Review by nintendosega

"Finally, this series gets back on track."

When Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was released in 1999, (Damn, it's been almost 7 years already...) it basically put the Alternative Sports genre of video games in the public eye. Then lightning struck twice, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 was created, and it ended up being arguably the best Alternative Sports video game ever created. (To date I still feel it holds that title.) Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 was a decent follow-up, and another great game, although it didn't quite feel as fresh as the other two. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 was when the series to me jumped the shark. They tried something new, and the fairly boring end result completely failed to be any fun.

Starting with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, the series began to step away from what it was originally about; skating to a punk soundtrack and doing tricks. Instead, in its effort to add storylines, the ability to get off your board and walk, Bam Margera, and an increasingly mainstream soundtrack, the series went from "punk" to "sellout" and seemed to me to be less and less about the skating and more and more about all this other stuff they kept adding.

So, I'm not sure exactly why I picked up the latest in the series, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, but for some reason I felt like giving Tony Hawk another shot. And I'm glad to say that American Wasteland is the best Tony Hawk game since Tony Hawk 3, and while it still doesn't quite achieve the greatness of those first 3, it provides a fun experience that FINALLY brings the focus back to skateboarding.

Almost ALL the tasks you do for people involve tricks, combo's, grinds, wall plants, wall rides, transfers, natas spins, etc. Very few of those annoying collection missions that ruined the series with Tony Hawk 4 make appearances here. And this makes the biggest difference.

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland starts you off with you creating a character, including choosing their looks, clothes, etc. They then introduce you to the world in this game. You're put in the city of LA, and you go around doing tasks for people in an effort to build up the skills to enter the exclusive Skate Ranch. Eventually you are let in, and the game becomes about building an excellent skate park. The plot's simple and funny and doesn't get in the way of the skating, which is good. As for the gameplay, you basically travel through different sections of LA, (you can take a bus, car, or skate to the different sections) making money, doing tasks for people (which involve getting new parts for the Skate Ranch) and improving your skills by doing sponsored tasks at skate shops. Shops are all in-game, and the experience is relatively seamless. That said, though there are no in-game load screens, there are fairly obvious load times, which are particularly noticeable when skating from one area to another. But this doesn't really affect the game much, and if they hadn't been playing up the "NO LOAD TIMES" thing in the game's marketing, I wouldn't have even mentioned the fact that there definitely are load times in the game.

The graphics themselves, unfortunately, are nothing special. Yes, there are day/night changes, and some of the lighting is well done, but there's just no denying that this series has looked basically the same since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. Non-player characters look weird, especially up close, and there are even a couple (although rare) framerate drops. Hopefully the next Tony Hawk installment will finally up the graphics a bit, because they do need them.

The voice acting in this game is solid. The always-dependable Cree Summer does her usual work with Mindy, the character that advises you during the game. Some of the acting from the pro skaters is still a little iffy, but they play a much smaller role in this game, so it really doesn't matter much.

The soundtrack is solid. While the developer, Neversoft, continues to go with quantity over quality (like they've been doing starting with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4) the soundtrack here still has a couple good tracks. Some definitely don't fit, though. For example, Green Day's recent single, Holiday, is on this soundtrack. With most of these songs being classic punk rock or similar-sounding tunes, the (as usual) over-produced Green Day song stands out like a sore thumb. I guess they had to feature a Green Day song since their lead singer himself is featured in the game, but they easily could have chosen one of their older, more punk-sounding songs, rather than something right off the TRL countdown. It's a good song, don't get me wrong, but it just doesn't fit with the rest of the game's music. Anyway, minor gripes aside, the soundtrack here delivers, and sounds a bit grittier and less mainstream than the past couple installments, although I still wish they'd try a bit harder in this department.

This is a long game. Just finishing the story mode takes some time, and even then, you're not done. You don't have to do all the tasks to reach the end of the story mode, but you can continue to do those other tasks (which build up your Skate Ranch park even more) after beating the game. There's also a Classic Mode, which features the types of tasks that were found in the first 3 THPS games, in a combination of new levels and re-makes of THPS1 levels. Although the new levels look great, sadly, the lack of graphical update in this series is obvious when playing the remakes of Chicago and The Mall, which look almost identical to how they looked on the Dreamcast version of THPS1. They've been touched up a bit, but overall, you can easily see the lack of current-gen graphical quality in these levels. Then there's the hidden characters to unlock, there's the usual multiplayer mode, there's the online play....there's definitely a lot here. This game gives you your money's worth.

With the always-great Tony Hawk gameplay returning, the "collecting missions" leaving, a solid story, a big, explorable world, a long length, and a decent soundtrack, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland finally brings the Tony Hawk series back somewhat on track. Finally tricks are once again the center of this series. It's not flawless: there really needed to be more than 1 trick competition in the game, and some of the cutscenes feel rushed and a bit sloppy. Also, while the soundtrack is decent, I think it can be a little better. Still, the big, explorable world really was a cool idea, and I can't wait to see more done with it in future installments in the series.

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland may not be the excellent experience that the first 2 games were, but for a series thought to be well past its prime, this game was a pleasant surprise. Now, though, I think it's time for the developers to TAKE A BREAK. Stop with the annual Tony Hawk game releases. Spend a bit more time on the next one, but keep the great style of gameplay that was used in American Wasteland, and please, give the graphics a much-needed boost. If they do these things, I think we'll finally have another great Tony Hawk game. It'll be interesting to see where the series will go from here.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/09/06, Updated 12/20/09

Game Release: Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (US, 10/18/05)

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