Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland

Welcome to the Wasteland. Hands-on impressions of Neversoft's go-anywhere skate epic.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 4, 2005
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For two hardware cycles now, you could almost set your watch to Neversoft's Tony Hawk releases. With a few exceptions, each successive game has hit around the same time in September or October every year, providing some basic upgrades to the formula that helped make Neversoft (and Activision, really) a household name.

We're not trying to say the series hasn't given fans something new; quite the contrary. The increase in scale and moves from the first four games, and then the attempts at a storyline, putting you as a gamer in the in-crowd with pro skaters and thickening up the immersion in the worlds with the last two games, things have steadily progressed beyond the bounds of an instantly accessible skateboarding game.

Well, it's time to go back to the roots of skating. No more Monster Garage guest stars riding custom vehicles, no more compartmentalized levels separated by loading screens, no more Bam. Just you, some punk skater with wide-eyed dreams and the whole of a stylized take on Los Angeles to bum around in. This is what American Wasteland is all about, and after spending a good couple of hours with a nearly complete version of the game last week, we're ready to welcome it with the kind of enthusiasm we showered the first THPS sequel with.

It took a while for all the additions and the overall shift in gameplay for things to sink in. Sure, this is still fundamentally a Tony Hawk game; the controls haven't changed all that much (though there are some additions that we'll get to in a second), it just feels like the series is returning to its roots.

After picking one of five different skater types ranging from an afro-sporting Midwesterner in basketball short-shorts and a tank top to a preppy white boy in a sweater and slacks, we hopped on a bus and arrived in LA - only to promptly lose all our belongings to the local welcoming committee. Stripped of everything, right down to fancy moves, the game introduced us to Mindy, a local kind-hearted skater chick who in turn did the meet and greet with other local skaters that slowly opened up the move set.

It was a humbling and interesting experience, going from knowing all the advanced moves like the back of your hand to not being able to so much as manual until you'd been told how to do it again. At first, it was a bit off-putting, but the slow progression eases newcomers into things and it assigns basic tasks towards learning everything from the aforementioned manuals to reverts to sticker slaps and wall rides.

It's also the way the game familiarizes you with the people you'll be seeing from time to time - local skaters that eventually grant you access to the Skate Ranch, a members-only dump that has a ton of potential, headed up by Iggy, a supposed god among skaters that left the pro circuit to stay amongst the mortals.

After demonstrating a bit of loyalty and fetching the Ranch some much-needed parts, we were introduced to the first of the game's ubiquitous New Moves™: the Bert Slide. It's a throwback to the Dogtown-era moves that were born from surfing, so pitching way over to the side and planting your hands will let you slalom or circle around in a slow, relaxed arc. It's a very cool move, and can be combined with a neat little spin move to continue things with a little flair and transfer over to the other hand.

From here, we were turned loose on LA - or at least the sections we'd been to so far; Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the Skate Ranch. Each is connected by a simple corridor with a few skateable lines that basically masks the fact that that game is streaming the next decent sized chunk of the city. It works well, and it's a nice enough (if basic) distraction while things load up. And it beats the hell out of a loading screen.

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