Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland
You can tell that Neversoft, the developers of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, really like making the games. While other developers seem to get bored with their series and run out of ideas after just the first game, Neversoft keeps chugging along, constantly expanding on the series in every incarnation. While Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland is the eighth game in the series, it still offers a lot of new surprises and improvements on past entries into the series and though it might not be as great as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 in my mind, it’s still a pleasure to play.
American Wasteland tells the story of a young Kentuckian who has come all the way to California to live his dream of becoming a professional skater. Unlike the other games in this series, you start off as a true novice with a limited moves list, which was a very nice touch. Instead of being able to pull off dozens of moves right from the get-go, your first task in the Golden State is to get yourself a posse who can teach you all of the moves that you’re going to need to become a pro. Along the way, you’ll meet up with the Skate Club fanatics who will teach you flatland tricks, a master sensei that will show you the ways of focus and special, and some legendary old school skaters who will enlighten you on the moves of the past.
I initially thought that veterans of this series might be a bit thrown off by the fact that they can’t bust out impressive tricks from the start and then I realized that I’m about as veteran as they come and I didn’t mind at all, so I got that thought out of my head. It was honestly one of the most refreshing points of the game, making it feel like a much more realistic “up-and-coming” skater story. As expected, the gameplay remains largely unchanged. You go from person to person performing the tasks that they ask of you in an attempt to progress the storyline. You can compete in special missions to earn stat points, requiring you to do certain moves for a set length of time or performing a number of moves all in one combo.
Although the gameplay hasn’t changed (or at least the fundamentals), American Wasteland works quite nicely. All of the games in this series have introduced new moves prominently and American Wasteland is no exception to this trend. Some of these new additions are pretty handy, like the Bert slide; a ground move (for lack of a better term) where you sort of skid from side to side on your board. It’s not really as practical as the manual, but it’s helpful for when you want to make a quick turn where the manual can’t deliver.
Of course, not all of the new tricks are as important or handy, such as running up a wall and doing backflips (called parkour). I only used these tricks when I absolutely had to. BMX bikes have also been introduced into the series for the first time. Biking is entirely optional and it can be pretty fun, but the only point to doing any of the biking missions is to earn some money, so I largely ignored this inclusion. If you’re into BMX, I can’t recommend that you buy this game solely for this as it doesn’t feel quite that fleshed out (I think it is a safe bet that the next incarnation of the series will include a little more biking since it’s a good idea).
And finally, the last of my laundry list of improvements and additions (and hopefully the end of this review reading like a fact sheet) is the highly touted “end of loading.” Yes, in the story mode, there is no loading beyond the initial boot up. However, if you were hoping for one giant, Grand Theft Auto style world, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, you get a few areas about the size of the levels in the Tony Hawk Underground games (which are pretty substantial) connected through a series of bland tunnels. During your time in these tunnels, you can bust a few tricks, but odds are they’ll be interrupted by momentary pauses as the game loads the next area behind the scenes. The area transitions are a bit choppier then I would have preferred, but the lack of load times are a welcome addition.
Exploring California is quite fun, too. The game is pretty inventive with the areas considering that every town had dozens and dozens of curved walls that are perfect to skate but probably aren’t architecturally sound. Even still, it feels like California. Its atmosphere is captured perfectly by parodies of actors like Ben Affleck and his movie Pearl Harbor and even Ashlee Simpson. There are red carpets and oceans, but there are a few unnatural occurrences, like a giant skatepark in the middle of Beverly Hills that you steal parts for from all of the areas in the game. This is an entirely optional addition that’s quite fun to participate in. Knocking a sign for a theme park down and then watching how it is incorporated into your skatepark (you don’t control this) adds a nice personal touch.
When you knock down a sign or get any other objective complete, you get to watch a brief video afterwards of the destruction that has occured. These videos are fun to watch even if they are a little choppy. For the most part, American Wasteland looks really good. California is bright and sunny, shining down nicely on some great animations and character models. The game really shines in the “classic” mode (where you skate the old levels from the series with the traditional timer and level goals) because the engine isn’t so taxed. There are some great reflections and textures and overall the game has a nice shine in either mode. The soundtracks have always been important in the Tony Hawk series and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in it. There’s just so much music they fit in the game now that it feels like quantity beat out quality. The original soundtracks featured a tight assortment of songs but the good songs on this soundtrack seem outnumbered by a few only alright ones and many awful ones.
At the end of the day, this is another Tony Hawk game. If you liked the other ones, you’re bound to like American Wasteland. If you hated the other ones, you’re bound to hate this one. It isn’t perfect but the game is a lot of fun to play and still incredibly addictive. While the core gameplay hasn’t changed, there are a number of improvements that make it a solid addition to any fans’ collection and if it’s your first time with the series, you’re going to find this is a nice game to open you up to the ways of Tony Hawk.