It features the series' trademark open-ended gameplay, in which the player (playing as a well-known professional skateboarder) completes a number of missions which result in cash rewards. With the cash, the player can then purchase skill improvements and better skateboards. THPS2 was also the first game in the series to introduce the manual, a skateboarding trick where the performer balances on two wheels. This enables players to string together trick combos, often resulting in hundreds of thousands of points. The game also introduced the Noseslide, Tailslide, Bluntslide, Noseblunt, Feeble, and Overcrook grinds. It was also the first of the Pro Skater games to feature Create-a-Skater and Park Editor features, now staples in the series.
Some levels in Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 are designed for the player to complete a set number of tasks in two minutes. Such tasks include finding the S-K-A-T-E letters, high scores and finding a hidden tape somewhere in the level. Each of the non-competition levels contain ten tasks for a player to do, each task rewarding a player with cash. Cash is also scattered around the levels in order for players to find, increasing the use for replaying a level. Once a player has enough cash, they can continue on to a new level. The other type of levels are competition levels. This is first seen in Marseilles, where a player must perform tricks and get judged on. The rating by the judges that a player receives is based on how much they score, variation of tricks, bails, and how much of the level they have used. The judges give scores based on this criteria, the highest and lowest are taken away, and the three scores are given an average. There are three runs total and the best two count. Competition levels also contain cash hidden for a player to collect.