Tony Hawk's American Wasteland REVIEW

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland Review (Xbox)

If you ask a lot of sports gamers today to name the most successful game franchise in this genre not named Madden, many of them would, or at least should, quickly fire back with the Tony Hawk series. Believe it or not, the newest release in the series, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, is actually lucky number seven in the highly successful franchise. And, like skateboarding and other extreme sports, few have expanded in the manner that Neversoft’s Tony Hawk titles have. From the early Pro Skater titles, through the two T.H.U.G. releases, and into the new American Wasteland, we’ve watched the evolution of a genre. Almost like watching a skateboarding “competition” in the early 80’s versus the latest X-Games. We’ve crossed a lot of terrain between a kickflip and a 900, and Tony Hawk has been there every step of the way.

In Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, the series takes another step toward blending the lines between sports game and RPG/Grand Theft Auto-esque action title. The story mode has really become the main hub of the game, where the old classic modes from the earlier Pro Skater days have almost become mini-game modes.

The backstory in American Wasteland is the tried and true “stranger in a strange land, small town boy in the big city, little man makes it big” formula that peppers all forms of media. You’re a nameless wanna-be skater who catches a bus to L.A. to make it big on a board. Within seconds of your arrival your entire life unfolds. Some punks steal your luggage and you meet Mindy. Mindy is an artist/tour guide/fashion consultant/connection in California. She picks you up, dusts you off, and tries to steer you down the right path to becoming a pro. That’s really where the game begins.

From there, you’ll travel throughout the greater Los Angeles area, meeting people, skating, competing, and, basically, building up your attributes and your trick repertoire. You’ll move between downtown, Beverly Hills, and other sections of LaLa Land to accomplish all of these feats by passing through smaller areas to transition.

"But wait", you say, "wasn’t the big selling point of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland that it was a giant open city with no load times?" Well, yes it was, and, yes it is. Kind of. The developers have used a pretty clever combination of transitions and cutscenes to give American Wasteland a seamless feel. For example, you can actually take a bus or drive a pickup truck that you find at the skatepark that you’re helping to build. Technically, you never leave the game action for a load screen because you are looking at your character, but it is a load screen. It doesn’t take away from the experience in the least, however, and the game runs very smooth throughout.

Back to the story mode itself. You’re going to be more than pleased with the free-flowing nature of the game. It definitely doesn’t feel like you’re tied to a real set-in-stone path or order in which tasks need to be completed. Ultimately your goal is to create the baddest skatepark on the planet by any means necessary. Trick on this sign. Grind on that ledge. Find this guy. Combo under that building. As you continue to build this ultimate park, not only the skatepark itself becomes more and more enjoyable, but, in classic Tony Hawk style, the environment changes as pieces are moved from the city to your skating utopia.

The gameplay is really right on, and the story mode, while simple at times, will capture your attention for quite some time.

If I am going to complain about any major area in this edition of the series, it has to be in the graphics department. While the graphics aren’t bad by any stretch, they’re also nothing spectacular. In fact, most of them are pretty average. The animations are great, but the character models and environment really leave a lot to be desired. Especially when you’re using a vibrant setting like L.A. and the extreme sports lifestyle. Give me a little more color. I need a little bit more excitement in the visuals.

The sounds of the game are top-notch, as usual. In fact, this is easily the best effort in the series’ history. The soundtrack is, once again, a nice blend of new school and old school from both radio friendly and more underground acts. I’ve always felt like the music in Hawk games were the perfect mix. Just enough where you know it’s there, but not overpowering.

Adding to the total audio experience is some fantastic voice acting in this year’s release. While some of the dialogue can be lame at times, it really gives a nice feel and personality to the title and its characters. The voices give a depth and sense of realism to the characters they represent. I actually found myself having a little crush on Mindy by the time I had logged a few dozen hours. Whoever did that voice work… call me.

What most Tony Hawk vets will likely find most pleasing in Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland is the long-overdue jump to Xbox Live. For the fans that are not “dual-consoled”, you likely never got to enjoy the Hawk series on the PS2 in previous versions. You really don’t realize how perfect a fit this game is. Capture the Flag, Trick Attack, King of the Hill, “Slap!”, Graffiti - they're all here. Online play will keep this title fresh for a long time. I recommend “Firefight”, it’s... well, you really have to play it to appreciate it. I’ll just say, if throwing giant fireballs from your skateboard is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

When a franchise reaches it’s seventh release, what do you expect?

Most gamers simply want a title to stay fresh - to introduce something new and worthwhile.

Don’t make it feel like a simple “roster update”, so to speak.

Through the deeper story mode, the sense of reality created through the L.A. environments, and the rock-solid Xbox Live experience, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland accomplishes all of those things. Whether it’s your first or seventh Tony Hawk purchase, it's still worth every penny.

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland Score
out of 10