Tony Hawk's Underground
|Tony Hawk's Underground|
|Developer(s)||Neversoft (PS2, GameCube, Xbox)
Vicarious Visions (GBA)
Tony Hawk's Underground is a skateboarding video game published by Activision in 2003, the fifth entry in the Tony Hawk's series. Neversoft developed the GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox versions, Canadian developer Beenox developed the Microsoft Windows version, which was only released in Australia and New Zealand as a budget release in 2005, 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. The game features a new focus on customization; the player, instead of selecting a professional skater, creates a custom character. Underground adds the ability for players to dismount their boards and explore on foot. The plot follows the player character and his or her friend Eric Sparrow as the two become well-known professionals and grow apart.
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. Reviewers praised its wide appeal, soundtrack, customization, multiplayer, and plot. The 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, 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. For example, the player initiates an ollie (a jump trick) by holding and releasing the jump button. During an ollie, the player may change the position of the analog stick and press one of two buttons to perform either a flip trick (such as an impossible or kickflip) or a grab trick (such as a benihana or nosegrab). The player can grind on certain edges and rails; different tricks may be performed during a grind based on the position of the analog stick. On quarter pipes, the player may execute lip tricks. While skating on flat surfaces, the player may manual in multiple ways via button combinations. Miscellaneous tricks include acid drops and wall-rides.
While a grind, lip, or manual trick is underway, a balance meter appears: unless the player prevents this meter from falling to the left or right, the character will bail and need a few seconds to recover. Bailing can also be caused by falling without one's board facing downward. 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, such as the McTwist and 540 Flip. 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 and other countries. In each level, certain 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 few contexts: a special scene late in the game, minigames, and the free skate mode. A level editor allows the player to create skate parks with a large array of objects, ranging from traditional skate park elements like halfpipes, ramps, funboxes, and grind rails to more outlandish pieces like buildings and sections of elevated freeways. The player can change their park's time of day and environmental theme. 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 protagonist and their friend, Eric Sparrow, live in suburban New Jersey and dream of becoming famous skateboarders. The protagonist manages to impress professional skater Chad Muska, in town for a demo, who gives them a new skateboard and informs them that a good way to start a skating career is to gain a sponsorship from a skate shop. The protagonist seeks out Stacy Peralta, but he refuses unless he sees something to set them apart from the other local skaters, so the protagonist travels to Manhattan with Eric, who is on the run from drug dealers after setting their car on fire for stealing from the skate shop.
There, the pair shoot a skating video that impresses Stacy, who loans them a van and suggests they enter the Tampa AM, an amateur division skate contest held annually at the Skate Park of Tampa in Tampa, Florida. Eric is arrested for insulting a police officer, and the protagonist does favors for the police to secure his bail. However, when they arrive for the contest, it is revealed that Eric had only completed his own registration form and not the protagonist's, forcing a dejected protagonist to try and impress competitors in the pro contest in order to gain admission. After impressing Tony Hawk, the protagonist wins the Best Trick event at Tampa AM and is offered deals by major skateboard sponsors, much to Eric's dismay. The protagonist then heads to San Diego, California to meet Todd, the manager of the team, and completes several photo shoots for a magazine. After a wild celebration party, it is revealed that Eric has been picked up by the same sponsor.
The team then flies to Hawaii to film a video, with the protagonist aiming for local spots that skaters have not filmed in before. Finding a tall hotel, the protagonist climbs to the roof and recruits Eric to film a trick video atop it. The police arrive to arrest them for trespassing, but the protagonist uses the opportunity to perform a McTwist over the helicopter and onto the awning of an adjacent hotel, allowing them and an awestruck Eric to evade the police. The team then travels to Vancouver, Canada. After doing favors for locals and finishing their part of the team video, the protagonist attends the video premiere at the Slam City Jam. However, Eric steals the idea and alters the footage, which instead shows him jumping the helicopter and allows Eric to become a professional. After angrily confronting Eric, the protagonist, in payback, enters Eric's pro contest and wins, becoming a pro as well.
