Tony Hawk's Underground
|Tony Hawk's Underground|
|Developer(s)||Neversoft (PS2, GameCube, Xbox)
Vicarious Visions (GBA)
|Genre(s)||Adventure, role-playing, sports, platformer|
Tony Hawk's Underground is a skateboarding-adventure video game published by Activision between 2003 and 2004 as part of the Tony Hawk's series. Neversoft developed the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox versions, while the Game Boy Advance adaptation was developed by Vicarious Visions and the mobile phone version by Jamdat.
Underground is built upon the skateboarding formula of previous Tony Hawk's games: the player explores levels and completes goals while performing tricks. However, the game features a new focus on customization such that the player, instead of selecting a professional skater, creates a custom character. Underground adds the ability to dismount one's board and explore on foot. The plot follows the player character and their friend Eric Sparrow as the two become well-known professionals and grow apart as friends.
The game was developed with a theme of individuality, which was manifested in the extensive customization options, the presence of a narrative, and the product's characterization as an adventure game. Real-world professional skateboarders contributed their experiences to the plot. Underground was critically acclaimed: reviewers praised its wide appeal, soundtrack, customization, multiplayer, and plot. The game's graphics and the controls for driving vehicles and walking were less well received. Underground's PlayStation 2 version had sold 2.11 million copies in the United States by December 2007. A sequel, Tony Hawk's Underground 2, was released in 2004.
Like its predecessors in the Tony Hawk's series, Underground is centered on skateboarding in a series of levels. The player performs tricks via combinations of analog stick and button inputs. By holding the analog stick in one direction and one of two buttons while jumping, the player can perform either a flip trick (such as an impossible) or a grab trick, such as a benihana or nosegrab. The player can grind on certain edges and rails, and starting a grind while tilting the analog stick in one direction queues a different kind of grind trick. On quarter pipes, which can be ground on, the player may also perform a lip trick. While simply skating on a flat surface, the player can manual, and manual tricks are available through different button combinations. Miscellaneous tricks include acid drops and wall-rides. While a grind, lip, or manual trick is underway, a balance meter appears, and allowing it to fall to the left or right end causes the player to bail and need a few seconds to recover. Bailing can also be caused by falling without one's board facing downward.
After the character bails or is otherwise injured, they take a few seconds to recover. Completing tricks in succession without bailing is called a combo. Comboing raises the player's score and fills up the Special Meter; when it is full, the player is granted access to more elaborate tricks worth more points. Underground introduces the ability to dismount one's skateboard, which allows the player to explore levels more carefully and reach new areas. Each level features at least one vehicle, usually a car, that the player can drive.
The levels are based on regions of the United States, such as Hawaii and San Diego, and of other countries. In each level, a certain number of tasks that advance the game's narrative must be completed before the player can move on. These tasks include score attacks, races, item collection, and reaching one of many gaps[i] found in a level. Each level houses one professional skateboarder, who provides a sidequest that unlocks a trick for the Special Meter. On account of the levels' large sizes and the integration of goals into the story, Underground has been described as an adventure game. Characters can level up their stats—which include jump height and speed—by completing optional goals in a level; this adds an element of role-playing gameplay. Other gameplay modes include multiplayer minigames—one, a combat mode called "Firefight", can be played online in the PlayStation 2 version of the game—and a "free skate" mode that lets the player explore levels with no goals or story.
Underground features extensive customization. The player creates a custom character for the story mode, and may not play as a pre-made professional skater outside a special scene late in the game. A level editor allows the player to create skate parks with a large array of objects, ranging from traditional skate park elements like half-pipes, ramps, funboxes, and grind rails to more outlandish pieces like buildings and sections of elevated freeways. The player can change their park's environmental backdrop and time of day. Tricks, skateboards, and level goals may be customized as well.
While the console versions of the game are fully three-dimensional, the Game Boy Advance version is rendered in an isometric style that incorporates both 2D sprites and 3D models. This version is a more traditional Tony Hawk's game, with little attention given to story or customization. The mobile phone version is similarly restricted.
