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Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland – Best Yet, or Beginning of Downward Spiral?

We finally made it. A lot of people have been asking me to do this, and I finally made it here. Also, a ton of people have requested Project 8. Keep in mind – I’m doing the whole series in order here. So there’s no need to request your favorite one – I’ll get to it. The only ones out of order are Downhill Jam and Tony Hawk HD, which I did before re-starting the series.

OK, so let’s get into American Wasteland. This is the seventh game in the series. And the 5th on the PS2 and the Xbox. At this point, the series is starting to outgrow its engine. They packed in a ton of new stuff here – some that doesn’t last very long in the series. And they did their absolute best to make the game feel open world. To accomplish all of this stuff, they had to downgrade the resolution of the Xbox version from 720 to 480p. But of course, I can’t really recommend the Xbox version anymore this late in the series because the controls are just too complicated. Let’s talk about the new additions.

Here are the new tricks added into this game. The first few hours of the game are tutorials… There’s so much stuff that it takes forever to get up to speed. First is the parkour stuff. You’ve got double jumps, wall runs and backflips. You have to learn all this stuff from a french pastry chef – you know, because parkour is french.

Next is the bank drops. They really expanded on the acid drop and spine drop system in the game, and they put in a lot of these banks, as store signs and sandwich boards and stuff. You can spine transfer over it, and also revert, which looks different from the regular revert.

You’ve also got additional plants. There are sticker slaps, but now there are wallplants on regular walls AND on vert, and you can boneless out of a wallride. Also on vert, you can do a ‘to tail’, which looks like this.

There are a couple more. Like stalls on random stuff. You can hold the right trigger when you do a grind, and you’ll stall. Aside from a couple of times in the story you have to do it, you will never do this on purpose. But you’ll do it a lot on accident though. You can use the trigger to spin, and then, if you don’t let go on time, you’ll stall out on the rail. I don’t really understand this addition to the game. It’s not like you can just choose for a grind to not work and do a stall instead. And if you could, I don’t know why you’d want to.

Another thing you can do is bert slides. Again, you’ll do this in story mode, and maybe a couple of times on accident, but it has very little actual use in the game. The trick is a bert, or bertlemann slide, which is a real trick from back in the day. I can see why they wanted to add this in, but it’s just kind of there. And on the Xbox, it uses up the trigger, which makes nollies really annoying, since they get mapped to the white button.

One of the biggest changes though is the new animation system. There are some pros and cons to it, but in general, I think it’s a step up. The 360 hardflip is FINALLY fixed. Yeah, it’s still super vertical, which nobody really does, but it’s at least not wrong anymore. 360 inward heels have become vertical, which is a little weird.

There are two really messed up changes though. First is the nollie flips. If you do a double or triple, your arm goes crazy and it looks like you have to REALLY THROW it to get it to come around.

The other problem is with all the double and triple flip animations in every stance. Sometimes they just don’t flip. Most of the time they look right, but every now and then, they don’t flip enough, and they just go really slow. This is something that bothered me when the game came out, and it’s still really annoying. I just don’t get why they did this. The animation in this game isn’t based on physics or anything. It was all done by hand. So somebody actually made a really slow kickflip animation for some reason.

They also added in “boned ollies”. It helps you get a little more height, kind of like a boneless, but you hold it like a grab. It’s not worth as many points as an actual grab. And you’ll only do this in challenges a couple times.

They added in spin directions in this new system, and it has half cabs wrong. Of course. Every game has either nollie or fakie wrong because they’re opposites. I have a video about that you can check out on screen right now. It doesn’t really make sense, but that’s how it is, and I’ve yet to see a game that actually does it right.

They’ve also added in bikes. There have been a lot of vehicles over the course of this series, including really weird stuff like mechanical bulls. But this time, the bike stuff is actually pretty well thought out. And that’s because it’s based off of Matt Hoffman. So the controls actually match that series instead of playing like Tony Hawk – you do barspins and tailwhips with the right stick, and you hold the left trigger to do flips and stuff. It feels good, but I didn’t really get into these challenges that much. They’re all really simple and not that interesting. But it is cool that you get the option to ride around on a bike whenever you want. But it’s kind of annoying. Sometimes you have to be on a bike to start a bike challenge. So you look for the icon in your radar and you go jump on it. But look at this one. It’s a bike challenge, but you actually have to be on a skateboard… then you get on a bike when it starts. And they just made the timer a little bit longer to make up for the animation of you getting on the bike. It just feels sloppy the way they set this up.

The last new thing I want to cover is the “open world” design. If you couldn’t hear the air quotes around “open world”, there were 3 or 4. What they did was make the different levels connect in different ways. You have to ride through hallways and ditches and stuff to reach the next area. As you skate through, the game not-so-subtly loads the next level. From a gameplay perspective, this makes sense. You can unlock an event in another area, but still stay where you are and skate for a while. In THUG 1 and 2, it would just take you to the next level in a cutscene. So it’s definitely a good idea, but I think they were just way too proud of it. There are a lot of times when you have to hurry and go back to Hollywood or East LA or whatever. You’re running from the cops or trying to beat someone to the spot or whatever. It works, and it’s an impressive feat on the PS2 especially, but it’s not FUN. These corridors are pretty plain.