After designing their own pro skateboard, the protagonist and Eric embark on a team trip to Moscow, Russia, where they reconcile. However, Eric gets drunk and joyrides in a Russian military tank. The protagonist hops in and attempts to stop the tank, but being unfamiliar with the controls, fails to keep it from crashing. Eric jumps out and runs away, leaving the protagonist, trapped inside, to be arrested by the Russian military. Eric then lies and accuses the protagonist of stealing the tank, stating that he in fact tried to stop them. Unwilling to pay the damages, Todd kicks the protagonist off the team, much to Eric's delight. The American Embassy bails out the protagonist, leaving them to do favors for locals in order to return to New Jersey.
Eric, who now has his own skate company, reveals that he had been planning to betray the protagonist after having long abandoning the idea of "soul skating" (skating for enjoyment rather than riches); after unsuccessfully trying to exempt them from the Tampa AM, Eric stole the helicopter footage in jealousy before finally getting the protagonist kicked off the skate team by lying back in Moscow. Determined to fight back, the protagonist teams up with Peralta and several professionals to create a soul skating video, creating a new trick in the process. Due to the success of the video, Eric challenges the protagonist to one last skate-off, with the unedited helicopter tape at stake. The protagonist wins by avoiding Eric's attempts to cheat and walks away with the tape while Eric breaks down in anger.
If the story has been completed more than once, an alternate ending occurs, which sees the protagonist punch Eric and knock him unconscious, taking the tape back instead of holding the skate-off.
The game features many real world professional skateboarders including: Tony Hawk, Chad Muska, and Stacy Peralta. Underground also features cameo appearances by Iron Man, C.H.U.D., and Kiss singer Gene Simmons.
The GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox versions of Underground were developed by Neversoft, while the Game Boy Advance version was developed by Vicarious Visions the mobile phone version by Jamdat, and the Windows version created by Beenox. Activision, which had acquired Neversoft in 1999, published all versions of the game.
Underground was created with a theme of individuality: it stars an amateur skater in a true story mode, whereas each previous Tony Hawk's game had starred professional skaters and had lacked a plot. One reason for only allowing the player to use a custom character was that certain criminal acts completed in the plot would not reflect well on real-world skaters. Previous games in the series had included character-creation features as well, but Neversoft expanded customization in Underground by implementing face-scanning for the PlayStation 2 version: if the player emailed a photograph of their face to email@example.com, the company would digitize it for use in the game. Regarding the customization options, especially the park editor, producer Stacey Drellishak stated that Neversoft was "trying to create the most customizable game ever". The developers used storytelling and exploration to distance their product from the plotless, task-based format of previous Tony Hawk's games, which led Neversoft president Joel Jewett to describe Underground as an adventure game.
Levels in the console versions of Underground were significantly larger than those of earlier Tony Hawk's games. Neversoft expanded each level until it ceased to run correctly, then shrunk it slightly. Most of the levels were modeled closely after real-world locations; the designers traveled to locales representative of each city in the game 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 wanted the player to become familiar with the basic game mechanics quickly and to notice Underground's differences from previous Tony Hawk's titles immediately. To accomplish this, they introduced the player to foot travel and the ability to climb along ledges in the first few missions of the game. While Neversoft wanted to keep Underground realistic and relatable for the most part, they added driving missions as an enjoyable diversion and to push the boundaries of freedom in skateboarding games. However, these missions were intended not to take away from the main experience of skateboarding.
Pro Skater 4, Underground's predecessor in the Tony Hawk's series, had received criticism for its difficulty: Neversoft had not realized that each game in the series was drawing 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 develop skills for higher difficulty settings on Too Easy while still progressing through the story. The company had included extremely difficult missions in each previous Tony Hawk's game; the methods used to create these missions were the inspiration for Underground's Sick mode. Development of the basic gameplay mechanics and structure began quickly but by the end of August 2003, only two months before the game's American release, work was still in progress.
While the game's cutscenes are animated with 3D graphics, the team recorded live-action videos to introduce the real-world skateboarding teams, so that players could better understand each team before selecting one to join. Neversoft interviewed professional skaters about their experiences of becoming known in the skateboarding world, then compiled elements of these stories into the game's script. Every skater who appears in the plot helped to craft their own scenes and voiced their own character.
