STAFF REVIEW of Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, December 7, 2005.
by Tony Ingrassia

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland Box art Yet another long standing and successful franchise make its way over to the Xbox 360. Tony Hawk has become quite an Icon in society as well as the gaming industry with his detailed and entertaining skating games. So how does Tony Hawk American Wasteland fair in the Next-Gen? Let?s take a closer look.

THAW follows a tried and true formula with its mechanics, some of the best in the biz, not only now, but they have been the bar to which other games of this genre are measured. That being said, THAW makes some strides forward, but also leaves some of the comfortable familiarities of the past intact. Is that a good thing? I?m kind of on the fence with it. My initial reaction is, new game, must be better, but that?s not always the case. Here is how the latest Hawk game fairs in my opinion.

The game offers some great options, the 2 main ones being Story Mode and Classic Mode. Going a little deeper in the game, you find a once again awesome Create-a-Player, Create-a-Park, Create-a-Graphic, as well as Crate-a-Trick. Closing out the options is the head to head competition you can get your skater juices flowing to on Xbox Live. This is were American Wasteland will set itself apart with gamers, being able to hold 8 players at once will definitely offer up some intense competition and bragging rights. Free Skate and Co-Op modes are also available. The ?Create? options are nicely balanced and varied; you can upgrade your look, and board by earning cash during the game by completing challenges. This is straight forward TH fair. What I thought was a nice touch and maybe a safety net if you will, was the inclusion of the Classic mode. The Classic mode is your basic TH list of achievements to knock out in varied tracks, the usual combos, flips, grinds, and secret tapes are all available in all too familiar game play. Hell even the sounds in the classic mode remained the same. While I have always enjoyed the TH series, the last few outings have seemed a little on the un-original side of the spectrum, yes new location, new clothes, new board?s, are all ?New?, if you will to American Wasteland, but the game really remains the same. Still, let?s remember this is the ?Classic? mode of American Wasteland and as for what it?s supposed to be in the scheme of the game, it delivers as promised, the tried and true Tony Hawk experience we have grown to love.

The ?Story Mode? is the new option in American Wasteland. The basic premises is country boy leaves to go to the big city to become a skating legend, then, boy meets girl who ends up being basically his guide through some missions and introduces him to other skaters he can learn from. So what drives American Wasteland, well its pretty much all mission based and unfolds like one big tutorial. Every 24 hours the local skate shops offer up a list of new challenges for you to try and accomplish. Doing so increases your player ranking, when your ranking reaches certain levels you are eligible to enter certain competitions. During all of this you can make your way around town, let?s say Hollywood, and come across various characters that will issue challenges to you for cash and advancement. You can take the Bus to and from areas you have visited, you can go it on foot and have non-skateboard challenges like learning to do wall flips add to your achievements, while on foot you can also use your board as a weapon, its actually part of certain missions, and lastly on the list of things you can ride, are the BMX Bikes. Hop on one and tackle a whole new set of tricks to keep that ranking ever climbing. Adding to the cornucopia of options is tagging, much like Jet Set Radio, you fly along and tag walls and earn advancements for a job well done. But again, it?s a constant, go to the next guy, get his challenge, try and do it, wash rinse and repeat. Of course they added cut scenes with some humor and the usual thug skater throwing down a challenge. Those hidden little areas we all spend countless hours trying to figure out how to reach are scattered around American Wasteland, but all in all, American Wasteland while solid on its own, offers nothing overly new or exciting from prior versions.

That being said, the game does take a step up in graphics and fluidity all thanks to the new 360 hardware. The game looks very good running at 720p, real time shadows and textures are well done, the locations sport some great detail and as usual most objects are interactive and can be pushed, moved, broken, or shattered. The game did seem a little dark on my TV, but a quick trip to the options menu took care of that. The soundtrack boasts the usual mix of great songs form some of today?s skater favorites. The environmental sounds are well done and balanced. Dolby Digital does a great job of putting you in the middle of everything and delivers a pleasant experience. It?s hard to knock any of the Tony Hawk games; they deliver such solid experiences and again some of the best mechanics and realism in the genre, but American Wasteland even with the familiar and comfortable inclusion of the Classic mode, does fall a little short of my expectations. As in the Xbox library, I stopped at TH3 because the newer versions didn?t offer anything spectacular, well, Tony Hawk American Wasteland will remain in my library for 2 reasons, the classic TH experience never looked or sounded better than it does in American Wasteland, and the Xbox Live options will most keep your competitive juices flowing. Fans of the series may not care for the Story Mode, but as I said, the on line play will certainly bring some of the gamers who are unsure off the proverbial fence and into American Wasteland. If you?re a fan of the series or Tony Hawk, pick it up, you won?t be too disappointed in this installment.

I can\'t put my finger on it, the Story Mode was a great shot at changing things up a bit, it wasn\'t bad, but its not quite what the doctor ordered. Outside of that, the trick system, mechanics, and look are great as always.

Overall: 8.4 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.6 / 10


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