The original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater arrived on the scene and did the impossible. Not only did it bring skateboarding to the videogame masses, but it also did so with such proficiency that it immediately became the industry standard—a standard as yet unmatched by its competitors. One ancillary side effect that has not been lost on Activision or Neversoft, is that it helped legitimize the sport in the eyes of many and became a full-fledged sports title as well. As such, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 comes packed with new players, improved stat tracking, a more involving career mode as well as new features that true fans of the sport have been asking for since the release of the original. However, although the final product is an improvement, those like me looking for something really new may be a little disappointed.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 picks up right where its predecessor left off. The goal is still to take a skater through a series of stages—completing sundry tasks in each in order to advance to later stages. These tasks run the gamut from collecting the five letters of the word "skate," to besting a predetermined high score, to finding mysteriously hidden tapes. There are even competitions thrown into the mix as a way for players to show off their skills and advance further. And it's all made easy thanks to Neversoft's control scheme—that is still ingenious to this day—which allows for all manner of stunts and tricks to be performed almost anywhere in the sprawling 3-D stages.
The major difference with this sequel is that there is simply more to see and more to do. Instead of six skaters, there are now nine to choose from, and the number of tasks that need to be completed on each stage have jumped from five to 10. The soundtrack has been boosted, and now I could play to music of real-life bands ranging from the likes of Anthrax and Fu Manchi to Chuck D and Naughty by Nature. There is also more video footage and detailed player bios. Once in the game though, I was pleased to find that the arsenal of moves at my disposal had increased manifold. I was already amazed by what I could do in the original game, but Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2takes things to a new level. It's now possible to perform nollies and all manner of grinds that only a true skateboarding fan could appreciate, but once again they are easily pulled off almost anywhere in the game. One move in particular, the aptly named "maneuver," which simply means raising up on the back and front wheels, can act as a link between tricks. This instantly allows for longer and more complex tricks, and providing I didn't fall flat on my face, the results are sensational stunts and spectacularly high point totals.
Speaking of points, it is refreshing to see Neversoft take away some of the emphasis on point totals in favor of money accruement. The problem for me in the first game was that points were the only way to measure success, and for that matter, there was no change in the skater at any time. With this new system, each performance in a stage is rewarded with a certain amount of money. This money can then be used to purchase better stats and tricks as well as equipment. This, in addition to the unlimited ability to perform so many numerous tricks and stunts, make the game a more engaging undertaking.
The new features that have been amassing the most positive response from critics and the public alike are the create-a-player mode and improved levels. As create-a-player modes go, this one is a keeper. Although a career mode is available, only having the ability to play as one of nine pros can feel confining (and boring for that matter). To remedy this, the create-a-player allows for a fair deal of customization where you can personalize the skater right from the beginning and focus his or her skills depending on what your particular playing style is. This, compounded by the new money system, adds new levels of player involvement that was sorely lacking in the original.
Neversoft clearly worked hard to improve on the versatile Tony Hawk engine this time around, and the reward is in the level design. Each stage is bustling with activity with new areas to be unlocked through exploration and experimentation. In the first stage, for example, which is an abandoned airplane hanger, performing a grind along the blades of the helicopter causes it to lift off into the air crashing through the roof. To even get to that part of the stage I had to crash through the huge windows along one of the walls. But once the chopper is gone, a door opens up revealing an external area to skate in. The other stages are equally diverse. I was never happier than to see that New York is finally represented in the Tony Hawk world.
As unique as these stages may be, there is still the chance that boredom will set in as the game progresses. That's where the level editor comes into play. In true Tony Hawk's Pro Skater fashion, the editor is extremely versatile while maintaining a level of ease that even a beginner will have an easy time with. As soon as I started using it, I felt right at home, and I was creating new levels to fit my particular tastes. The selection is impressive, loaded with varieties of "funboxes" of diverse shapes and sizes, so—not to sound like some sort of Pollyanna—you're only limited by your imagination. An added bonus is that there are pre-made tracks available that can be revised to your liking. It's the perfect system to allow those who can't get enough of the skating to always have new tracks to race along as they tire of the others.
I have to admit that the additions to the game are commendable. They add some variety and enhance an already enjoyable gaming experience. However, this doesn't mean the game is monumentally better in the long run. With so much added to the game in the form of new moves and level objectives, the game takes on the feeling of a Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1.5. The objectives are essentially unchanged, which entail performing tricks, searching for items and repeating the process all over again on each progressing stage. It's also hard for me to forget that it was only four months ago that I was playing the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. As much fun as that game was, playing a sequel this soon that calls for more of the same, quickly becomes repetitive. The added moves and game personalization do help to a degree, but unless you are the most die-hard skating fan, any effects could be fleeting.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation version of the game.