In the mid 1990?s a small, skinny kid from California reenergized a sport that had, for all intents and purposes, commercially gone on vacation. Since his first victory in a skating competition in 1982 to this very day, his unparalleled greatness has made him the eternal poster boy for skateboarding and the punk rock generation that he rose from. His innovation for the sport has birthed over 80 tricks and he still continues to amaze and draw large crowds whenever or wherever he hits the half pipe. That skaters name is Tony Hawk, and this is his American Wasteland.
Unfortunately for Mr. Hawk, his American Wasteland suffers from a lack of polygons. Most objects in Neversoft?s title are not defined enough for the standards that have already been set by other launch games on the Xbox 360. Non-player characters and player models are blocky, environments are low poly, and most textures are not well defined. In comparison to the original Xbox version of American Wasteland, there is an improvement on the Xbox 360, but it?s not as large a jump as other franchises have made while transitioning from the current generation to the next-gen platform. In fact, comparing the two games on a visual basis is like comparing a kick in the groin to a punch in the nose, only you wouldn?t pay for either one.
Another problem visually is the syncing of the voice acting with cut scenes and comic strips. Neversoft uses both methods of storytelling to advance the progress of your character through the story mode of Wasteland. This is somewhat of a quandary as the game is hindered by a lack of solidarity; after completing missions sometimes you?ll see a comic strip and sometimes you?ll see a cut scene, and the flip-flopping between the two visual ideologies gives the game a feel only a schizophrenic could understand. Furthermore, other titles like Ultimate Spider-Man and XIII have already set a precedent for using the comic strip model and American Wasteland falls far short of meeting those expectations.
For all of its graphical woes the audio presentation in Tony Hawk?s American Wasteland is probably the best of any game in the Xbox 360 launch. The soundtrack for Wasteland boasts over 50 songs from all eras of Hip-Hop, Punk, and Rock. The amalgamation of music is so perfect for the game that at times you aren?t aware that the music is playing on a playlist like it would on a radio station. While sound effects are always present when you are riding on street, grass, or pipe, the music is the driving force behind the audio presentation in American Wasteland.
Gameplay in this urban street grinder is pretty solid. Veterans who have played either the Tony Hawk?s Pro Skater or the Tony Hawk?s Underground series will pick up right where they left off. Railing, manuals, and other balance moves are pulled off in the same classic style and can be easy to master. Though pulling off new tricks, getting vertical, and learning new moves will be difficult for newcomers, the learning curve is not too steep.
One miss with the gameplay is a constant problem with the static gameplay camera and your virtual skater. At certain points in the game it can be difficult to determine where your skater is at in relation to a rail, a quarter pipe, or a jump. This is problematic when trying to collect the various S-K-A-T-E letters or trying to find the hidden tapes in the classic mode of American Wasteland. If you miss a letter or the infamous tape itself, you will have to backtrack to a jump or a rail in order to reach the item. When backtracking, often your second approach to a letter or the tape will not be as ideal as your first, because of this motionless camera.
Wasteland makes up for its misses in its replay value, which is very deep. The highlight of the depth in Wasteland is seen in its story mode, where you, a skater from a rural city, are journeying to Los Angeles, the Mecca of skateboarding. As you go through the story mode, you?ll be challenged to do tricks and complete missions to unlock other locations or challenges within the city of angels. Your budding skater from rural America will bump heads and shoulders with professional skateboarders as well as fictional characters within the virtual city. While American Wasteland also bodes the original classic mode, the story mode is easily the more engaging of the two.
The common create modes also make a comeback with the same depth. Create-a-skater, create-a-trick, create-a-tag, and create-a-park all make an appearance in Tony Hawk?s latest. However, one disappointment derives from the lack of publishing support for Wasteland?s create-a-park mode. While Xbox Vice President J Allard had not confirmed this feature, he had hinted to the possibility of gamer?s being able to publish their own skate parks and other various content. There are currently games such as Pariah and Far Cry: Instincts, which both enable players with Xbox Live to publish their own maps, and this trend will hopefully grow in next-gen games.
For those with Xbox Live, Wasteland offers a multitude of multiplayer modes. Traditional multiplayer modes like capture the flag and other skateboarding specific game modes like high score and goal attack, add a wealth of online goodness. Moreover, hopping online can favor skating nuts that haven?t yet unlocked certain areas and create opportunities for newcomers to converse with other vertical freaks who know the locations of secret tapes or give advice on how to reach letters in either the S-K-A-T-E or C-O-M-B-O challenges. American Wasteland?s online play is fun and casual to the point that gamer?s should rent the game just to grind online with up to 7 other players.
Overall Tony Hawk?s American Wasteland is another good skateboarding title, though this version has some faults that didn?t quite raise the bar for the skateboarding genre. For example, the user interface design in Wasteland is a little stale. In fact, it?s more or less the same user interface design we?ve all seen in Tony Hawk?s Underground and Tony Hawk?s Underground 2. Yes the target audience for this game is a generation of youth that, for the most part, glorify spray-painting and stencils, but that is no reason to stick with that same design over the development of three games. Neversoft has relied too much on the UI design of Tony Hawk?s Underground to distinguish American Wasteland from either one of the THUG games.
The prevalent product placement is another concern for those who are weighing a purchase of Wasteland. Nokia, Sirius, and Jeep are the most notable companies who have sought out the Birdman for a place in his latest title. While product placement in games can be a great way to hedge the cost of development, Wasteland?s in game advertisements can actually distract gamers from playing the game. For instance, most of the vehicles in American Wasteland are sport utility vehicles, and a high percentage of those SUV?s sport the Jeep brand name. Other product distractions revolve around Sirius station identification during in-game music and pause menu?s that features the company?s logo. If the advertisements in Tony Hawk?s Wasteland were a little less in your face, and subtler, it would greatly improve the user?s experience.
The real problem with American Wasteland is the lack of innovation. There is nothing in this game that continues the evolution that we?ve seen in other installments of the Tony Hawk line of skateboarding games. The models resemble too many of the same proportions found in earlier Tony Hawk games, the textures and lighting pales in comparison to other 360 launch titles, and objects such as COMBO and SKATE letters are the same in shape and size as they were in earlier games. American Wasteland is arguably THUG 2 with new environments and a new story. Neversoft relies so heavily on the advantage of a streaming environment, that everything else in American Wasteland fails or barely passes as an improvement. Tony Hawk and Neversoft need to overhaul the look of skateboarding in videogames and the best example of that is American Wasteland.
In general, Tony Hawk?s American Wasteland is another installment of a game you?ve already played. The graphics are improved but not impressive, the models look better but not different, and environments are larger but not superior. The subtle improvements in American Wasteland are simply not enough to warrant the need for a new name or a new title. With any luck, the next iteration of a Tony Hawk grinder will take the game in a new direction either visually or creatively.
Though American Wasteland is more of the same, fans of the series will enjoy another romp with the Birdman and his entourage. Improved gameplay online, a streaming environment with no load times, and a wealth of options to the create-a-park feature may impress veterans of the series. However, American Wasteland is best suited for those who are unfamiliar with the skateboarding genre, as everything in this game will seem brand new to those who have never played a Tony Hawk title. Unless you?re locked into buying a bundle when you purchase your Xbox 360 this holiday, it?s probably best to rent Tony Hawk?s American Wasteland.