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Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (GameCube) artwork

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (GameCube) review

"I was especially interested because it promised massive environments that stream to create one huge city, full of places to skate and things to do. I heard whispers that everything was fixed, that this was a return to what made the series so great. Those rumors were lies. In the end, the game exaggerates every flaw its predecessors ever possessed. Tony Hawk has officially jumped the shark."

When I was little, I used to imagine that the ground was a boiling pit of acid that would eat me alive if I touched it. I’d jump from rock to rock, breathing a sigh of relief each time I delayed my untimely demise. Eventually, I’d fall. Then the game was over, except I’d play again.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater brought that magic back in digital form. Acid became asphalt. My clumsy form was replaced by professional skaters who glided around stages like margarine in a skillet. It was awesome. Then the sequels came. At first, they rocked. Then, in the interests of making things ‘better,’ developer Neversoft messed with the formula too much. Acceptable tweaks like the ability to manual and revert were followed by ‘revolutionary’ skills like… the ability to get off your board and walk? What about the burning acid?! Storylines interfered and suddenly the games weren’t about mad tricks or fantastic skating at all. The focus became punk rock, graffiti and cheesy theatrics.

That brings us up to Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. I was especially interested because it promised massive environments that stream to create one huge city, full of places to skate and things to do. I heard whispers that everything was fixed, that this was a return to what made the series so great. Those rumors were lies. In the end, the game exaggerates every flaw its predecessors ever possessed. Tony Hawk has officially jumped the shark.

First, let’s consider the matter of the streaming city. Yes, there is one huge environment. No, it’s not any fun. Rather than let you pick a favorite stage and place you in exquisitely-constructed environments like a skate park, a school, an abandoned mall a downhill race (all in one game, no less), the developers just assembled a collection of ramps and buildings that quickly begins to feel the same. Long corridors spaced throughout the city are your only reprieve. As you roll through them, you’ll hear the disc spinning furiously to stream the next bland scene. Yeah, it’s better than load screens… barely.

It gets worse, though. Remember how you have to chat with people now if you want stage objectives? This organic interpretation of Los Angeles means that you can actually find yourself wandering around late at night, waiting for time to pass so that you can find those certain people you want to talk to. Sure, you can ditch your board and take a nap on a bench, but what does this have to do with anything that made the games so cool in the first place? While I can certainly applaud the developer’s desire to mix things up with a day/night system, another part of me just wishes they’d leave the creativity for the level designs.

Speaking of ditching the boards, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland encourages you to do so at every opportunity. Many of the game’s tweaks revolve around that notion. For one thing, you can hop aboard a BMX bike, which has its own control scheme. Though it’s better than some of the other stupid things we’ve seen in the Tony Hawk’s Underground games, the new set of wheels doesn’t add much that’s positive to the experience. Even so, it beats the tar out of learning new skills such as the ability to run up walls and flip backwards, Matrix-style. Another innovation this time around is the option to ‘freak out’ when you bail. You can rapidly mash the controller to build up your rage and throw your board off-screen, or snap it in two. Since this eats up precious time (if you’re trying to complete an objective), it’s kind of stupid.

Another change is “The Ranch.” This is actually a good idea, but I just didn’t like the game enough to bother with it. Basically, you can complete objectives throughout Los Angeles and you’ll gain items to decorate your pad. The first example is a giant dinosaur head that’s yours if you bribe a city employee. Ultimately, you’re supposed to customize everything to your heart’s content, but it ends up feeling like just one more way to avoid skating. That’s especially true because earning cash often requires that you experience those inane diversions I keep mentioning.

Then there’s the bland story mode. You’re a punk kid anxious to become a professional skater. You hop a bus from the Midwest to Los Angeles, where kids take your gear and make you a sucker in front of a hot goth chick. She befriends you, gets you in good with the local skate crew, and then you’re stuck learning about wall climbing and BMX biking and The Ranch and everything you already knew for the next hour or two. Humorous dialogue is peppered throughout the tedious tutorials just to keep you from falling asleep.

So, what does the game do right? Well, it’s got nice graphics. Nothing here looks any better than Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, but that’s fine. The music is good, too. The song called “I Like Dirt” harkens back to selections from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 that talked about washing one’s ass. Quirkiness is good. Finally, there’s “Classic” mode, except it doesn’t feel so cool here. There are only a few stages to complete, most of them taken from the first game. They have some new objectives and a lot of the textures have been reworked to look better, but mostly the whole experience just reminds me how much fun these games used to be.

Really, that’s the problem: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games were fun, and Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland isn’t. If you’re going to make a game about skating, go for it. Throw in lots of cool environments, give me a lot of things to grind, plenty of crazy jumps and lots of variety. Let me build insane combos. If you want to do that and throw in some punk for flavor, that’s fine. Just get the skating part right, first. Is that too much to ask?

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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 18, 2005)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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