The playable protagonist and their best friend, Eric Sparrow, are two skateboarders who have been friends since childhood and live in suburban New Jersey. Pro skater Chad Muska is in town for a skate demo, which the player and Eric are impressed by. Later, Muska is impressed to see the player's skating and suggests seeking a sponsorship from a skate shop. The closest shop belongs to Stacy Peralta, who will not sponsor the player if their video is shot locally. Suddenly, Eric implores the player to leave with him, as he has incurred the wrath of drug dealers while retrieving a stolen skateboard, and the two set off for Manhattan. Once there, they complete the sponsorship video over Manhattan's exotic locales; Stacy is impressed and tells the player and Eric to attend the Tampa AM skate event in Tampa, Florida.
In Tampa, Eric is arrested for insulting a police officer, so the player must do the police favors to bail him from imprisonment. Soon, it is time for the Tampa AM, but the staff only let Eric in. However, the player impresses local professionals and is allowed in and after having succeeded in the competition the player is given several large-scale skateboard sponsors that offer them deals. The two skaters head to San Diego, where the player meets Todd, the manager of the team. They complete several photo shoots and appear in a magazine, and Eric is recruited to the team the next morning despite not having done anything.
The team is sent to Hawaii to film a video together. While there, the player searches for local spots that skaters have not touched, including unused canals and landmarks. None of these proves satisfying until the player notices a tall hotel, takes the elevator to its roof, and calls Eric to film them skating on the roof. Eric agrees, but a police helicopter arrives to arrest them for trespassing. Eric wants to leave, but the player sees a chance too good to pass up: despite Eric's cautioning, the player performs a McTwist over the helicopter and lands safely on the awning of an adjacent hotel. Eric, who filmed the trick, is awestruck, and the two evade a police pursuit.
The team then travels to Vancouver, Canada. After the player does favors for some locals and hurriedly finishes their part of the team video, they are allowed into the Slam City Jam for a skating competition. However, the final edit of the video implies that Eric was the one who jumped the helicopter. Impressed, Todd, who was not present for the original jump, declares Eric a pro. Incensed, the player lies that they are a pro and enters the contest anyway. The player wins successively against officially recognized professionals, culminating in a match against Eric. The player is victorious and Todd, although upset at the technicality of lying to enter a pro contest, ecstatically declares the player a pro for having won.
As recognized professionals, the player and Eric are both admitted at the last minute to a team trip to Moscow, Russia, where they meet up, reconcile, and skate together for a while. That night, Eric gets drunk and steals the keys to a Russian military tank. Eric wants to go on a joyride, and the player hops in to steer the tank safely and try to stop it. However, the tank crashes into a building and Eric jumps out and runs off. A chunk of concrete tumbles off the building and traps the player inside, leaving them to be found by the Russian military. Unwilling to pay the damages, Todd pretends the player has never been on the team and kicks them off. The American Embassy bails the player out, has them do favors for locals involved in international crimes, and deports them back to New Jersey.
Upon return, the player learns that Eric no longer needs the team, as he is sponsored, and was plotting to bring the player down all along. Moreover, Eric has long abandoned the idea of "soul skating"—skating for enjoyment rather than riches—so the player teams up with Peralta and several professionals to create a soul skating video. The video is released to some success, and the player challenges Eric to one last skate-off: if the player wins, Eric will hand over the helicopter tape, but if Eric wins, the player will never skate again. When the player wins, Eric accepts but loses and breaks down in anger. In an alternate ending shown after completing the story more than once, the player knocks out Eric unconscious and steals the tape rather than holding the skate-off.
The GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox versions of Tony Hawk's Underground were developed by Neversoft, while the Game Boy Advance version was developed by Vicarious Visions and the mobile phone version by Jamdat. Activision, which had acquired Neversoft in 1999, published all versions of the game.
Underground was created with a theme of individuality: it was the first Tony Hawk's game to star an amateur skater in a true story mode rather than simply a team of professionals. One reason for only allowing the player to use custom characters during the main story was that some criminal acts completed in the plot would not reflect well on real-world skaters. While previous games in the series had included character editors, the individuality theme motivated Neversoft to implement face-scanning for the PlayStation 2 version; sending an email of one's face to email@example.com would get the player a texture for their character's face. Joel Jewett, the president of Neversoft, described Underground as a true adventure game: the developers used storytelling and exploration to distance their product from mere lists of tasks, which had been the format of the previous Tony Hawk's games. Regarding the customization options, especially the park editor, producer Stacey Drellishak stated that Neversoft was "trying to create the most customizable game ever."
