More of the same?
When Tony Hawk finally reaches the end of his prime, and decides it's time to hang up his knee-pads and decks in exchange for a comfy sofa and some of those really warm-looking tartan slippers, he'll get the chance to sit and reflect on exactly how much of a legend he truly is. Mr. Hawk is truly the god of baggy-trousered self-inflicted injury at the expense of skurfing around on wooden planks, and is surely The One, looked up to by thousands of slacker 15 year-olds the world over (well… at least looked up to by those little gits with Limp Bizkit t-shirts whizzing round my shins whilst I go about my business down the town). Not only has Tony managed to influence wannabe skaters everywhere, but he also managed to (with the help of Neversoft, natch) infiltrate the videogames industry in a supremely stylish and surprising manner, starring and advising in one of the most outstandingly playable and addictive games of the last decade. Obviously not content with appearing in a digital form with his mates in one millennium, he's popped back in this one to show off his elite skateboarding skills once more. On first impressions, THPS2 proves to be pretty much standard fare. I was really very concerned as to exactly how Neversoft were going to revive the formula that made the original so damned fun without treading the exact same path. Playing for a while on the free skate mode (with only one level open to me at the start of the game to practise on, which is a bit stingy really, isn't it?) I got the idea that although marginally improved graphically and audibly - blood is spilled, boards fly, skaters fall over far more impressively, and the general spot sound effects are wonderfully realistic - not a lot had changed in the basic gameplay stakes. This wasn't a good start, to be honest.
Hopping back to the menu screen, I chose to start my career as a self-styled skater, as opposed to one of the pre-defined pro-circuit dudes. Once I had managed to find worryingly similar clothing in the range to what I was wearing at the time, I chose my skaters stats, which contribute to your player's adeptness at certain skills and trickery, and once I was happy, I proceeded to start the game. Whilst the first level loaded, I was shown an almost daunting list of tasks to fulfil in order to gain cash for progression onto the later stages in the game. Tasks range from bog-standard high-score acquisition to the collection of a set number of locale-relevant icons (pilots badges for the aircraft hangar level, hall passes for the school level… you get the idea). In fact… a great deal of the game relies on this old-skool gaming idea of icon collection, and I would've expected Neversoft, in the their apparent infinite wisdom, to come up with something a little more interesting to spend you time on. Much fun is garnered, however, from trying to locate secret areas housing mission-critical objectives, and the complete freedom the player has truly enhances the experience as opposed to the so-far lacklustre offerings from the opposition.
This is a hard hat zone
And so all is well, right? We get to skate and grind it up and stuff, yeah? Man? Well… it's not as simple as that. On the surface, Neversoft appear to have delivered merely an update to last years smash hit, with apparently hardly any real U.S.P…. until you discover what's inside the wrapper… yes kids, we've got a level editor on our hands. A level editor! In a stroke of forethought unmatched by the great majority of console developers, Neversoft have not only created some of the most wonderfully detailed architecture for you to grind your way around in-game, but they're also going to let you construct your own knee-grazing factory! Furthermore is the fact that it works, and so, so brilliantly as well. Use of the editor is so simple it's almost too much so. You're given a blank canvas and the option of a setting, like a warehouse or a park, then a huge array of different pieces, which you cycle through using the shoulder buttons. Complex bowl, half-pipe and rail constructions are really astoundingly simple to build, and are playable almost immediately at any stage of completion. To say that the ability to build your own levels adds to the longevity is an overwhelming overstatement, and it's just a shame that the PSX doesn't have online capabilities for the swapping and downloading of levels, but not to fear, because the levels are very economic with memory card real-estate.
A progression for the better
Where Tony Hawk's Pro Skater went wrong, the sequel more than makes up for its shortcomings. Levels are varied and unashamedly fun, sound effects are spot-on, graphically the PlayStation is pushed to its limit, and finding the limit of the secrets and moves on offer here will keep you playing for months. Add to this the infinite possibilities of expansion with the level editor, and the emphatically fun multiplayer modes, and you have a game that is more than worthy of your money, even if you own the original. In some respects, the THPS formula may have lost some of its sparkle and shine, but Neversoft have made a sterling attempt to re-emphasising and reviving a game that scarcely put a foot wrong in the first place.
This is a beautiful, wonderful, and absolutely life-conquering beast of a game… it's the supreme champion of extreme sports gaming, and I just hope that Neversoft don't ruin it by attempting a further update, because I'm absolutely certain they're simply not going to be able to follow this up. Enjoy your slippers, Tony; this is something to tell the grandkids about.