One More Again
Again, the Tony Hawk series has never been a bastion for incredible graphics, and this entry is similar to the rest. The environments are a bit better and the remade Classic levels are excellent, but the skater models are still a bit behind the times. Not much has changed in the graphics department since THPS3. That's not to say they're bad though as they have improved on some of the smaller stuff like pedestrians. The framerate is consistant except for in the transition areas. As stated before, the game's big draw is skating L.A. without load times, which they do pull off. The catch is that to get from one area of the city to another you are forced through long tunnels, hallways, or corridors that you skate through while the game loads the next area. In these transition areas the game will slow down occasionally.
The gameplay is still solid. Nothing has drastically been changed, so if you've played TH games before, you'll adapt to this one quite quickly. Improvements have been made large and small. Running boardless is a lot easier now and you are given the ability to wall flip by taking a couple steps up a wall and backflipping off which allows for easier climbing if a little unrealistic. You also have the option to throw your board away completely while on foot, which means you won't have to worry about accidently jumping back on while you're carefully platforming to some ultra secret spot you think you saw. The other big addition is BMX bikes. They control completely different from skating, and nothing like they did in the Mat Hoffman games. The bikes mainly use the analog sticks for tricks and having something new to master is always good. They've also added bert slides which you will recognize from Lords of Dogtown as the game has several references to the glory days of skating. They've also added a compass to the top of the screen so you can find hotspots in each area of the city much easier. With improved foot controls, new BMX, and the classically perfect skating controls, the gameplay in THAW is excellent.
As usual, Neversoft has put together a good soundtrack to back their skatable world. The voice overs are actually quite good this year, partially because the story itself is good. The only drawback is that the raspy-voiced Mindy is performed by Cree Summers, whose name you probably don't recognize, but her voice you will. She's done voice overs for Drawn Together, Clone Wars, X-Men Legends, Baldur's Gate, Lords of EQ, Rugrats, Final Fantasy X-2, Fallout, and many other things. Obviously she's good at what she does, but when you hear her voice you'll immediately recall one of these other characters. Overall though, the sound design in THAW is good.
As said before, the Story mode is actually quite good this year as it isn't just a big episode of Jackass. You play as a runaway kid from the midwest who dreams of skating all the famous spots of L.A. Of course, after stepping off the bus you get your face beat in for being a country bumpkin. Mindy helps you retool your look and eventually introduces you to her friends who crash at a makeshift skatepark which more resembles a landfill, at first. You and the crew decide to fix the place up, so as you skate through L.A. you automatically retrieve famous landmarks to install into the skate ranch, which you can return to at any time. The only thing that sticks out as a negative of the story mode is that they hold your hand constantly. Sometimes it feels like a tutorial, which is strange considering this is the seventh game in the series. They also tend to line you up perfectly for scripted stunts, which takes all the skill out of the stunt and makes it simply a timing of button presses. The Story mode is also a bit short, and ends rather abruptly which says to me that they cut development short to get another annual title out. Just when you start feeling attached to the cast of characters, it's over. It's a good story though, which is a welcome change from the "let's follow Bam Margera around and break stuff" from last year. And the pro skaters don't just randomly show up for no reason. Once you start meeting real skaters, it fits the story.
Classic mode returns and is much improved. All of the levels in classic mode are completely separate from Story. Some of the levels aren't exactly classic as much as they are new to most players. What I mean is that several levels such as Kyoto and Santa Cruz were previously only on THUG2 Remix on PSP. So even if you played the PSP game, it's nice to have these on a console. Other returning maps include The Mall, Chicago skate park, and Minneapolis all from the original THPS game. If you throw down the extra $10 for the Collector's Edition, you'll get Atlanta (THUG2 Remix) and Marseilles (THPS2) added to the list. All of these levels have been graphically improved, some to the extent that you might not recognize them at first, but the skate lines will trigger your memory very quickly.
Online mode is essentially the same as before, which means it's great. Firefight, CTF, Goal Attack, Graffiti, etc all return, and for the first time ever, Xbox owners can get in on the action. All the Create modes return too, which is great. Creating your own skaters, parks, decks, tags, stickers, etc adds lots of replay value. The PS2 version allows you to use the EyeToy to get your face onto your created guy which is good for those who don't have their PS2 online.
Another year, another Tony Hawk game. I keep expecting them to drop the ball, and they got close with the Underground games, but I honestly think they're back on track with American Wasteland. The game shows glimpses of the magic that made the original titles so addictively fun. The game seems to have been cut a bit short though and could've been much better if they weren't dead set on getting a new title out within a year of the previous one. But when you look at the big picture, the Story improved, the Classic mode improved, the addition of bikes is great, and the online and creation modes returned in full force. All this adds up to a great game that any fan of the previous games will enjoy. If you were turned off by THUG, give American Wasteland a shot. It's definitely more of a return to the THPS games. And if you've never played a Tony Hawk game, this is actually a good one to start with considering how the Story mode is set up. But if there actually are people who've never played a Tony Hawk game, I'd suggest picking up THPS3. You can find it used for less than $10, and it's probably still the best in the series.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the game's release. ***