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ups: All of the greatness of the series, now with a seamless landscape, online play, co-op Classic Mode, and BMX!
downs: Some performance issues, story shortcomings, and no online park editor.

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Tony Hawk's American Wasteland Review
game: Tony Hawk's American Wasteland
four star
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
publisher: Activision
developer: Neversoft
date posted: 09:20 AM Wed Nov 16th, 2005
last revision: 12:01 AM Thu Nov 17th, 2005

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Click to read.Let\'s see, it must have been 1989. I was fourteen. I was a skater. Not in a surfer-turned-skate hood, bucking the law and fighting for acceptance kind of way-don\'t expect any Dogtown and Z-boys parallels in my life. I was just a typical, no-skin-on-my-shins skaterat content to run hills, ollie, and skitch a ride on the back of my uncle\'s truck. That year an ugly bail injured both of my elbows and broke my wrist. I\'d love to say that I was a pre-X Games skating legend, attempting some never before seen stunt of extreme glory, but no. I was goofing around in the Jr. High parking lot, showing off for some girls, and I fell on my face. I wound up with casts from thumb to bicep on both arms for two weeks, followed by another month with a cast on my wrist.

That\'s my story. My anecdote. There was no rise to fame, I didn\'t turn pro, and I a have never been on a magazine cover. Hell, I didn\'t even get the girl (hurling yourself face-first onto the ground, flailing around and crying like a baby is not as impressive as it sounds). I venture to guess that this, to varying degrees, is similar to the story of most people who have ever put foot to grip tape and taken to the streets. Is it any wonder, then, why the Tony Hawk series has so completely infiltrated the gaming culture?

Over 122,000 people attended X Games XI in the summer of 2005. Millions more watched the event on television. Tony Hawk\'s Boom Boom Huck Jam is a huge success each year. We watch. We marvel at what these athletes can do. Then we play the game.

Tony Hawk\'s American Wasteland takes full advantage of this. The lighthearted and fun Story Mode fulfills the our desire to be a part of the action by crafting the kind of unique journey to becoming a pro skater that only the Tony Hawk series can pull off. Similar to the Tony Hawk\'s Underground games, you begin the story as a novice and work your way up the ranks to earn the respect of your heroes. But whereas THUG then degraded into simple destruction and anarchy for anarchy\'s sake, THAW focuses on making contacts, winning competitions, and ultimately participating in the creation of a skate park. That isn\'t to say that there aren\'t miscreant elements in the game. Immediately following your first step off of the bus from Kansas (where else?) you get your butt kicked, your stuff is stolen, and the leading lady of the game insults your style. You will also paint some graffiti, defy the police, and cause some havoc. Overall, however, the idea is to create something (starting with your image), rather than just destroy. The culmination of your efforts is one crazy skate park, which is ultimately more satisfying than jumping over a helicopter. In other words, it is a little more Birdman, a little less Bam Margera, and that\'s fine by me.

The story mode also delivers the biggest addition to gameplay that the series has seen in some time: a seamless and expansive single environment encapsulating much of Los Angeles. Much like the Manhattan of Activision\'s Spider-Man games, THAW\'s LA is streamlined and stylized, giving us all of the highlights within an accessible gaming area. There is even a transit system to take you from one place to the next. All of this doesn\'t necessarily lead to a less structured style of gameplay; your goals are still given to you by the people you encounter, as the story demands. It does, however, lend to a more cohesive story, and creates ties to specific areas and characters you will revisit throughout the game.

THAW also introduces BMX to the series for the first time. Gone are the crappy, underdeveloped driving sequences of THUG. BMX is obviously more akin to the finely tuned control system this series has been built upon. It is also more in the spirit of skateboarding and extreme sports. The transition from board to bike is an easy one, and although there is really little advantage to riding one or the other, there is enough difference in gameplay to make it a welcome addition.

While there are some new moves added to the brand\'s ever growing and evolving bag of tricks, the biggest improvement has been made to the on-foot elements of the game. In the past getting off of your board and walking was made a necessary evil by imprecise and clunky movement. This time around, not only has this been smoothed out, but a trick system has been added. Based on the discipline of Parkour (even taught to you by a typical, Hollywood French stereotype) you are aiming at fluid movement over obstacles. You can run up walls, flip frontward and back, and combine the two in order to keep your combos going, or reach inaccessible places.

