The Tony Hawk series of games has been a massive success on all the platforms in the past. Now on its third series of titles (Pro Skater, Underground and now American Wasteland), it was a foregone conclusion that a version from the most recent set would be brought to the Xbox360, the first of the next gen consoles out of the gate. Back to the roots went the series with American Wasteland, stripping away all of the destruction themes of the past and starting over from scratch with the “skate punks earn respect” approach seen in early titles. While the gameplay itself is the great fun players have come to expect from the series, the developers have made the decision to not repeat their actions of the last generational jump. If you own the original version of THAW on the Xbox, then you already own this one as well.
Players who are expecting the Xbox 360 version of the game to look radically more advanced than the Xbox version are in for a shock. The graphics have a higher poly count and look somewhat improved, but that’s really it. In short, if you own any version for the current generation, there is no real “wow” factor to compel you into a second purchase. If you’ve been holding off on a purchase in order to see how this next-gen version turned out, then by all means pick up a copy.
The story mode starts players off as one of five selectable skaters, none of which have configurable faces or body types. Players can, however, design their outfits in any way they like through an interface that offers plenty of choices for fashion. Upon getting off the bus in Los Angeles, the player’s character hooks up with a skater chick named Mindy who basically acts as a mission hub for the rest of the game. She always has something to say or a mission to request of the player, so look to her when lost.
The main focus of the game is to become respected among the gang of LA skaters and build a park called Skate Ranch. Players compete to add pieces to the park and then can skate all over them. The style of gameplay present here harkens back to the purity of the original set of titles and doesn’t get bogged down in the insanity the last few titles have been mired in. While participating in various missions or quests, a strange GTA kind of déjà vu starts to take hold. There are no loading screens at all through the entire game, and players can literally skate from one end of LA to the other without having to stop, but there are certain areas that “connect” one section to another. The missions throughout the game can take place in any of the areas, so expect to be crisscrossing all over town… but that’s a good thing.
Classic mode takes place in entirely different areas than the main story mode, and fans of the older titles in the various Tony Hawk iterations will recognize a few of them. Naturally, they look prettier than they did on machines of the past, and they seem to have a “shimmery” look. They are not as pretty as the main story mode environments, but that’s a given.
The control scheme is fairly easy to learn as well. Players begin the story mode with a bare bones set of moves, only to participate in missions and quick “dares” from NPCs that will either teach you the new moves directly, or make the NPCs promise to teach you something if you complete their dare. As the story progresses so does the list of available moves. It’s a wise design approach, especially for beginners. There is also a short piece of the game devoted to BMX riding and tricking, but there’s only one part in the game where you must use a bike and it’s over before it has a chance to overstay its welcome. All in all, it’s the tried and true control presentation that has made the past games such a success, and when paired up with the instant classic that the Xbox 360 wireless controller has already become, it really ups the fun quotient considerably.
The “Create-A-Skater, Create-A-Park, Create-A-Trick and Create-A-Graphic” modes deliver what you’d expect in a very deep system for users to customize the game into whatever they would like. The Xbox 360 also offers online play for eight players and one observer. Online play starts in free skate mode and then moves into whatever competition has been set up. Once complete, players are ranked and move back into free skate mode. It’s a pretty simple execution and play style, and it seems to work without the lag that many of the 360s launch titles seem to be suffering from.
The audio presentation is pretty much high quality, with all of the sound effects being crisp and clear with the right amount of believability. The music is literally dozens of licensed tracks from the likes of such bands as My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday and Fallout Boy. Yes, it seems that after many attempts, the developers have finally nailed a happy mixture of wackiness, skating, and the periphery style and music that goes along with the entire Los Angeles skating scene. For the first time in a while the game’s main focus is skating, tricking and more skating instead of random acts of “wilding.” If a flaw must be found in this new balance it’s the fact that the story mode may be a bit too easy and short.
All in all, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland is exactly the kind of fun you were expecting in such a title, and if those expectations aren’t sky-high in terms of graphical prowess on the new system than this title is for you. It cannot be understated that if you own any of the current-gen versions than this one is largely irrelevant. It’s a pretty safe bet that the first “pure” next-gen version of the franchise is already in development.