Tony Hawk’s Underground Series Is The Best Skating Series of All Time


In September 1999, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater ollied onto the scene. Players could finally take control of real-life skating legends like Hawk, Bob Burnquist, and Bucky Lasek, and perform realistic moves like Hawk’s famed 900 due to motion-capture technology. But after three successful sequels from 2000-2002, the series needed something fresh. Sure, collecting the word ‘Skate’ and performing other challenges while listening to memorable soundtracks was fun, but this was the early 2000s, and evolution was needed.

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This led to Neversoft developing the Tony Hawk’s Underground series, releasing the first game in 2003. This was a game built on two key things: customization and story. Now, all of the sequels already let you to create your own skater and park, but the Underground series let you play as them in an actual story mode which had four different difficulty settings, and included people like Bam Margera and Stacy Peralta – writer of the 2005 movie Lord of Dogtown.

It also had a ground-breaking face-mapping feature that was accessible as long as you had a digital camera and computer. Once you uploaded a well-lit headshot to your computer, all you had to do was email it to [email protected] (don’t laugh – it was mindblowing back then!) and after a 10-30 minute wait, Neversoft would send an email notifying you that your face had been added to the game. That not may sound like much now, but to put yourself into a game was unthinkable back then. Sports games like NBA Live and Madden didn’t have that feature until a decade later with EA’s Game Face.

You could not put your voice in the game, but seeing yourself skate and do amazing tricks in the game’s versions of Manhattan, Australia, Hawaii and other real-world locations was pretty special. Plus, if breaking bones in real life is something you want to avoid, the game gave you virtual ones to break.

You could also collect sponsorships and become the next face of brands like Birdhouse, Element, Zero, and Flip Girl. It was the closest that fans of skating, Tony Hawk, and extreme sports games could get to the feeling of being an actual pro. You could also get off your board, walk or run over difficult terrain and jump back on it midair to grind a rail. You could even become a human rainbow by jumping over a helicopter in Hawaii – it was pretty freaking cool!

It even allowed you to unlock and play as Gene Simmons and the other members of KISS. You could also create your own custom goals and tricks. Plus, the series also introduced new mechanics like double-tap grinds, pressure flips, the ability to graffiti walls, and more.

Its sequel, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, went even wilder. It had you firing cannons fire with your skateboard, skating on skulls in a New Orleans cemetery, and Shrek was an unlockable character. Like its predecessor, the sequel took you on another world tour, this time to places like Barcelona, Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, and Berlin.

It is an around-the-world-style tour where two teams, the Bam Margera-led Team Bam, and Team Hawk, led by the man himself, go around causing destruction, and the loser has to pay for all of the tour costs. These games were the NFL Blitz of skating and extreme sports games. There were no rules, it was all gas and no brakes and it was the best kind of chaotic.

Though Neversoft is no longer around, having closed shop in 2014, you have to thank them for implementing technology like the face scan feature, because being able to grind on rails, dunk a basketball, or catch a touchdown feels so much better when it’s actually you doing it, especially in a career mode. With its more open settings and spirit of improvisation, Underground arguably paved the way for the more realistic skating games, like Skate, that would come later, even though Underground itself was happy to embrace the wild side.

Activision released a remake of the first two games in 2020, and the Underground series deserves one as well. It was a series that capitalized on the craziness of early 2000s pop culture; this was the Jackass era and skateboarding fit it like a glove, especially given the amount of crossover stuff the Jackass lot did with pro skaters, bikers and other extreme sportsfolk. The early 2000s were all about ‘the wilder you were, the cooler you appeared,’ and there was no skating series quite as wild as THUG – before or since.

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