Promotion and release
The game was promoted with a playable demo at Microsoft's "GameRiot" event held at Lollapalooza in July 2003. 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 rendering engine to model tricks performed by the real-world skaters. 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 January 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.
Underground was released to critical acclaim: with scores for the PlayStation 2 at 90.58% on GameRankings, and 90% on Metacritic. GameZone's Michael Knutson stated that Underground is "one of the best skating games around" and that 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. Joel Rybicki of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine celebrated 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". He especially praised the pervasive sense of humor in the narrative and in the portrayal of real-world skaters. Knutson called the story "unique" and stated, "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 described the game's plot as a "silly" cross between those of the 1980s films North Shore and Gleaming the Cube, but he praised it for giving context to the level goals and keeping distance between the skill unlocks. Bramwell called it "hackneyed". Rybicki found that the plot hurt the game's replay value and caused missions to be overly simplistic. By contrast, Game Informer's Justin Leeper thought that "it serves to make some of the less-entertaining goals tolerable, because there’s a reason for doing them."
The game's aesthetics were generally well received. 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". Knutson, meanwhile, was positive regarding the graphics, art, and animation: he called them "nearly flawless" and praised the realism they brought to the inherently fantastical skateboarding genre. Williams said that "THUG's cityscapes are incredibly well designed" and singled out the GameCube version of Underground as exceptionally well rendered. Rybicki called the levels "big and beautiful". Knutson commended the soundtrack's large size and the sound effects' realism. Perry appreciated the "hilariously hurtful" injury sounds and the extensive song list. By 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; he summarized that "everything is expounded a hundred fold: from create-a-skater to create-a-park mode, it is simply amazing". He singled out the level editor as one of the deepest he had ever seen. GameSpy's Bryn Williams identified the level editor as an "extremely well-designed" feature that contributed to the overall "brilliance" of the full product. Leeper said that each customization mode is "intuitive and user-friendly", and both he and Rybicki especially enjoyed the trick-creation feature. Reviewers for Famitsu magazine praised the story mode, whose open world format they compared to the Grand Theft Auto series. Knutson and Perry enjoyed the multiplayer, particularly 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 found the board customization of the Game Boy Advance version to be poorly implemented, though in-depth. Despite his praise for the customization modes, Leeper admitted that his greatest enjoyment still came from "seeking out great lines and beating my scores".
The walking and driving controls were criticized. Bramwell claimed that these modes felt "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 novelty of these diversions. He stated that "the Tony Hawk series has always had exceptional controls" and that Underground, overall, was no exception. Perry felt that the feature increased levels' replay value. Similarly, Famitsu reviewers noted that, although the game's fast pace makes it extremely challenging at times, the high difficulty provides a sense of accomplishment when jumps and tricks are performed correctly. Williams found the GameCube version's controls mediocre, albeit manageable. Damon Brown from GameSpot stated that the mobile version's restrictive controls—many tricks require three button inputs—were that version's only caveat.
Sales and accolades
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. In Europe the week after the game's release, the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube versions were respectively the fifth, sixth, and eighth best selling games for those consoles. It would remain uninterrupted in the top twenty of every week until January 24, 2004, for the Xbox and GameCube and February 21 for the PlayStation 2, inclusive. As of December 2007, the PlayStation 2 version of the game had sold 2.11 million copies in the United States. The GameCube version made Nintendo's Player's Choice list by selling 250,000 copies in the United States.
Neversoft and Activision returned for a sequel, Underground 2. It was released on October 4, 2004, for mobile phones, Microsoft Windows, and the GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, and PlayStation Portable consoles. The plot continues that of Underground and focuses on the player character and their team sabotaging an opposing team. The gameplay, structure, and level design are very similar to those of Underground. However, Underground 2 features new tricks and gameplay mechanics, like the Natas spin, the ability to plant customized stickers in levels with the "sticker slap", a slow-motion "Focus" mode, and the ability to earn points by having a tantrum after bailing. The plot is set entirely in new locations, such as Boston, New Orleans, Berlin, and Barcelona. The game received positive reviews, though less so than its predecessor: its GameRankings scores ranged from 70.33% for the Game Boy Advance to 86.20% for Windows.
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