At the time, the console version's levels were the largest in the series by a wide margin; Neversoft expanded them continuously until they would not run correctly, then shrunk them slightly. Most of the levels were modeled closely after real-world locations; the designers traveled to archetypal locales in each city they visited and took photographs and videos as reference. The New Jersey level was a replication of a neighborhood where team artist Henry Ji had grown up as a young skater. Neversoft made sure to introduce the player to walking around on-foot and climbing along ledges during the first few missions of the game so that the player would become familiar with the new mechanics quickly and immediately notice Underground's differences from previous Tony Hawk's titles. While Neversoft wanted to keep Underground realistic and relatable for the most part, they added driving missions as a source of silly enjoyment and to push boundaries of how much freedom could be expected from a skateboarding game. However, these missions were intended not to take away from the main experience of skateboarding.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, Underground's predecessor in the Tony Hawk's series, had received some criticism for its difficulty; Neversoft had not realized that each game in the series was adding new fans who were unaccustomed to the demanding tasks. As a result, Neversoft added four difficulty settings to Underground's story mode, ranging from "Too Easy" to "Sick". Neversoft wanted players to be able to develop skills for higher difficulty settings on Too Easy while still enjoying progressing through the story. Throughout the series' history, the team had reliably created extremely difficult missions in each game; the methods behind creating these missions were the inspiration for Underground's Sick mode. The game's basic gameplay mechanics and structure were developed quickly at first, but this process was not finished by the end of August 2003, only two months before its American release.
While the game's cutscenes are all animated in 3D, the real-world skateboarding teams were given original live-action video introductions so that players could understand the teams as well as possible before selecting one to join. Neversoft invited professional skaters to its office to ask about their experiences becoming known in the skateboarding world, then compiled elements of these tales into an extensive script for the game. Every skater who appears in the plot helped craft their own scenes and voiced their own character.
Promotion and release
The game was promoted at Microsoft's "GameRiot" event held at Lollapalooza in July 2003, with a demo available for play. Activision stirred up enthusiasm for Underground with the Tony Hawk's Face Off Mobile Tour, a series of promotional events across 29 cities in October 2003. Attendees could play the game early and compete in it for tickets to Boom Boom Huck Jam 2003, which the real-world Tony Hawk attended. Activision, which sponsored the October 2003 Gravity Games extreme sports competition, promoted the game at the event and used its engine to model the real-world skaters' performances. The console and Game Boy Advance versions were released on October 28 in the United States, November 14 in Europe, and May 2004 in Japan. The mobile version was released worldwide in 2004.
The game features 78 songs, 75 of which are immediately playable in the main game; the other three are unlockable. They range from the late 1970s to the early 2000s by release and are categorized into three genres: rock, punk, and hip hop. The songs are as follows:
|1.||"Rapps on Deck" (Aceyalone)||Hip-Hop|
|2.||"Armageddon" (Alkaline Trio)||Punk|
|3.||"A Prototype" (Anacron)||Hip-Hop|
|4.||"She Said" (Angry Amputees)||Punk|
|5.||"Rebel Yell" (Assorted Jelly Beans)||Punk|
|6.||"Everyday" (Authority Zero)||Rock/Other|
