Reviewed: November 23, 2005
Released: November 17, 2005
I have a confession to make. I’m not a huge Tony Hawk fan. I don’t dislike him or the sport of skateboarding…I just have never really cared about it. Stuck in the cornfields of Indiana, this “sport” has always eluded me. We did have a skate park in our town for about one year, back when I was 17, until some kid fell and sued and then it got turned into a Putt Putt miniature golf course.
So when Tony Hawk started endorsing his own line of games for Activision way back when I simply passed these reviews onto other more qualified (and interested) reviewers. In fact, the only Tony Hawk game I’ve ever reviewed was Pro Skater 3 way back in 2002.
Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland has certainly made an impact on this reviewer, even as far back as when I got my first glimpse of the game in a dark little room at E3. The promise of a massively complex re-creation of Los Angeles, all streaming with no load times as you skate from Hollywood to Beverly Hills then over to the Santa Monica pier, and the inclusion of a fairly involved story line that guides you on your adventure have all been fully realized.
Along with the big city comes a big story, or at least enough of a narrative to motivate you through more than 30 hours of gameplay. You play a simple kid from the Midwest, freshly dumped by your girlfriend and alienated from your parents. Like so many young people, you hop the bus to L.A. in search of fame, fortune, and end up with a whole new set of friends who actually understand you. Who knows…you might even find love.
American Wasteland is the icing on the cake of what has become a legacy of extreme sports titles with an established fan base of millions. Neversoft has continually tweaked and improved their Tony Hawk titles over the years, but none of them have seen the significant changes (all for the better) that we can now see and play in American Wasteland.
The first thing you have to decide on is how you want to play American Wasteland. Obviously, the massive Story mode will tempt you from the start and I highly recommend it as this is the primary reason to buy and play the game, but there is so much more lurking beneath that main menu.
The Story mode is broken down into more than 25 specific missions that will take you all over the L.A. area. These missions will often require the completion of multiple objectives, all relying on your improving skills as a skater. Missions are initiated by finding the NPC who will give you the assignment, but missions only become available at certain points during the story and after you have completed other prerequisites.
For those looking to customize your boarder, the Create-A-Skater has been totally integrated into the game world, so you now visit a variety of shops around L.A. to purchase new clothes, decks, and even tattoos and hairstyles. The stores vary by the area in which you find them and some missions will require you to change-up your look so you “fit in”.
Of course buying all these things cost money so you will need to do some odd jobs around town, again, all based on skating. This is where the game really opens up and takes on a GTA feel, only instead of jacking cars and whacking cops, you tag walls, and perform various skate challenges. These goals are persistent within the game world and offer you plenty of earning potential.
You’ll also want to improve your skating abilities as you progress through the game and this is done by competing in Sponsor Challenges. These change from day to day as based on the in-game clock. American Wasteland has an accelerated night and day cycle and as new days arrive new challenges appear at the skate shops. Once you accept a challenge you have until the end of that day to complete it, and when you do you will get stat points you can assign to the various attributes of your skater. If you need to advance the clock faster you can find points around town where you can take a nap and fast-forward the game.
Tagging plays a significant roll in American Wasteland and there will be several graffiti artists scattered about L.A. who will give you tagging challenges as well as help you perfect your skills You can even create your own custom tags using the Create-A-Graphic.
Even the Create-A-Trick has been integrated into the story mode. You now have to find certain Inspiration Spots scattered about town and these open up the trick editor where you can edit your own unique stunts.
As the city opens up it can take you a good deal of time to get from one end to the other. The designers have included some public transportation options to move you around a bit faster. This can save you a great deal of time but you can also miss out on a lot of sights and hidden stuff if you rely on it too much.
With a city so large and with so many goals and objectives to keep track of you will be glad to know that the handy compass at the top of the screen does a fantastic job of pointing you in the right direction. Just figure out what you want to do next and find the associated icon and put it at the top of your compass. You can also bring up a large overhead map if you want to plot your own route through the city.
Tony Hawk fans will just love the improved controls and new tricks that give American Wasteland the largest trick library in the history of the franchise. The trick system remains totally intuitive, although it is greatly enhanced with all new “bert slides” (surfer-style moves), cave-man combos, and extensions to the Natas spin. The list of tricks is now beyond counting with all new technical additions that will challenge even those who claim to be Tony Hawk masters.
Also new to American Wasteland is the addition of a BMX bike. Skateboard purists need not worry though, the bike is merely an alternate mode of transportation and is not required to finish the massive story mode, although you would be missing out on a lot of great gameplay including a refined BMX physics and trick engine.
There are 96 goals in the Story mode and they all lead to you finding the 43 pieces required to build you and your friends’ ultimate skate park. This is an excellent concept that allows for a slowly evolving skate park that you can visit at any time, and even invite friends via multiplayer. As new pieces are added to the park the trick lines change and you get a fresh experience with each new run.
For those of you just wanting to bust some sick moves, you’ll want to head right for the Classic mode that brings back all of your favorite levels from the previous Tony Hawk games as well as several new ones. All of these levels have been totally revamped in the new game engine and look and play amazingly.
While the gameplay has been improved upon with a more responsive engine and tighter controls, the objectives are pretty much the same. You have a two-minute timer and a laundry list of objectives that you need to do like achieving certain scores or spelling the word SKATE, or finding the secret tape.