So I think that’s pretty much it for the new features in this game. There are a lot. At this point, there are so many things you can do that you can end up doing something unexpected. Either you accidentally double tap something or hit A on accident and next thing you know, you’re flying in the wrong direction. So it can be kind of annoying juggling all these new features, but you get used to it.

The game has 2 main modes, just like the last one – story mode and classic mode. Let’s take a quick look at classic mode. This is the way I started the game. In my THUG 2 review, I mentioned that this was more of an afterthought, but after finishing the story mode, I realize that there’s quite a bit of fresh content here. It is quite a bit shorter though – at 6 levels instead of 9.

The ones that are returning are Downtown from Pro Skater 1 – which it renames Minneapolis. There’s another ‘downtown’ level in the story mode here, so it makes sense why they had to do that. You also get the Mall from Pro Skater 1, and Chicago too. Chicago is kind of interesting. Remember – this was a time when you couldn’t even do manuals yet. And here I am collecting stuff by getting off my board and climbing the wall. That made the level feel much fresher. Especially considering that this was originally a contest level. But there’s nothing that feels too recycled here.

Aside from those, you’ve got 3 new levels – assuming you’ve only been playing the console versions, like me so far. Starting with: Santa Cruz. This level has a lot in common with Santa Monica in the story mode. I think they probably re-used some of the assets from the pier area and some other stuff. It still feels pretty unique though. But it doesn’t play that well as a classic level. It’s the same problem as the THUG 2 classic mode – these levels are just too big. There is a ton of space to cover to try to find the SKATE letters and all of the other goals. There are so many nooks and crannies here that stuff can be hiding anywhere.

And here’s the thing – this isn’t a classic level. This is actually taken from Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 Remix on the PSP. And it’s not the only one. Kyoto was in THUG 2 remix first as well. This level is, again, a bit too big to be a classic level. It took me forever to find all of the arcade machines I was supposed to smash.

Lastly is The Ruins. This level seems to have a lot in common with the East LA level in the main story, but it’s actually taken from Tony Hawk’s Project 8 on the PSP. I mean, it is the ruins of LA, so I guess it makes sense that it would feel the same. But this time, I think the American Wasteland level came first, and this was taken from it.

Also – there’s a collector’s edition on the PS2, which has a couple extra levels – namely Marseille from Pro Skater 2, and Atlanta, which was from THUG 2 Remix. I’ll have to play these at some point, but I’m sure there aren’t any major surprises.

But in any case, you know how this mode works – get SKATE letters, high scores, and collect stuff. At this point in the series, this is really starting to wear on me. But I’m not necessarily sick of it. I think I could go back and play Pro Skater 2 or 3 and have a great time. But there’s just something about the way this feels that just doesn’t work right anymore. I think it’s just the fact that there’s so much going on here that’s ignored. ESPECIALLY this version, because you never see the story mode challenges that take place here. Like that crater. Why is it there? It’s just random meaningless decoration at this point. This is unexplained in this game, but apparently in THUG 2 Remix, there is a giant fight between Godzilla and Ultraman and that’s what caused this. I really have to check that game out. I played it back in the day but I don’t remember any of this stuff.

So that’s why this mode fails. Not because it’s bad or broken, but just because it doesn’t have that handmade feel that the original games had. It’s worth checking out at least, but it’s not the biggest draw of the game.

Let’s take a look at the story mode. I’m not going to go into extreme detail here, because there’s a lot to cover. But I’ll talk about the main points at least.

When you start the game, you pick from one of 5 skaters that just moved to LA. It’s weird that you can’t just make them from scratch like in every other game. There’s enough customization that it’s not a huge deal, but I didn’t really see anyone I liked and I ended up being this army-looking guy. You meet Mindy, who wants to start a skating magazine called “American Wasteland.” She helps you get into the skate ranch, which you have to do by gaining everyone’s approval. This is probably the biggest theme of the game – getting approval from people and proving you’re legit. You do it here, with a skate gang later, with a graffiti gang, and with other pro skaters at the end.

And of course, you gain approval by doing tricks. At first, it’s just training stuff. You learn how to do wall flips and Natas spins and all that kind of stuff that I talked about earlier. Once you can do everything the guys can do, you’re in.

The Skate Ranch is the main goal in the game. You help finish a vert ramp they’re working on, and next thing you know, you’re going all over the game world, finding stuff to break, steal and take back to the ranch. Once it gets sent there, you can go back to the Ranch and break stuff in. You’ll see how that piece was installed at the park, and you have to get a high score on it. It’s always really easy, but the point of these challenges are just to make sure you see it all and get a chance to skate it. This part is pretty cool. But since there’s only one Mindy, you have to do them all in order. Break one in, and the next one appears. Repeat a few dozen times until she stops popping back up in the radar.

Apparently, the guy who runs the Ranch, Iggy, is a wanted felon, and you accidentally out him, which gets him arrested. So you have to get him out.