|7.||"Big Bang" (Bad Religion)||Punk|
|8.||"Drive" (Blind Iris)||Rock/Other|
|9.||"Don't Wait" (Blue Collar Special)||Punk|
|10.||"2 Rak 005" (Bracket)||Punk|
|11.||"Imaginary Places" (Busdriver)||Hip-Hop|
|12.||"It's Alright" (CamaroSmith)||Rock/Other|
|13.||"Iron Galaxy" (Cannibal Ox)||Hip-Hop|
|15.||"Crazy and Stupid" (Crash and Burn)||Rock/Other|
|16.||"A Better Tomorrow" (Dan the Automator featuring Kool Keith)||Hip-Hop|
|17.||"Positive Contact" (Deltron 3030)||Hip-Hop|
|18.||"Cosmic Assassins" (DJ Q-Bert)||Hip-Hop|
|19.||"Time to Go" (Dropkick Murphys)||Punk|
|20.||"Annie's Grave" (Electric Frankenstein)||Rock/Other|
|21.||"To Ride, Shoot, Speak..." (Entombed)||Rock/Other|
|22.||"Mississippi King" (Five Horse Johnson)||Rock/Other|
|23.||"I Want It All" (Flamethrower)||Punk|
|24.||"Blah Blah" (Frog One)||Hip-Hop|
|25.||"California Crossing" (Fu Manchu)||Rock/Other|
|26.||"Crush 'Em" (GBH)||Punk|
|27.||"Hung, Drawn, and Quartered" (High on Fire)||Rock/Other|
|28.||"Remedy" (Hot Water Music)||Rock/Other|
|29.||"Embody the Invisible" (In Flames)||Rock/Other|
|30.||"Braggin' Writes Revisited" (J-Live)||Hip-Hop|
|31.||"Suffer Some" (Jane's Addiction)||Rock/Other|
|32.||"The Circle (Pt. 1)" (Juggaknots)||Hip-Hop|
|33.||"A Day at the Races" (Jurassic 5)||Hip-Hop|
|34.||"God of Thunder" (Kiss)||Rock/Other|
|35.||"Lick It Up" (Kiss)||Rock/Other|
|36.||"Rock-N-Roll All Night" (Kiss)||Rock/Other|
|38.||"King Kong" (L.A. Symphony)||Hip-Hop|
|39.||"War Games" (Living Legends)||Hip-Hop|
|40.||"Crusher Destroyer" (Mastodon)||Rock/Other|
|41.||"The Days" (Mike V and the Rats)||Punk|
|42.||"Underground Up" (Mr. Complex)||Hip-Hop|
|43.||"Skin Therapy" (Mr. Dibbs)||Hip-Hop|
|44.||"Phantom" (Mr. Lif)||Hip-Hop|
|45.||"Transitions as a Ridah" (Murs)||Hip-Hop|
|46.||"The World Is Yours" (NAS)||Hip-Hop|
|47.||"Run Fat Boy Run" (Nine Pound Hammer)||Rock/Other|
|48.||"Separation of Church and Skate" (NOFX)||Punk|
|49.||"Your World Will Hate This" (Orange Goblin)||Rock/Other|
|50.||"Womb Envy" (Paint It Black)||Punk|
|51.||"The Next Step II" (P.U.T.S.)||Hip-Hop|
|53.||"Low Class Conspiracy" (Quasimoto)||Hip-Hop|
|54.||"King of the Underground" (RA the Ruggedman)||Hip-Hop|
|55.||"New Noise" (Refused)||Punk|
|56.||"Like the Angels" (Rise Against)||Punk|
|57.||"(I Wanna) Pierce My Brain" (Rubber City Rebels)||Punk|
|60.||"Circle of Fear" (Smoke Blow)||Rock/Other|
|61.||"Mommy's Little Monster" (Social Distortion)||Punk|
|62.||"Suspect Device" (Stiff Little Fingers)||Punk|
|63.||"Refusal" (Strike Anywhere)||Punk|
|65.||"It Takes No Guts" (Superjoint Ritual)||Rock/Other|
|66.||"Internationally Known" (Supernatural)||Hip-Hop|
|67.||"Viva La Revolution" (The Adicts)||Punk|
|68.||"American Werewolf in Calgary" (The Browns)||Punk|
|69.||"White Riot" (The Clash)||Punk|
|70.||"No Revolution" (The Explosion)||Rock/Other|
|71.||"(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!" (The Hellacopters)||Rock/Other|
|72.||"It Ain't Nuttin'" (The Herbaliser featuring MF Doom)||Hip-Hop|
|73.||"The Legend of Black Thunder" (The Hookers)||Rock/Other|
|74.||"Loaded and Lonely" (The Midnight Evils)||Rock/Other|
|75.||"California Babylon" (Transplants)||Punk|
|76.||"Black Woman" (Unida)||Rock/Other|
|77.||"Secondary Protocol" (Wildchild)||Hip-Hop|
|78.||"Sailor Man" (The Real Mc Kenzies)||Rock/Other|
Tony Hawk's Underground was released to critical acclaim: its scores ranged from 85.27% for the Xbox to 90.58% for the PlayStation 2 on GameRankings and from 85% to 90% on Metacritic. GameZone's Michael Knutson stated that Underground is "one of the best skating games around" and players of every skill level would enjoy it. Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell concurred: "as a 'pick-up-and-play' sort of game, THUG is endlessly rewarding once you get your head round the basics, and it's the best entry point for the series to date."
