Tony Hawk’s Underground turned 20 this year. This 2003 classic undoubtedly lives in the hearts of many retro gaming fans even to this day. As one of my all-time favorite games on the PlayStation 2, I think its as good a time as ever to see just how well this nostalgic gem holds up all these years later. Let’s dust off the PS2 Slim and see if I can still grind it out like I did back in my teens, and give this iconic game a legitimate review after 20 years!
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Introduction: A Legendary Title
Tony Hawk’s Underground is no doubt an icon amongst early 2000’s titles. By taking the success of the Pro Skater games, and adding a bunch of awesome new features, T.H.U.G. forged a new path for the Tony Hawk series in the gaming world. Being able to take your very own skater from the bottom to fame, build your own insane skate parks, and go head-to-head with your friends in a biggest combo competition were only a handful of things that make this title so great. There are far too many good things about this game to cram into one review, but I’ll make sure to highlight the absolute best qualities below.
The Story: Started from the Bottom
Coming up from a zero to skateboard hero is the main storyline of the campaign in Tony Hawk’s Underground. You start out as whatever wacky skater character you decide to create, with the dream of someday making it pro. Little do you know this exact day is the day you embark on your epic, and outrageous, quest to the top.
From New Jersey to Hawaii, Vancouver to Australia, and a couple other stops in between, T.H.U.G. takes you all over the globe as you grind your way from a nobody to a pro. With your best friend, and sometimes biggest rival by your side, you hit the streets in hopes to impress famous skateboarders like Chad Muska, Bam Margera, Bob Burnquist, and even Tony Hawk himself. After finally getting sponsored by a local legend you find your way on a crazy trip to prove yourself and make it big.
With insane tasks to do like chasing down drug dealers, doing tricks for rides across the country, and doing impossible special moves off of the top of a hotel, there’s no shortage of challenge. On top of all the unbelievable, and usually comedic, things you have to do to earn your fame, you also get to compete against legendary skaters, and prove that you are truly one of the bests.
Overall, the story of Tony Hawk’s Underground is truly unique and fun as hell. Its got enough early 2000’s charm to keep you hooked, and enough actual skateboarding to make it legit and fun. Even after 20 years, I still consider it one of the best video game stories I have ever played through.
The Gameplay: Controlling the Impossible
There are too many things right about the gameplay of Tony Hawk’s Underground to cram them all into this single review. I’m going to focus on the two best qualities of this game. The insane game mechanics and the ultimate level of customization options.
First off, the gameplay mechanics of Tony Hawk’s Underground are off the wall crazy. In a good way. You can seamlessly play the game like it was a legitimate skateboarding simulator, or some insane other-worldly, anti-gravity, “jackass: the movie” inspired skater fantasy. From the insane trick combos, to the vehicle joyriding, and everything in between, the controls of the game were perfect for what it was.
Being able to create your own skater, and run around the streets of in-game or custom made levels made for a ridiculous amount of fun. The controls and buttons were easy to get use too, the amount of tricks available to utilize made for endless amount of combos, and the impossible level of control you had over your skater was unbeatable up to this point in gaming.
Speaking of custom characters, the amount of customization you can do in Tony Hawk’s Underground is still incomparable to even modern titles. Aside from the skater choices, which include crazy things like changing the hue of your skin to green or blue and a face option that is literally just a set of eyeballs, you can also customize your skate board in multiple ways, and even create you own skatepark. With environmental hazards and vehicles, different plant life and buildings, and plenty of vert, rail, and ramps options, you could quite literally design a park however you wanted. You could also create your own special tricks and customize special tasks to do in your custom skate parks resulting in endless amounts of fun ideas.
These two highlights made Tony Hawk’s Underground a legendary title. Along with other perks like a massive cast of famous skaters, being able to join famed skate-houses, and playing head to head in co-op comps against your friends, its safe to say even in 2023 T.H.U.G. is simply just an outstanding game.
The Graphics: OK for ’03
Admittedly, Tony Hawk’s Underground’s graphics are probably its worst quality, but that doesn’t make them bad by any means. For 2003, it had pretty standard graphics across the board, and even though it was a bit basic at times, it still came up around in the middle of the pack as far as other games in its era go. I wouldn’t give the graphics more than say a 6 out of 10 for this game, but it has so many other redeemable qualities going for it, the average graphics don’t even phase me. There were a few cringe moments in a 2023 playthrough, I won’t lie, and a handful of laughable issues, but for being 20 years old I think it held up pretty decent in the graphics department.
Replay Value: Still gets me hooked
I have to say that Tony Hawk’s Underground was so good, that even in 2023 I find myself wanting to go back and play it again. I flew through the story and its other great qualities for this review, and spent maybe 8 hours total just to get a quick refresher, but could totally go back and give it another go on a harder difficulty right now. The free skate modes can be good for a few hours creating and practicing the most insane special tricks imaginable, and the custom skateparks can literally make T.H.U.G. a never ending game. Honestly, I can’t name another game in history off of the top of my head with higher replay value. T.H.U.G. definitely set a standard in replay value for its time.
Conclusion: The G.O.A.T.
On a final note, Tony Hawk’s Underground also had one of the best game soundtracks ever. Being a teen in that era, it really brought back nostalgic memories hearing the mix of hip-hop, punks, and classic rock songs in the game. At the end you even get to skate at a KISS concert. Add this to the other great aspects listed above and its no doubt that T.H.U.G. stands the test of time as one of the greatest video games in history.
I think with the few graphical cringes, and other very minor issues with the game I can’t bring myself to give it a perfect score, but it definitely is the most solid 9 out of 10 I will ever give a game. Tony Hawk’s Underground is simply amazing on all levels, and I will forever cherish this amazing title. Maybe I’m biased being one of the exact types of people T.H.U.G. was meant to target back in 2003, but I think even people outside of that demographic played and enjoyed this game as much as I did. It was a huge topic amongst my group of teenage friends way back then, and we consisted of a lot of different types of people.
Tony Hawk’s Underground was published by Activision and was released on October 27th, 2003 for the PlayStation 2 and other systems. It is an increasingly rare game, and can be difficult to locate these days, so if you’re lucky enough to snag a copy, take good care of it so this legendary title can live on a little longer.
- Nostalgic Fun
- Iconic Characters
- Real-world inspired Locations
- Great Story
- Elite Customization
- Flawless Soundtrack
- Minor Graphical Issues
- Some Loading Issues