Tony Hawk's American Wasteland
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2, GC, Xbox
Publisher
Activision
Developer
Neversoft
Genre
Extreme Sports
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood, Crude Humor, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Lots of modes, including Story, Classic and multiplayer
• Gameplay is as refined as possible
• Excellent Create-A-Park and Skater modes
• Large soundtrack

The Bad

• Create-A-Skater not available to Story Mode
• Online is for experts only
• Character models could be better
• Not much in the way of gameplay improvements

 
Grade
B+

Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk has had the luxury of having his name attached to an excellent series that has incrementally made annual revisions to the formula, not unlike polishing a fine gem to the point where not much more can be done to improve it. After two years of Tony Hawk's Underground, the series has made another shift in theme. American Wasteland takes the series back to its more classical roots, shedding a lot of the Bam Margera/Jackass antics in favor of telling the story of a no-named skater trying to make a name for themselves when they arrive in Los Angeles. While the story is nothing brilliant or award winning, it does serve the purpose of driving the player through a string of objectives so that they can continue on.

When you load up the game, you'll find a good range of game modes available to you. First and foremost is the Story Mode, where you play through location after location, completing missions, go to the various shops, earn cash and take on Sponsor Challenges from the skate shops. Because the gameworld in the story mode is a "living world", you can go to the skate shop to get new challenges every day and if you look around, you'll find NPCs to get missions from. The map and compass aid you in finding these people. When you want to move to another area, you'll need to move through a tunnel-like connector which does a good job at hiding level loading, making the whole experience feel somewhat seemless.

Along with the Story Mode is the Classic Mode, which harkens back to the Pro Skater days. Players are dropped in a level with ten goals to complete, including score challenges, collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E or pulling off high scoring combos. To make it a challenge, players are only given two minutes at a shot to complete goals. Complete enough goals and you can unlock the next stage. This modes works as a wonderful walk through memory lane for fans of the series are serves as a nice diversion from the Story Mode.

The gameplay builds on years of refining the skating engine, where players can perform a large array of tricks through combinations of the D-Pad/Analog stick and buttons. Players can hit L1 and R1 to get on and off the board, which can be used for moving in areas where the skateboard might be a bit tricky. Holding and then releasing the X Button allows you to jump/Ollie. Each level has a number of ramps the players can use to pull of grab tricks and flip tricks with the Circle or Square Buttons in combination with the D-Pad/Analog stick. When skating near a rail or ledge, you can ollie and press the Triangle button to grind onto the surface. While grinding, players can 50-50, boardslide, nosegrind, noseslide, among other tricks.

The further you get into the game, the more moves you'll find you not only have, but need, including Lip Tricks, Manuals, Reverts, No Comply and Boneless. This stable of tricks will be good to get you going, but you'll have to get well versed with some of the more advanced techniques to get far in the game. These include Wallplants, Wallpushes, Double-Tap Flips, Acid Drops, Skitching and the Natas Spin, to name a few. And, when you're off of your board, you even have a few tricks that you can pull off, like Wall Running, a Wall Flip, and Tagging.

In the story mode, you'll find access to BMX bikes that you can jump on and perform a different set of tricks. Controlling the BMX bike is a little bit different than the skateboard, but you can still string together chains of tricks. Because the BMX portion is an addition to the skateboarding, it doesn't feel as deep or refined.

What is a Tony Hawk game without a few Create-A modes? The Create-A-Skater mode is pretty comprehensive, but it's a shame that you can't use it in the Story Mode. You read that right. Players are given five default skaters to start with, but with a few shops available to you, you can make these skaters more personalized. A series standard, the Create-A-Park mode gives a lot of depth for those who wear out the levels the game gives you. For those who get really deep into the game, the Create-A-Move option will allow you to get a good bit of customization to your skater.

Even though there is a good bit to do for a single player, Neversoft has done a good bit making the multiplayer experience an integral option. Along with the single player Classic Mode, you can play a Co-op version of the same mode. Available is a series of two player and online games, including Trick Attack, Score Challenge, Capture The Flag, King of the Hill and HORSE. The online experience is broadband only, and probably should also be labeled "For Experts Only" as well. Gamers new to the Tony Hawk experience can try out the online aspect, but don't be too surprised to be outclassed by just about everyone else you meet. Experts will find the right amount of challenge available to them.

I feel a bit torn when it comes to the graphical aspect of THAW. While this is the best the series has looked to date, there is still some room for improvement. The story mode is littered with excellent skater/punk artwork to accentuate the experience. The levels are large and designed well to maximize the number of tricks a player can pull off. There is a lot of activity going on in the level, including vehicles driving around the streets, NPCs and other skaters, giving the levels a bit of life to them. From a visual effect standpoint, the game is built more as a functional piece, rather than killing the framerate with too many unneeded effects. Where I think the engine still needs some work is in the blocky character models that feature some low res textures. This may be passable for the Create-A-Player models, the other story-oriented characters could look a little better based on the fact that they don't change.

As with previous editions, the audio portion of American Wasteland proves to be solid with a lot of high points and a few flat notes that keep it from being excellent. First and foremost is the extensive licensed soundtrack, featuring punk, rock and hip hop tracks from the likes of The Doors, Dead Kennedys, Frank Black, Public Enemy and Motley Crue. The soundtrack may not appeal to all tastes, but it does fit into the mood that the game is trying to establish. The voice cast for the story mode is pretty solid, and includes some pretty familiar voice acting talent. The professional skaters tend to sound a little stiff, but they do the job just fine. Sound effects do the job wonderfully. Along with the screech of rail grinds, the sound of bones crunching when you wreck, the ambient sounds of the city do a nice job at fleshing out the living game world.

There really only serves to be minor issues that I had with the actual gameplay engine. When on the board, if you get caught in a tight space, don't be too surprised to find yourself bouncing back and forth like a bumper car until you either manage to get away or jump off your board. Also, there was a few times where I got credit for performing a trick that I'm pretty sure I didn't pull off (or at least it didn't look like it).

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland is a great step back to the series' roots. At this point, the skateboarding mechanics have become as polished as they are ever going to be. I have to wonder where Neversoft can take this series from here without being in great danger of growing stale. Without much in the way of competition, we can only hope that Neversoft wants to challenge themselves as the next generation offers them more to work with.

- - Kinderfeld

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