A little more than a year ago, video game players witnessed a strange phenomenon when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was released for the PlayStation console. Up until that point, the entire subgenre of extreme sports games - after years of having mediocre games - had a stigma, which caused a lot of developers to stop producing such games altogether. Then Tony Hawk's Pro Skater for the PlayStation seemed to come out of nowhere: It broke the lull in extreme sports releases. It was an incredibly good skateboarding game that received unanimously high praise. Unfortunately, PC game players missed out on the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater; but as the extreme sports market heated up, Activision saw fit to bring the sequel, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, to the PC. While it may lack some of the visual flare of today's PC games, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 more than makes up for it with its outstanding gameplay.
Though Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is a multiplatform release, it's clear that each port originates from the PlayStation version of the game. As such, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 doesn't exactly take advantage of the latest PC hardware. You'll see draw-in and fogging effects in some of the open-air skate parks, and the skater models - while much more detailed than those of the recent MTV Sports: Skateboarding - are still fairly simple by today's PC standards. However, the PC version does have cleaner textures than its PlayStation counterpart. The graffiti effects don't suffer from any aliasing problems, which results in a very clean and colorful look for a lot of the game's skate parks; and the higher resolutions in the PC version are also a welcome addition.
The general design of each skate park is excellent; only one park has the overused abandoned-warehouse theme. Yet even that particular skate park has a number of features that make it stand out from the typical design, such as a helicopter that you can grind and a small plane with wings that you can use as a ramp. Other parks include a school in Los Angeles, where you must be on the lookout for a golf-cart driver who would like nothing more than to run you over. There's also a standard skate park in Marseilles, France, filled with typical empty pools, park benches, and ramps. There's even a skate park set in New York, complete with taxis and their foul-mouthed drivers, as well as subway cars and tracks. However, there is a bit of a negative aspect to having such detailed and, occasionally, large levels. You'll want to spend some time just exploring and getting to know the area rather than attempting to complete any objectives.
While there are play modes, such as free skate and single session, that are dedicated to letting you become familiar with the layout of a particular park, the main portion of Tony Hawk's gameplay is centered on the career mode. In this particular mode, you start off with access to only one park and a skater with a solid number of varied tricks. Your main goal is to go through each level while completing the necessary amount of objectives to move onto the next level. This mode gives an enormous amount of incentive as well as replay value to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. You must complete objectives so that you can gain enough money to open any of the later parks, and you'll more than likely come back to the earlier levels to finish off the objectives you didn't complete. In addition to opening new parks, you can buy new tricks and new boards for your skater, which become quite valuable in the later levels when you need to perform some of the complicated tricks to complete an objective.
If you're not familiar with the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, the career mode will be a little frustrating at first because it can be difficult to complete some of the objectives. For example, in the first park, you're required to grab five pilot-wing icons. Getting four out of the five is no problem, but the fifth, which is located high above the park, requires you to have a significant amount of experience with the game's controls. This really doesn't detract from the game since there are easier objectives, and you can always come back to difficult objectives after you've managed to purchase new tricks and abilities, which is what Tony Hawk's replay value largely consists of. Interestingly, the ability to add new tricks and strengthen a skater's ability really isn't all that necessary until the latter stages of the game, when most of the parks are already unlocked. With an average skater, it's certainly possible to get all the way up to Venice Beach park, but once again, in order to complete all objectives for every stage, you will have to eventually buy new tricks - though it really doesn't make that much of a difference. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 offers plenty of value in the career mode alone.
One crucial aspect to any skateboarding game is the control, and unlike in the recent MTV Sports: Skateboarding, which had very loose control and poor collision detection, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2's control is tight and precise. Specific button combinations pull off their appropriate skateboarding trick, and there really isn't a problem with your skater performing any unintentional tricks. The only weak spot is grinding rails and other various objects because, as you will find, the keyboard and even a standard digital gamepad may not be precise enough to keep your balance while you grind. It's apparent that this feature was designed with analog control in mind, so if you have access to an analog PC controller, then, by all means, use it. But if you don't, grinding can become an ordeal, as some of the later career mode objectives require you to grind for an extended period of time. A balance meter or something other than the visual cues from the skater would've helped alleviate this to some extent.
If the career mode somehow isn't enough to keep you interested in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 for an extended period of time, the game also includes a complete park editor. The editor is incredibly easy to use, so those with even a basic understanding of 3D modeling should have no problem coming up with a functional park. For more-experienced mapmakers, the editor is diverse enough that it lets you create some fairly complex parks. Importing parks made by other Tony Hawk players adds a new dimension to the game, and it should give the game an extended life period long after it's released.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 also has a multiplayer mode, which gives you a choice of three different modes: trick attack, tag, and graffiti. Unfortunately, the only way to play these games is over a local network, so finding someone to play against may prove difficult. However, the three different modes are actually quite fun; and the game also features a very fun game of horse for two players on a single computer, in which you and your opponent must constantly out-perform each other using better and more-complicated tricks.
It may not be the best-looking PC game available, but Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 has a solid look and a level of replay value that's unmatched by any game of its type. The career mode will keep pulling you back as you try to unlock every park, but later on you'll find yourself trying to find all the secret items and attempting to complete all the objectives for each stage. It's also fun to go into the single session or free-skate mode just to see what kind of trick combinations you can string together. There can be a steep learning curve if you're not willing to take the time to understand how different tricks function and how they're landed, but this can be overcome quickly with a few free-skate sessions in the first park. The skate-park editor should interest those who want to completely customize their own parks, and it's easy enough to use that virtually anyone can create a park within a short time period. Overall, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 plays very well - it has excellent scenario design, great control, and even a nice mix of rock and rap music from bands such as Rage Against the Machine - and of course there's the incredible amount of replay value. The inclusion of the original parks from the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater only sweetens the package for fans of the first game, as well as for those who are new to the series.