When the Xbox 360 launched in November one of the biggest
gripes about the system was the number of ports of current generation games
being released along side it. While
there were incredible games that took advantage of the system
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of American Wasteland, it's worth noting that this is actually my second time through the game. When Gaming Nexus needed a review of the PlayStation 2 version I stepped up, ready to see what Neversoft had in store for us in their seventh (yes, seventh) installment of the popular skateboarding franchise. This Xbox 360 version is exactly the same as what I played on the PS2; it's a lazy port of a game that ultimately disappointed me.
But just because this game is exactly the same (with exactly the same levels, music, story, and tricks) doesn't mean it's going to run you the same price. For whatever reason Activision has decided to charge a full $60 for this port, a game that is not only short but also incredibly easy. If you think I had reservations about recommending the game at $50 you can only imagine the pain I have trying to justify this more expensive Xbox 360 version. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, American Wasteland is an interesting experience with a lot of good and bad to talk about, including some lofty promises that fell flat.
When Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland was announced earlier
this year it sounded like the developers were finally going to take the series
in a new direction, we were finally going to experience a sequel that was less
of an expansion pack and really improved the overall experience. Neversoft talked about a fully streaming
Unfortunately these elements didn’t gel together quite like a lot of people expected. Instead of feeling like the next step in the Tony Hawk universe I came away feeling it was a major step backwards. American Wasteland still offers a lot of the elements that made the older titles so much fun, but what is added to the mix ends up making this feel like an experiment gone horribly wrong.
As I mentioned above, the big new improvement to American
Wasteland is the “streaming”
Instead of being a large, wide-open space, the
This year’s Tony Hawk is much more story driven than
previous incarnations, to the point where you won’t even be able to make your
own character in the single-player story mode.
You simply get a choice of one of five characters (all men); whomever
you choose will get on the bus headed to
Unfortunately your time in
Much of the game has you grinding and doing tricks in order
to “collect” various parts of the city for your skate park. You’ll be grabbing everything from shark
heads to the walk of fame to the
The challenges you are required to complete should be the best part of this game, but instead we’re forced to play through a whole bunch of lackluster missions in order to advance the story. The single biggest problem with the missions are that they are entirely too easy. In older Tony Hawk titles there was a nice mix of easy and hard for you to work on, but here things seem decidedly easier from beginning to end. Most of the missions line you up where you want to go so it’s really nothing more than doing exactly what it says at exactly the right time, something you can retry over and over until you get it right. The game seems to be preoccupied with the feeling that it needs to help you every step of the way, something that gets a little old by the time you’ve made it out of the first few levels. Worse yet, the entire game ends up feeling like one long tutorial, which just shouldn't be the case considering how many of these Tony Hawk games they've released.
Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland controls just as you would expect from seven years of tweaking an already good simulator. They’ve added a few new moves, but by and large the game will still feel just as you remember from last year’s model (or really any before it). If you haven’t played a Tony Hawk game in a while (or ever), don’t worry, the game does an excellent job of explaining how to do just about everything in the American Wasteland universe. Unlike earlier entries this one feels like it is more geared at new skaters, those gamers who somehow missed the last six Tony Hawk games. While I like to see that the game is accessible to everybody, it would have been nice if they had given us series veterans a little attention, too.
Unfortunately it’s not just that the game is extremely easy, it’s also very short. No matter how bad of a Tony Hawk player you are, chances are you will bust through this in a dedicated weekend, it’s just not all that long. The story stays interesting all the way through, but the whole experience is over far too quickly. All of the small missions seem like they are building to something big (like a big skate-off or something), but that never happens and the ending just feels like it comes too early. There are barely any missions that require you to actually skate against other players, something that made the first few Tony Hawk games so much fun.
The story mode is not the only way to play through Tony
Hawk’s American Wasteland … but it is if you want to actually skate in
One of the big improvements in American Wasteland that had been talked about was the addition of BMX bikes, in effect combining the worlds of Tony Hawk and Mat Hoffman. Just as promised, these bikes are indeed around town … but they come with their own set of problems that will keep almost everybody from picking them up. For one thing you don’t even need to touch the bike until late in the game, which makes it feel more than a little tacked on. Controlling the BMX can be a real pain, especially when you’ve grown accustomed to the skateboard game play. My experience with the bike was pretty bad, often it did not want to do what I wanted it to and it always felt too loose (even when I knew what I was doing). I can only assume that they are going to improve this aspect for next year’s model, but in its current state it would have almost been better if they had left the bike out altogether.
Although this is the seventh game in the series, American Wasteland is the first Tony Hawk title to feature online play over Xbox Live. After being able to play friends online with the PlayStation 2 versions, it's awfully nice to finally be able to do the same thing over Microsoft's network. For the most part playing online with the Xbox 360 is a lot like what was available on the PS2, only with a better buddy list and the ability to talk to the other players with the headset. You can fit eight players in a room which can make for a fun time, no matter if you're new to the franchise or a seasoned veteran. There are a number of different games to play; everything from team based games to a simple skate competition. Playing the game online is a lot of fun, even if we’re bogged down by the lackluster levels found in the game.
Perhaps my biggest gripe about Tony Hawk’s American
Wasteland is where it’s located. While I
have nothing against
Even more interesting is how similar some of the levels are
to places we’ve been before. We’ve
On the current generation systems American Wasteland was good looking, but certainly nothing you'd invite your friends over to be impressed by. Unfortunately, the same holds true with this Xbox 360 version. Outside of a few improvements to the textures, it's hard to tell that this is a next generation game. The character models just look awful when you look at the rest of the Xbox 360's launch line up, and even the backgrounds tend to lack the polish you'd expect from a system of this power. If you're looking for a game to show off the graphics of your brand new game system then you best be looking at picking up Project Gotham Racing 3 or Call of Duty 2, American Wasteland's graphics aren't going to impress anybody.
The music is what you’d expect from this type of game, a
wide mix of everything from punk to rap to heavy metal. There are some nice cuts – including Frank
As expected we get quite a bit of voice acting from a number of famous skaters. These characters don’t really come into effect until late in the game, but they all make for pretty interesting characters. Well, all but Bam Margero who not only sounds like he’s phoning it in, but kind of sounds like he’s using the speaker phone. The rest of the cast does a decent job, and Neversoft has even included Tony Alva, who was documented in the movie Dogtown and Z-Boys (the documentary that inspired 2005’s Lords of Dogtown movie). Too bad they couldn’t find a better use for these real-life skaters.
Regardless of how it looks or sounds, American Wasteland just feels like a step backwards from previous Tony Hawk games. The levels aren’t nearly as interesting as they should be, it’s far too easy, and they didn’t add much to the over all game play. Even if you’ve mastered all of the older Tony Hawk titles you may still want to try this one out before you sink your $60 on this installment. This Xbox 360 version isn't any worse than what you could find on the older game systems, but we expect more from our next generation games … especially if they are going to cost more. I can only hope that next year's installment makes better use of Microsoft's powerful hardware and improved Xbox Live features. This is one launch title that is hard to recommend over the barrage of far better games.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.