|The Birdman is back, and for those of you out there like me, who
thought Tony Hawk's Pro Skater could get no better, we stand corrected: Tony Hawk's Pro
Skater 2 proves there is a state of being beyond perfection. With the addition of three
new pro skaters, a character editor, and a park editor, THPS2 is one game that will never
get old. You really would have been actively not paying attention to not hear about how
THPS2 is going to be one of the greatest games released this year. If you haven't played
it yet, then this review is just wasting your time. Anything I could say about the game
will be for naught once you pop it in and experience the closest thing to Nirvana in this
Okay, maybe I'm being a little too nice. After all, if you've seen screens from the new version, it looks quite a bit like the old one. Neversoft didn't touch much in the visuals department, but even the original THPS pushes the limits of the PlayStation to the max. This time around, the skaters have noses, and the shadows don't look quite so much like artist's dummies. As with its predecessor, THPS2 looks dang sharp on the PlayStation and will look even nicer on the other systems we can expect this title to migrate to.
The basic control scheme is the same, too. Again, you've got your basic Ollie, Kickflip, Grind/Slide, and Grab buttons, complimented by the shoulder buttons which control your spin and stance. This time there is a much bigger difference in how your skater rides in Switch stance, especially if that skill isn't very high. Although the button configuration is the same, new tricks have been added, including the highly desired Bluntslides, Nose- and Tailslides, and Manuals, among others. To accommodate the increased number of possible moves, normal trick combos now include moves like "down, down, grab." By using Manuals to link tricks together, it is possible to create insane combos with over 20 different moves.
Also very much like the first game, THPS2 is composed of five street levels and three competitions. You progress through these levels in the Career mode to earn money, either by winning contests, picking up stray bills in the levels, or completing different level goals. As you earn money, you can spend it on stats, tricks, or boards. Each skater has a set of stats: Air, Hang Time, Ollie, Speed, Spin, Landing, Switch, Rail Balance, Lip Balance, and Manuals. The initial values for all of these stats varies depending on the talents of the skater you are playing, but as you complete the Career mode you can build each skater up until all stats are maxed out. To compliment your skater's development, you can also buy different tricks and configure which tricks are executed using different button combos. This way you can customize each skater to your own preferences, helping you beat the game completely with each pro. New boards also increase a skater's ability, plus there's a whole load of cool deck designs to choose from.
The levels in THPS2 are a little bigger, and there's more to do on each one, but overall they're just more of the same great level design we've come to expect from the series. The School II and Venice Beach stand out as really great additions, and the New York and Philadelphia levels are masterpieces of complex, difficult terrain. You'll find yourself jumping over Bums, completing insane park bench grinds, riding the subway downtown, and busting open secret areas left and right. The realistic areas, including Venice Beach (now defunct), NYC, and Philly, but also the Marseilles Skatepark and SkateStreet are killer depictions of some of the most famous skate spots in the world. I've verified with photographs the resemblance of the Marseilles level to the actual skatepark, and Philly brings back many memories of past evenings spent watching skate vids. These levels are arguably tougher than the levels in THPS, and there are quite a few more tasks to complete on each level, making it fairly difficult just to complete 100% of the Career mode with one player.
Although there are 13 pro skaters to choose from, including the phenomenal Erick Koston, old-school hero Steve Caballero, and the grand-daddy of freestyle,Rodney Mullen, Neversoft has added a Create-a-Skater mode. You can make your own custom skater, configuring everything from name and hometown to looks, clothes, company affiliation, and initial trick set. The options and choices available for this mode are very good, making it fairly easy to create a virtual representation of yourself to play, except for one major oversight. I will preface this with a slight disclaimer; although I have completed the game with more than one skater, I have not blown it wide open. Perhaps this issue is remedied when the game is 100% beaten, but for now, I'll paraphrase that classic Mel Brooks line: Where all the women at? Although Elissa Steamer is still featured in the game, there are no female heads or bodies available in the character editor. That's a real shame, not just because more women are turning onto skating all the time, but because THPS2 is a classic example of what many in the industry would call a girl-friendly game. The competition factor is fairly low, there's not a lot of blood and guts (although there is still the obligatory blood splash when you take falls), and the game is very task-oriented. While many gamers would, and should, dispute these commonly accepted requirements for "girl games," nevertheless, shame on Neversoft for not recognizing the appeal of their game to women, and shame on them for not including female body types in their custom skater. We all want to be in the game.
To further enhance the replayability of THPS2, Neversoft has also given us a Park Editor. The Park Editor allows you to create your own park from scratch or edit a pre-fab extra park, over 20 of which are included. Parks can be played in solo, free skate mode, or you can duke it out with a friend in one of the multi-player games. There are a whole lot of obstacles you can use when designing a park, everything from risers and alternate floor patterns to pools, rails, funboxes, and quarter pipes. A bunch of quarter pipes together make a half-pipe, and the different possible configurations are endless. You can build a fair approximation of almost any local skatepark, and if you have a DexDrive you can share your parks via the Internet with anyone in the world. Some of the pre-fab parks that come on the disc are really incredible.
Phew, that's a whole lot of stuff. THPS2 is a really big game. As with THPS, you unlock videos by earning three medals, earning three gold medals, and completing the Career Mode 100% earns you a new cheat and (possibly) new characters. There is a Cheats menu where you can activate different cheats as you win them: Kid Mode, Perfect Balance, Always Special, Sim Mode, and a whole bunch more. Also, as you complete the careers of various pros you'll unlock 80s Tony, Officer Dick, Private Carrera, and Spider Man. All of these characters have specific special moves and multiple outfits. Once you get three gold medals with every character you gain access to the Chopper Drop: Hawaii level. Here, you are dropped from a chopper onto a floating half pipe. There are no level goals, and it's not a competition, but it's dang fun. Of course, the hard part is getting back into the chopper.
We've come to expect good tunes from the THPS games, and THPS2 is no disappointment (well, the Papa Roach and Powerman 5000 songs are pretty disappointing, but what do you expect?). Included this time around, aside from the aforementioned suckers, are: Anthrax & Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine, Naughty by Nature, Bad Religion, Millencolin, The High & Mighty featuring Mos Def & Mad Skillz, Dub Pistols, Lagwagon, Styles of Beyond, Consumed, Fu Manchu, Alley Life featuring Black Planet, Swingin' Utters, and Born Allah. Yeah, it's a bumpin' soundtrack all right, and it stays fresh longer than most game music.
I wanted to point out that the future versions of THPS2 will probably be mostly the same as this version, so if you're looking forward to the PC or Dreamcast version you can expect pretty much the same thing. Even though this is a PSX review, it's interesting to note that in the PC version Neversoft and Activision have included three levels from THPS the Chicago level, Phoenix, and the Warehouse. The inclusion is especially cool because THPS was never released for PC, and those levels are a lot of fun. Still, too bad they didn't include Burnside.
What's left to say? I could go on and on about THPS2. They've made it bigger and better than I'd even hoped. The choices for new skaters Koston, Caballero, and Mullen are perfect. Koston is a phenomenal example of the current generation, and Caballero and Mullen, while clearly not down-and-out, are excellent representatives of classic skate culture who bring more clout to a game already known for being the best skate title out there. THPS2 is not just for skaters or skateboarding fans. It's a phenomenal gaming experience that will entertain just about any gamer out there. When I turn on THPS2, I know I'm going to be awhile. It has a hold on me, and I'm not the only one. Neversoft has arrested the homework completion and productivity of gamers across the country with their incredibly addictive and insanely cool sequel. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is the best game ever made. Ever.