Genre: Extreme Sports
Release Date: October 18, 2005
I've been a fan of Tony Hawk games since they were first released, and I can't exactly explain why. Never have I even done a single trick on a skateboard in real life, and I don't particularly have an interest in the culture. Regardless, I have a nagging urge to stay up at night and do one more mission or unlock one more level on classic mode. Maybe it's the great degree of customization, or perhaps it's the pure joy you feel when you finally managed to pull off a mission you've been trying to do for the last 30 minutes. Whatever it is, Tony Hawk is back again with Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, and I'm thankful for it.
First of all, let's discuss story mode, which makes a bit of departure from the other games in that you cannot create a custom character to load in from the get-go. Instead, you must choose from five different characters. Do not distress, as you will have a chance to trick out their clothes, accessories, hair, boards, and, eventually, tattoos. As a matter of fact, your first two missions are to get new clothes and a haircut, although you can never change the character's face or body type.
The premise of story mode is that you are a "country bumpkin" from the middle of nowhere who has made their way to L.A. in search of a skateboard utopia. Immediately off the bus, you are punched in the face and your bags are stolen, and you are sent your first contact in L.A., Mindy. She introduces you to the rest of her crew, who hang out in their own ramshackle skate park which you get to help renovate. This is one of my favorite features in the game; when you complete missions, new objects are added to the park, and you are able to do tricks off of them. These items include a T-Rex head, a fire escape, and various pieces of other buildings, to name just a few. It's nice to be able to see how you are progressing in the game at any given time and prudent, as the story revolves around you helping these misfits and adding the pieces to the park.
Throughout the story mode, you gain new abilities as you complete your missions, and if you want to raise your stats, you have to do sponsor challenges. Sponsor challenges are basically lists of tricks you have to do, like manual three times in a combo, do an eight-part combo, or land a 50,000-score combo, etc. This makes your progression all the sweeter, as you have a feeling of accomplishment with every stat increase or new trick learned.
As you skate around, there are also some side missions you can undertake. There is a guy indicated by a money sign on your compass map who will give you money if you perform tricks that scroll up the bottom of the screen before the time is up. If you're feeling especially froggy, you can help a guy spray-paint his graffiti calling card on various buildings. You can also create your own custom graphic to spray paint with. Another new injection into the series is BMX bikes that you can ride. The controls are a bit clunky, however, but it's not really an issue because the bike-riding is not integral to the game. While on a BMX, there is a guy you can talk to who will teach you new bike tricks.
Overall, I was impressed with the story mode in THAW, as the plot was much better than what I had come to expect from the THUG titles. There was also a return to just pure skating without such strict and sometimes arbitrary goals like the last two installments, and the absence of the annoying characters found in the previous iteration was also a welcome change.
The environments are large, and there are no loads times, but there are different sections of the city that are accessed by going through different tunnels with themes (one is like a sewer, one is modeled after a mall interior, etc.). Also, if you have insane skills you could, in theory, skate from one side of L.A. to the other, although my lame self did not even attempt this.
There is also a newly renovated classic mode that is miles beyond what was included in THAW. The levels in classic mode are totally different than those in the story mode, and some are redesigned levels from earlier titles in the series, which is always a nice throwback for fans. In this mode, you try to do the things you had to do in the earlier games, such as collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E or accruing a certain number of points in a level, among many other goals. Classic mode can also be attacked in co-op mode, making things easier and move along a bit quicker, which is always nice.
The Create-a-Modes also make a comeback in the forms of Create-a-Skater, Create-a-Graphic, Create-a-Park, and Create-a-Trick. Create-a-Skater is very deep as usual, but, like stated above, cannot be used in story mode (argh), but you can use your custom skater for every other mode, including multiplayer on Xbox Live. Create-a-Graphic is a cool addition, as it allows you to create your own custom graphics with multiple layers and shapes/symbols. These custom graphics can be used as your spray paint image and can even be printed on your clothing. Create-a-Park is back in full force, allowing you to create your perfect skate park. Finally, there is Create-a-Trick, which is rather self-explanatory – it allows you to create any type of trick, complete with animation and sounds.
In my opinion, the multiplayer portion of the TH games has always been its best component, and this title is no exception. Featuring game modes such as Trick Attack, Slap!, and Combo Mambo, it is always a nice cure for boredom for you and your buddies. Additionally, there is online play on Xbox Live that is a blast, offering up the greatest challenge you can get without a split screen. For most, this will be where the real meat of the title is: going against people on 'Live and trying to outskate them. For me, the experience was largely depressing, as my opponents schooled me in almost every way one can be schooled.
As far as graphics go, THAW is definitely the best in the series. The graphics are smooth and flow really well, and in all my time of gameplay, I did not encounter one instance where it slowed down for me. The animations of the tricks are also very fluid.
The audio department has always been a strong point for all of the TH games, although this go-round was my favorite. The soundtrack is awesome, with bands like The Doors, Motley Crue, and Dead Kennedys. The sound effects are good, from the satisfying grate of grind moves, to the demoralizing crack your head makes mid-combo when you take a spill.
Unfortunately, there are some points where the game drags or glitches cropped up. Sometimes, I couldn't enter shops without first saving my game and restarting my Xbox. There were also some points where the missions would become buggy, and I would have to … save my game and restart my Xbox. Another point that left me dissatisfied was that I did not have complete custom control over my character in story mode. I'm still having trouble trying to figure out why they did not give this freedom when you can use custom characters in basically every other mode in the game.
All in all, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland is a great addition to the franchise and makes me eagerly anticipate the next installment. If the developers spend a little more time testing the next game to eliminate the bugs and give me complete control of my character's appearance in story mode, then the next offering will be a formidable title indeed. I highly recommend THAW to anyone who likes the previous games or skateboarding in general.
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