The story was well received. A review by Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine celebrated the fact that "for the first time I can remember, an extreme-sports game actually has a real story [with] honest-to-goodness characters". IGN's Douglas Perry called it "a kick, albeit relatively lightweight in nature" and specifically praised Neversoft's characterization of real-world skaters and the narrative's pervasive sense of humor. 1UP.com's review praised the plot's focus on an amateur skater as opposed to professionals. Knutson called the story "unique" and stated that "I really like that Neversoft had the guts to try something this radical and ditch the formula that they know works so well." Ben Silverman of Game Revolution, however, described it as a "silly" cross between the 1980s films North Shore and Gleaming the Cube but praised it for making the level goals flow naturally and keeping enough distance between various skill unlocks. Bramwell called it "hackneyed".
The graphics and art received mixed opinions. Play's review stated that "the art is lacking". However, Knutson was overwhelmingly positive toward the graphics, art, and animation, calling them "nearly flawless" and praising the realism they brought to the inherently fantastical skateboarding genre. Bramwell called the graphics "unchanged and increasingly antiquated" and criticized the presence of "sharp, angular character models, eerily unrealistic lighting and odd little moments when the player is trying to turn round and ends up banging into a curb". Williams said that "THUG's cityscapes are incredibly well designed" and singled out the GameCube version of Underground as exceptionally well-rendered. The licensed soundtrack and sound effects, however, were better received. Knutson commended the soundtrack's large size and the sound effects' realism. Perry appreciated the "hilariously hurtful" injury sounds and the extensive song list. In contrast, IGN's Craig Harris praised the graphics of the Game Boy Advance version but was more mixed on the soundtrack.
The alternate gameplay modes were received very well. Knutson lauded the game's high degree of customization, summarizing that "everything is expounded a hundred fold: from create-a-skater to create-a-park mode, it is simply amazing" and singling out the level editor as one of the deepest he had ever seen. GameSpy's Bryn Williams identified the level editor as "extremely well-designed" and contributing to the overall "brilliance" of the full product. Reviewers for Famitsu magazine praised the scenario mode whose open world format they compared to the Grand Theft Auto series. Knutson and Perry enjoyed the multiplayer, especially the online Firefight mode. Williams thought similarly and stated that "the most notable disappointment" of the game was the lack of online play for non-PlayStation 2 owners. Harris, however, found the board customization of the Game Boy Advance version to be poorly implemented, though in-depth.
However, the walking and driving controls were criticized. Bramwell claimed that these modes feel "like they've been attached with an old stick of glue that's about as adhesive as baby oil." Knutson agreed, though he praised the diversions their gameplay modes brought. However, he stated that "the Tony Hawk series has always had exceptional controls" and Underground, overall, is no exception. Perry, while joining in in criticizing the walking controls and mechanics, found this mode to increase levels' replay value. Simiarly, Famitsu reviewers noted that although the overall speed of the game gave it a high degree of difficulty at times, it gave a true sense of accomplishment to the player who correctly performed jumps and tricks. Williams found the GameCube version's controls mediocre, though not unmanageable. Damon Brown from GameSpot stated that the mobile version's restrictive controls—many tricks require three button presses—were that version's only caveat.
Accolades and sales
Underground won Best Sports Game at the 2003 Game Critics Awards hosted by Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). The 2004 MTV Video Music Awards introduced a new category, Best Video Game Soundtrack, which Underground won. As of December 2007, the PlayStation 2 version of the game had sold 2.11 million copies in the United States.
Neversoft and Activision returned for a sequel, Tony Hawk's Underground 2. Like the original Underground, it features a story mode, although the plot is not a continuation of Underground's. This sequel was released in 2004.
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