Perhaps the moment many of you have been waiting for…Co-op play is here and now you and a friend can tackle these two-minute challenges together. Working as a team and with each of you playing to your strong suits, it’s actually quite conceivable to complete all the goals within a single run. As a bonus for those who complete the Story and Classic modes, there is a Free Skate mode that allows you to revisit these levels and play for the highest score you can get in two-minutes.
Xbox owners got their first taste of online Hawk last month and now Xbox 360 gamers get the same experience. Online gaming has never been better and Neversoft delivers the goods with a variety of fun and challenging game modes including; Trick Attack (compete for high score), Score Challenge (race to a target trick score), Combo Mambo (get the single highest combo score in the time limit), Slap! (smack into players with the faster player getting the score), and many others.
Graffiti is loads of fun and as you trick off of objects in the game they turn to your color. You can steal other players’ tagged objects by busting a higher scoring trick off their object. King of the Hill is another favorite where you must find a gold crown. Your score increases the longer you hold onto the crown, so other players will be trying to Slap you and take it away. Since you move slower with the crown the trick here is to hide someplace hard to reach.
Much like King of the Hill is the new Pot O’ Gold multiplayer mode where you can only score tricks while in possession of the pot. Bust as many high-scoring combos as you can before the competition Slaps you down and steals your pot.
Scavenger is another personal favorite and has players racing around fairly large levels looking for hidden coins. Each player gets to hide five coins and you have a time limit to find all the coins including your own, or at least try to get the most.
Other modes included Capture the Flag, Goal Attack, Elimiskate, and Firefight. There are just so many options beyond the Story and Classic modes. If you don’t already have Xbox Live you now have a very good reason to sign up. These modes are not only fun, they are totally addicting.
American Wasteland has a totally unique visual style that improves upon the previous games while maintaining an authentic 80’s punk flavor with some great visual stylings from renowned skateboard artist, Jimbo Phillips, not to mention tons of licensed graffiti art from real L.A. “urban painters”.
The game oozes with style from the opening bus ride to your exploration of a fully realized Los Angeles. The various sections of the city all have the obligatory attractions so non-residents can easily identify which part of the city they are in. We all know what the Chinese Theater looks like and we’ve all seen the Ferris wheel at the amusement park in Santa Monica and the giant Hollywood sign that overlooks the city.
The Xbox 360 offers modest improvements over the Xbox version. The levels are exactly the same, both in design and geometry meaning a lot of 360 horsepower is going to waste rendering the same polys we played on the regular Xbox. Admittedly, the game has some improvements in the areas of textures, which are now much more detailed, and the lighting is absolutely fantastic with the exception of some quirky shadowing that forced me to max out my gamma settings to even see Mindy in her opening conversation.
The game looks stunning in motion, running at smooth framerates in all HDTV resolutions. The character details are greatly enhanced with the use of Normal Mapping which actually allows you to see fiber details in the clothing. The animation, especially for your skater, are just incredible and the trick animations all blend seamlessly together no matter how massive the combos and trick lines become.
There are some hilarious scripted events and in-game cutscenes and the game uses a creative comic book presentation style that really give the entire game an authentic flavor. I wasn’t in L.A. during the 80’s but I honestly have a good idea of what it was like after playing American Wasteland.
The soundtrack is pretty amazing in American Wasteland and even though the Xbox 360 offers custom soundtrack support, with more than 70 hot tracks I doubt you will get tired of the music that comes with the game. The music blends eras and genres and there is truly something here for everyone to enjoy.
The voice acting is really good, although after checking the credits I can’t claim to recognize any names. Even so, every character you meet has their own distinct personality and delivers their lines with a professional quality that is normally reserved for more story-intensive adventure games.
Sound effects are pretty standard with the rolling sounds of your board or the whir of your BMX as you pedal down the street. There are plenty of ambient sounds for traffic and pedestrians as well as major event sound effects for the scripted sequences. It’s all presented in a wonderful Dolby Digital mix that puts you smack in the middle of L.A.
You can fast track the Story mode and blaze through it in 12-15 hours, but why do that? If you play the game as intended the story should easily last upwards of 20 hours and there is easily another 20 waiting for you in the Classic mode. Don’t even get me started about the multiplayer games and their total addiction that will dominate your life for months to come.
And with so much customization; Create-A-Skater, Create-A-Graphic, Create-A-Trick, and Create-A-Mode, you can modify and keep playing this game until the next one arrives. Even at full price, American Wasteland is one of those few games that is an exceptional value.
The Xbox 360 adds Achievements to the Tony Hawk equation and you can score huge Gamer Score points for all sorts of milestone objectives including finishing the various parts of the story, setting high scores, and playing online in each of the L.A. city zones. Even after finishing everything the core game has to offer these achievements will keep the hardcore gamer busy for months to come.
Fans of Tony Hawk games and even those like me who have never really cared for the sport or the series would do well to pick up Tony Hawk American Wasteland, especially if you haven't already picked it up for another system. It’s a perfectly blend of extreme sports action with an intuitive trick system that allows you to grow with the game, and big city free-roaming adventure much like a GTA game without all the violence.
I know I’ll be playing this game for months to come, both online and off. Neversoft has done what I would have thought impossible a few months ago. They actually created a game that sold me on the sport of skateboarding, at least in video game format. I won’t be programming my DVR for the next X-Games anytime soon, but I will be looking forward to the next Tony Hawk game while I continue to explore Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland.