Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 puts the player in control of a professional or fictional skater and takes place in a third-person view with a fixed camera. The player must perform tricks and complete level objectives in return for cash rewards, which can be used to unlock other levels, improve the player character's statistics and obtain better equipment. The game's universe maintains a loose grip on physics for the sake of gameplay quality; while the player character can jump reasonable heights and perform short slides early on in their career, they may eventually come to slide for much longer distances and reach such a disproportionate height in their jumps as to be capable of stringing an unrealistic chain of maneuvers together midair. The player can move freely throughout the levels without constraint and fulfill the different objectives in any order desired.
In Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, the player character is self-propelling and can have their course altered via the arrow keys or d-pad. The player character is capable of jumping and change direction midair. The game features a vast number of skateboarding tricks. One button can be used to switch footedness between "regular" or "goofy", while another can initiate a nollie or a fakie. Passing from a nollie to a fakie (or vice versa) in a chain of tricks increases the multiplier factor of the score collected for that chain. Other button inputs can be used to perform slides, grabs, and flips. A series of inputs can be used to perform lip tricks. It is possible to perform wall rides and transfers (changing ramps) as well as manuals that allow several tricks to be chained together. The player must use directional input to maintain balance during a manual; in the 2X port, balance is visually represented by a vertical scale that appears next to the player character.
The game features ten professional skateboarders, along with four unlockable original characters, depending on the version. Furthermore, the game features Spider-Man via a licensing deal with Marvel Comics. Additionally, the South Korean and other Asian versions featured the girl group Fin.K.L.