Some things in life are automatic, things like breathing, eating, and of course sleeping. In the gaming world there are also automatics, every year we will see a new Madden, a “supposed” GTA killer, and of course a new Tony Hawk game. Neversoft’s revered franchise is still kicking after all these years and with good reason, it manages to always bring something new and fresh to the table. The latest entry into the series entitled American Wasteland is certainly no different; in fact this may be the most widespread Tony Hawk game yet spanning a massive four consoles and even two handhelds. So the question undoubtedly on your mind is should I buy another Tony Hawk game or even better should I bother with the 360 version if I already own the other console version. All of these questions and more will be answered in our full review!
Classic Skating With A 360 Twist
The first thing I want to go over is the visuals, while the Hawk games have always been good looking; they have never redefined visual panache. Wasteland is certainly no different, even with the power of Microsoft’s new console behind it this game simply remains average. For those that have played THAW on Xbox, PS2, or even Cube seeing the 360 version will certainly leave a lot to be desired. This is basically a straight port of that version with a few visual tricks here and there.
The first thing you will certainly notice is the resolution, the 360 version of THAW looks fantastic in HD sporting a crisper more vibrant picture than it’s console brethren. Another area that received a bit of attention were the textures, items such as street and ramps sport more cracks, imperfections, and just more detail than the other versions. The final upgrade is represented with a small amount of bump mapping, which is best noticed on the player models. Small details such as jean texture and pockets on pants are now visible. While these are all small upgrades they are certainly appreciated, but I truly cannot wait to see a full fledged sequel utilizing the power of next-generation hardware.
Old Dog, Old Tricks, New Story
One of the main reasons that there are now seven versions of Tony Hawk is because the game manages to capture what fans enjoy while bringing enough new to the table to keep fans interested. The first major overhaul of the game came with the Underground series; now with Wasteland we have a new way to enjoy the skating phenomenon. Instead of creating a generic character and taking them to the top Wasteland starts you off with one of five pre-determined characters heading out to L.A. to become the ultimate skater. Upon arrival you are robbed and beaten up by some local skaters, after losing your stuff you bump into punker hottie Mindy who basically becomes your tour guide/tutorial instructor. From here you will customize your boarder, learn how to earn money, and start figuring out new tricks and making new friends.
The story, while similar to most of the previous Hawk games, does offer an entertaining story with likeable characters and good progression. The return to skating as opposed to silly mini-games I much appreciated, they have added a BMX option, which while a nice diversion, really takes a backseat to the true star of THAW, your board.
There is also a bevy of create-a-modes for you to toy around with including the return of fan favorites create-a-skater, park, and of course trick. These haven’t really changed much since their incarnation, but it wouldn’t feel like a Tony Hawk game without them. Also new this year to Microsoft consoles is online play, anyone who has enjoyed the Hawk games online on the PS2 know how much fun it can be. This year though they have added in the option to go co-op with your buddies. You can now work with friends to achieve common goals in classic mode. Work together to collect S-K-A-T-E or simply attempt two different goals at the same time. The best part is that this completely integrates into your single-player experience so you can always continue to fun when your buddy is not available. Speaking of classic mode Wasteland contains plenty of goals to keep original fans of the series happy.
I Wanna Live In Los Angeles
The biggest marketing part for this year’s Hawk game is the elimination of loading screens. Neversoft has been able to achieve this by creating a sort of loading zone throughout the levels. These consist of things like tunnels and walkways that you can still skate through, but simply don’t contain a lot of on-screen objects so that the game can stream load the next section. This gives a nice sense of freedom to the game and really makes you feel like L.A. is one giant playground open for your enjoyment.
This basically breaks up each section of Los Angeles into smaller levels all containing goals similar to that of the older games. It is a nice way of breaking up the action while still giving the player the sense that they are playing in on giant world. The goals all consist of your standard Hawk fair with fetch quests, top scores, and of course Simon says, thankfully the progressions is anything but drab.
Controlling A Hawk
The basic controls are mostly unchanged except for the inclusion of the left and right bumpers on the 360 controller. This leads to more of a PS2 style which is what a lot of Hawk vets were weaned on. The d-pad is very responsive and it will take time to adjust to the spinning with the triggers as now they are also used to level out your character which can sometimes lead to unexpected bails. The entire game play controls are as follows:
- Left thumbstick – move
- Right thumbstick – camera control
- D-pad – lean forward, exit pool
- Left trigger – nollie, revert, level out
- Right trigger – switch stance, revert, spine transfer
- Left bumper – fast spin, Bert modifier
- Right bumper – fast spin, Bert Slide
- A button – crouch, ollie
- Y button – grind tricks
- B button – grab tricks
Becoming familiar with the new style will benefit you in the long run and even make the game more accessible to those familiar with the series for a while now. The Xbox 360 controller is still in my opinion the best console controller I have seen since the original Dual-Shock for the PSOne.
He’s Still Kick Flippin’
Even after seven years, tons of sequels and spanning three generations of consoles the Hawk man can still rise to the occasion. If you already own the previous console versions of Wasteland the 360 really doesn’t offer enough to warrant the $60 tag for its minimal upgrades, however if you waited to trek into this one until the launch of the 360 then this game is more than worth the price of admission. Long-time fans of the series and newcomers alike will find plenty to enjoy with the latest incarnation of the Tony Hawk franchise. Hopefully when the next iteration arrives we can finally see a graphical upgrade worthy of calling it next-gen.