For Xbox owners, THAW marks the online debut of the series, and it is about damn time. The centralized environment of Xbox Live is the perfect place to form an online skating community. Say what you want about disenfranchised youth, skating has always been about community. Just watch the X Games and you will see what I am talking about. In place of the grotesque showboating and grandstanding of the individual players in other sports there is a group celebration of one another\'s accomplishments. Participants gather around to watch as one of their own puts together a legendary run, or gears up to try something no one has ever done before. Each skater applauds the other, slapping their board against half-pipe.

Now players can finally meet and compete in the global landscape of Xbox live. Supporting up to eight players, online play is essentially comprised of the same games as the two-player split screen mode. Game types consist of familiar entries such as Trick Attack, Score Challenge, Combo Mambo, Slap!, King of the Hill, Graffiti, Firefight, Scavenger Hunt, and Free Skate, as well as a new entry, Pot O\' Gold. In this game, the player that holds the pot can score while other players try to steal his or her gold. There are also online exclusive games of Capture the Flag, Goal Attack (compete to finish all classic mode goals first), and Elimiskate (just like Trick Attack, only with several stages of challenges in which players can be eliminated). One thing is conspicuously absent from online play, however: the park editor. This has been a staple of the series for years, and while it is available in regular play, it seems like a given that we should be able to share our creations with the rest of the online community. I guess we will have to hope they include this later as online support evolves.

For all of us THPS fans, THAW includes an improved Classic Mode. Here gamers participate in the old school timed rounds, completing goals and unlocking classic levels from the past. Making a return is the Mall from the game that started it all, as well as others I will leave you to uncover. This time, however, there is cooperative play that allows two players to complete the goals together. This is a marked improvement for party gamers like myself, but should have been made more challenging, with some goals requiring two players to complete. Sadly, this isn\'t the case. In addition, there are only six levels to complete in all, which simply is not enough of a good thing.

I love this game, I really do, but as much as I\'d like to give it a perfect score, there are some other issues that keep me from doing so. The graphics are great, and the in-game presentation is top notch. However, the cut scenes, while entertaining, are pretty poor in quality. I am not normally a stickler on these things, but when the spoken dialogue doesn\'t even match the subtitles at the bottom of the screen, it can only be described as unprofessional. Also, no attempt even appears to be made to sync the voiceovers with the animation. And the music doesn\'t have the range or roots of previous games. Rather than being a testament to the culture, it seems to have been comprised only to sell soundtrack albums.

It must also be said that the story, while intended to be silly, starts off slow and sometimes misses its mark. For the benefit of new players, your novice skater must learn nearly everything in a step by step fashion, which could be alleviated by a THPS style training mode. This way, those of us who have invested our time in the previous games could just pick it up and play at our current skill level. Some of the gags are awfully conventional, even lame. Do we really need another round of Ben Affleck jokes, four years after he parodied himself in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back? Pearl Harbor wasn\'t great, but unless you can beat that song from Team America (\"Pearl Harbor sucked, and I miss you\"), why bother? While we are on the subject, Boon and Useless Dave seem a bit too conveniently Kevin Smith-esque as well (\"you tell \'em, Steve-Dave\").

While I would argue that Tony Hawk\'s Pro Skater 3 was the purest skating experience so far, Tony Hawk\'s American Wasteland is the best that the series has been in a while. All of the new additions are an improvement, and the story\'s return to a focus on building a career rather than destroying your surroundings is welcome. Finally, Xbox owners are able to take their game to the online community. And issues such as an absence of an online park editor, a short Classic Mode, as well as story and presentation shortcomings are not enough to ruin the fun. Hopefully, future installments will only improve these areas.

On that note, I\'d like to put forth my request for the next story. We\'ve followed our characters from novice to pro over and over again. Can we now start as a pro, perhaps looking to make it into the X Games? Better yet: the Boom Boom Huck Jam. Having been to the 2003 show in Tacoma, WA (the same event where, unfortunately, Carey Hart had his near-fatal crash), I can only say there is nothing else like it, and it would make an awesome finale for the next game. Plus, it would allow the addition of motocross to the series. What do you say, Neversoft?

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