Haste makes waste.
Seven years, seven games. Boss Hawk’s skateboarding romps have become as predictable as any other well-fortified sports franchises, and just as rampant. I came into this series from the very start back in 1999 after an afternoon of actual, real-world skateboarding and even more real-world bails. Landing tricks that would normally have shattered bones was pure bliss, and every year, the good vibe got better. The latest, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, crams a few more sprinkles onto the same delicious cake Neversoft and Activision been baking for years, but is anyone still hungry for this particular meal?
The answer is…well, kind of. The game plays exactly like it always has, which is in many ways a good thing, but thanks to the insane amount of trickery that has piled up over the years, it’s also an easy thing. Like your babbling grandpa, the Hawkman is starting to go a little nuts.
[image1]The game’s main Story mode literally drops you off in L.A. as the new kid in town. After some shenanigans, you find yourself building a Skate Ranch by scavenging pieces of the city. The whole Bam Margera nightmare is pleasantly over; celebrity involvement in general has thankfully been toned down to an acceptable level, although anyone playing Tony Hawk for its plot has no business playing at all.
The big deal of this year’s Story is the ‘streaming, massively skateable L.A.’, which is actually neither massive nor particularly streaming. The city is broken into ten levels (yes, they’re still levels) connected by loading tunnels – by completing certain goals in each area, you’ll gain access to a new one. It’s not exactly GTA with a skateboard like you’d hoped, but it beats the pants off last year’s THUG 2 world skate debacle of a story and offers decent fun in tons of lines, rails and ramps. Each level is about the same size, and it takes roughly five minutes of straight line skating to get across the whole town. But while it’s crammed full of objects to crush combos on, the new levels don’t seem to share the feng shui of old, and skating through another long tunnel every 45 seconds doesn’t help. On the (kick) flipside, it’s not a loading screen.
The core gameplay hasn’t changed much over the years and there are very few new moves this time around. The Bert slide gives you another thing to do with flat ground, but more notable are the Parkour tricks, which turn the simple act of walking into a combo-fest of wall-runs, flips, and tucks. These also serve to navigate you to some of the more vertically challenging locations.
Combine that with the manuals, reverts, flatland tricks and sticker slaps and you wind up with a game that’s almost crushed under its own trick weight. As far as I can tell, there’s not a single thing in American Wasteland that can stop your combo juggernaut now. The fact is that any frequenter of this series is probably way past Jedi status and will breeze through every challenge this outing offers in no time. It’s hard to want to tear it up when you can score a millions just putzing around one random half-pipe.
The goals certainly won’t cause you much stress, due to their repetitive structure (there are about 5 types of missions) and the fact that you’re conveniently placed directly in front of what you need to do. Objects you need to trick on are labeled clearly, including whatever buttons you’ll need to press. It rarely takes more than three tries for most goals, and some are so simple, they’re jokes. "Land a 1200 point combo." Uh, I can get double that by ‘freaking out’ after I biff the trick I was after in the first place.
[image2]At least the act of tearing it up is still addictive and fun. Despite seven years of the same control scheme, it plays sublimely. Others have tried to copy this control and have failed, and despite their lack of innovations, Neversoft has done a good job not breaking the parts that don’t need fixing.
To that end, a new bike mechanic has been added to break up the monotony. These missions do offer respite from the bland goals, allowing you to control the bike separately from the tricking. It’s not really a full-fledged system, but it’s a welcome change of pace.
So is the ever-evolving Skate Ranch. You’ll collect new pieces for your Mecca while destroying the town, slowly building up your own big skate park using objects found on each level. It’s good fun to go back after getting a bunch of new objects and seeing your monster grow.
Speaking of which, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland is literally overflowing with things to do. When you tire of Story mode, you can hop back into Classic mode, which features even more throwback levels and throwback goals. Apparently somebody lost all those secret tapes yet again.
Motivation to complete Classic and Story mode lies in online play, of all things, as you can only host games in levels you’ve unlocked yourself in single-player, so get S-K-A-T-E-ing. Online mode draws from the entire game, allowing you to skate every level from both modes and use your custom parks, skaters, and tricks. You can even download other people’s create-a-things and upload your own. The usual wealth of play modes are still around, like Elimiskate, Trick Attack, Graffiti and Firefight.
While playing online is just as smooth and laid back as it ever was, it also shows just how ridiculous this game has become. When I logged on for the first time, the high score in Hollywood was 2.2 billion points. I think it’s safe to say that when people are nailing scores in the BILLIONS, you might want to re-think your game.
[image3]Playing online also provides a great way to get your ass handed to you. I got schooled by a 58 million point trick in a 20 second high-score match. The counter to this is the ability to turn off manuals, reverts, walking, the balance meter, and even stopping when the clock hits zero so crusty Pro Skater codgers can test each other’s mettle without all this fancy new mumbo-jumbo.
The look of the Tony Hawk games hasn’t changed dramatically in some time, and American Wasteland doesn’t do much to rock that steady boat. It runs smoothly on all three systems, though the character models are still too blocky and animate stiffly. I wish the same could be said of the audio, but rather than keep it typically old-school with an assortment of classic bands, American Wasteland pulls an American Idol by featuring contemporary bands covering old-school songs. The result is fine if you like covers, but will aggravate purists to no end.
Create-a-thing modes are thinner than the last release, now limited to skaters, parks, tricks, and new graffiti tags. It’s all pretty much the same, and you’ll probably ask the same questions I did. Why can’t I use my custom skater in Story mode now? Why is the create-a-park still so small?
But the real question is whether or not you really need another Tony Hawk game. American Wasteland features the same rock solid control, more re-tooled old levels, bigger combos and more bling, but isn’t this one to many grinds around the bend? Kudos to Neversoft and Activision for creating an amazing game, the sole competitor in its self-created genre, and curses upon them for distilling it to the point of absurdity.