Review by Enders Shadow86

Reviewed: 02/09/06

Tony Hawks American 'Waste'land

There was a time when the name Tony Hawk was synonymous with a great game that offered hours of fun gameplay. Those times are long gone. Now, the Tony Hawk games, much like the man himself are fading away with age.

I remember playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the Playstation. I also remember the countless hours I spent on it trying to nail every trick, make combos of my own, and playing with friends in multiplayer. Then, just as I was falling in love with the game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 came out. And I loved it. I played that thing like it was my girlfriend. Every new Pro Skater that came out was another opportunity to for me to experience some of the best gameplay ever delivered by a game.

But then something happened. Neversoft came out with Tony Hawk’s Underground. That was the day the sky fell for me. No longer were the Tony Hawk games about the things I loved- the skating, the multiplayer, and the challenge. No! They were about being the biggest punk in the world. So, was I excited when I got my copy of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland? Not as excited as I used to get.

When you first pop in your disc, you’ll probably be treated to a cool introduction with some funky music as a hand draws in and paints skaters with weird names like Mindy, Iggy, Boong, and Useless Dave. My first impression: Where are the big name skaters- i.e. Bucky Lasek, Bob Burnquist, Rodney Mullen- that used to be featured in the story modes of the past Tony Hawks?

At the main menu there are various different options including classic mode. In classic mode you get to choose your skater then try to achieve different milestones within each stage. This mode is great for fans of the series and hardcore gamers that want to challenge themselves. But classic mode is not part of the regular game so it feels like it’s there just for the challenge.

The meat of this game lies in the story mode. When you first start story mode you get to pick from three difficulty settings- easy, normal, and sick. After a cutscene, you get to select your skater from a few different scrubs. The story kicks off after choosing your skater and you eventually meet with Mindy, who advises you to get a haircut and some new clothes. The Tony Hawk series has always been one of the best games in providing customizability with characters, and this game is no different. You can basically make your skater have any style you want him to have. This may not be anything new to games or even the series, but it is done so well in this game that I had to mention it.

As the game develops, you earn money for doing menial tasks and different tricks for people who ask you to them for you. The problem is that most of these tasks feel like tutorials. In the glory days of Tony Hawk games you would still earn money this way, but there would be side tasks that you could compete by testing your own skills. One example would be to try and collect all the combo letters in a simple trick combo. These little milestones made the old games shine, and the absence of them leaves something to be missed.

One of the first things that I noticed while playing American Wasteland was the great voice acting, dialogue, and cutscene animations. Many of the characters act more natural than in most videogames, and the voice talents help to give it more of a narrative setting then ever before.

The story developed much better than any previous Tony Hawk games. There is actually some pretty good character development and the whole reason for the game being called American Wasteland fits very nicely into the narrative. But the story also subtracts from the game a little. Tony Hawk games used to be all about the skating back when they were titled Pro Skaters. Now they are about being the biggest punk you can be by roaming around doing meaningless tasks for homeless people and other street punks.

The town map is artistically drawn in punky-looking graffiti. And you always know were you need to go for your next objectives. But I didn’t feel motivated to move on with the game. This is because those new objectives that move the game on are almost always tutorials that teach you new tricks. So, at times, I just skated around doing nothing in particular.

Not as fun as it use to be.

When the other modes of play were introduced in Tony Hawk’s Underground, I knew they were a bad idea. Biking is useless. It doesn’t offer anything fresh and feels almost identical to the skating.

Let’s put a real life scenario to work here to better understand this. Let’s say that you are going to the local general store to pick up some shampoo. When you get to the register you realize that it’s a 2-in-1 shampoo with conditioner. You say, “Awww Man! I want regular shampoo! Just regular shampoo!” (Don’t think I’m some kind of metro-sexual. I just know that 2-in-1’s don’t work as well) That’s the feeling I get with American Wasteland. If I wanted a biking game, I would have bought a biking game. Period.

The difficulty of this game is a little disappointing as well. If you have played other Tony Hawk’s, then you’ll be able to jump right into the game without experiencing much of a learning curve. Even if you’ve never played a Tony Hawk game before then the learning curve is still fifteen to thirty minutes. Though it’s always good to have a short learning curve, it’s never good to make the gamer feel like they are still learning how to play the game half way through it. The reason is that the whole story mode revolves around you learning new tricks. Even at the end of the game you are still forced to learn tricks to move on.

The skating is as good as ever. Trying to string together combos that include grinding, air tricks, and manuals has always been fun. Not much has changed from the old games. Even the buttons are the same for old tricks. The problem, as mentioned before, is that skating is not the main feature of the game anymore.

Though American Wasteland can’t compare to its predecessors (those entitled Pro Skater), it is still worth a rental if you have an online connection. The online play on the Xbox, Xbox 360 and Ps2 give it a little more valuable and a little more replayability. But all in all, try to avoid this game. I am the first one to be sad at the demise of quality games in the Tony Hawk series. I never thought it would be possible for me to say that a Tony Hawk game offered me nothing in terms of sheer entertainment. I guess there is a first time for everything.

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

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