While working on that, you have to join the Skate Club. These guys are anti-corporate greed and materialism. So to impress them, you have to take off your shirt and shoes and do… freestyle tricks in a parking garage. I bet you didn’t see that coming. This event is pretty cool. The camera moves around and gives you some interesting angles. Since all you really need to worry about is the balance meter, it doesn’t really cause any problems, and it looks cool. Once you beat them all, you have to beat the best freestyler around. Any guesses who it might be? Who’s the best freestyle skater that’s ever been in a Tony Hawk game? That’s right – Daewon Song! Wait, what? Yeah, it’s kind of weird, but they use Mullen later to show you how to invent tricks, which makes a lot of sense too.

You later meet Tony Alva, and find out about a legendary skatepark buried under the skate ranch. You start the process of digging it up by doing a lot of favors for guys on an oil rig. Yeah, this is the same oil rig that was exclusive to Tony Hawk 3 on the Xbox. It’s got some changes to it, and a lot of challenges. One thing I like about the way the challenges work now is these popups. So when you have to grind something or do a certain gap, it’s always very clear exactly what you’re supposed to do. You don’t have to worry about accidentally skipping a cutscene and not knowing what’s going on.

After that, you have to get to East LA to help Boone, who got in trouble with his old gang. To help him, you have to actually join that gang. To prove you’re legit, you have to do skate missions, BMX missions, and, of course, tagging. Again, tagging is really important in this game, and I just don’t like it. I know it was cool at the time that you could tag something and the game would remember, but that isn’t exactly impressive these days. To prove yourself to the gang, you have to help this guy finish tags all over the game world. When you get enough, he teaches you the trademark style of that area. You need to make a tag with every style included in it. Up until this point, I had just been ignoring this guy. Now, I didn’t have a choice, and that kind of sucked. This is one of the ways the game forces pacing. You can’t just do the story stuff and beat the game right away. Another example is getting to the oil rig from earlier. You need gas money for the boat. Don’t have enough money? Better go do some more challenges. Can’t afford the tattoo to join the gang? Better go to some more challenges. Luckily, this really rich bum loves to give you money to do mini challenges like doing tricks he calls out or finding gaps. It was a good idea to pace the game out like this and make sure people see everything there is to see. It was just annoying when it was the tag and BMX stuff that I wasn’t really into.

Anyway, you get Boone out, Iggy gets bail, and punches you in the face for digging up that skatepark. Apparently, he knew it was there, but he didn’t own the land yet. He was saving up to buy it, but now that everyone knows, the price is going to go through the roof.

Luckily, there’s a plan. You get a bunch of skaters together and film a video to sell. The proceeds will go to buy the land, and finish the skatepark. How do you convince pro skaters to help you out? I think you already know. You have to prove yourself. Most of the time, at least. Ryan Sheckler wants you to help him steal a Jeep. What a tool. The one with Tony Hawk is kind of funny. You insult him for blowing thousands of dollars shopping on Rodeo drive, and he has to show you that he can still skate, so he shows off some tricks he invented, including the hurricane, which he apparently invented too. I didn’t know that one. Oh, and get this – Tony does 900s on the regular. I didn’t know that either.

Anyway, the video these guys help film is such a huge success that you buy the ranch with pre-order money alone. The game ends with a dramatic chase scene with the police that goes through ALL OF THE LOADING ZONES. Yeah, these aren’t fun normally, and trying to get through everything on a timer in the dark doesn’t make it any better. But it was dramatic at least. Get that done, and you finally get the girl. And you pay to get her magazine project off the ground.

So that’s the story mode. With all of the new innovations in the gameplay, there aren’t a ton of new challenge types to talk about, but there really don’t need to be. This game has a lot going on as-is, and is probably the longest of the games that I’ve played so far. As you can probably tell from the run time of this video.

So – is this game any good? Yeah, I think it is. I like the feel of the game, and I think the story is very interesting and cool by Tony Hawk standards. Things get a bit repetitive, but it throws new ideas at you fairly often too. You’ll have a good time if you pick this up. But what version should you get? I’d probably go PS2 for this one, but there’s actually a surprise contender this time, the Xbox 360. Yeah, there’s a 360 version of this game, making it the first “next gen” Tony Hawk game from that period. I don’t have a 360, and I haven’t gotten the chance to play it – so let me know in the comments what this version of the game is like. Apparently it uses all the same models and assets from the PS2 version, it just has higher resolution textures, better lighting, and higher resolution output. So that’s probably the version to go with if your 360 still works. Otherwise, you’re not missing out on anything.

Let me know what your experiences are with this game – is it your favorite? I’ve seen some comments saying this one is the best. I can’t really agree with that because I think it’s just bloated with features at this point, but it’s definitely not bad.

Next up in my Tony Hawk game review series is Project 8. This might take me a while because there are two different versions – the PS3 and the Xbox, which are quite different. I haven’t had to deal with that since Pro Skater 4. There’s actually a PSP version too, but we’ll get to that some other time. To make sure you don’t miss that review, hit the subscribe button right here on screen. You’ll learn something new about skateboarding 3 times a week, and you’ll get all kinds of content like this stuff here. I’ll see you next time. Thanks for watching.

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