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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Given free rein to goof around the city, we got a chance to check out some of the other additions to the game, particularly what happens when you get off your board. For starters, scattered in each section of the city is a BMX bike, which can be used to complete a handful of side objectives.

In stark contrast to the skateboards, bike tricks are pulled using a context-sensitive right analogue stick flick, allowing for things like handlebar spins and pitches of the bike in the air. It's impressive how different the controls feel, and is nowhere near as gimmicky as the vehicles that were included in THUG2. The bikes feel like a completely different ride, not just a model swap-out that handles or looks like the boards.

In between bikes and boards, there's the on-foot mechanics. The camera and control system is finally starting to feel legit, again less like you're ice skating around with an invisible board and more like you're actually on foot, interacting with things. Neversoft added some very basic freerunning (Parkour, if you will) elements, so flips, running up walls and leaping from ledge to ledge should keep you entertained while you climb around looking for a place to drop in.

The controls were still a little too laggy and not quite as tight as the bike and board sections, but it is a nice touch and essentially allows you to combo from board to bike without stopping, as well as lets you pull off some absolutely insane acrobatic feats if you can nail the controls. We couldn't, of course, but then we haven't had enough time with things. Yeah, that's it, it's the game, man.

It could also be that the stat increases are no longer contextual, so just grinding for 10 seconds or pulling off a bunch of air tricks to boost your stats won't work like it did in past games. Now, you'll have to look on sponsorship boards near skate shops for a list of challenges that will help notch up particular areas. Since the game sports a full day/night cycle, the challenges and stat-boosting opportunities change up every 24 hours of game time. A new day means new challenges. It's a little frustrating at first, because it means we couldn't spend a good half hour just maxing out our stats like we used to, but it also gives a real sense of progression to things, and makes challenges more difficult because of skills, not cheap or over-exaggerated goals.

The other additions to the tried-and-true moveset are more minor; one-footed manuals, board taps on lips, a headstand move while pulling the Natas Spins on fire hydrants or parking meters, and so on. The game otherwise feels, well, like a Tony Hawk game. As mentioned earlier, this is a stylized take on LA, so you'll see landmarks and points of interest, but it's nowhere near to scale as a proper recreation of the city - or even some of the city-patterned levels like here in San Francisco from earlier games. It's not a huge deal, since it means better custom lines this way, but it should be noted.

It took a while for all the additions and the mechanics to sink in. Our first impressions of the game were really that it was just another continuation of the series, but after discussing the direction of the games back in the office, it's obvious that the humor and fun of the series is still here, while all the distractions that were slowly moving things away from the core skating premise are being pushed aside.

The result is a game that feels bigger, more densely packed, and more true to the spirit of what the first couple games were trying to do - put you in the shoes of a skater and let you play along with Tony Hawk - it's just that now there's real motivation behind things and a real sense of a full world. We're excited about this game, and it's slowly becoming one of those games that we can't imagine not playing in a few weeks. Luckily, we'll only have to wait that long.
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