previews\ Oct 2, 2005 at 8:00 pm

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland - 360 - Preview

He’s a hick from the sticks, a country bumpkin with stars in his eyes, heading to his own skateboarding Mecca, otherwise known as Los Angeles. Escaping from everything he thinks is holding him back, in other words he is boasting that somewhat typical teen-age attitude, he arrives in the big city and gets a quick dose of reality.

Life is not always handed away on a plate, sometimes you have to earn what you want. And in this case, robbed of all he brought with him, save his skateboard, that means learning his chops and refining his technique, pulling off tricks for cash and becoming a hot-shot skateboarder with that smooth L.A. style.

Tony Hawk American Wasteland is the latest iteration of the series and rather than continue on the T.H.U.G. wild ride, this time around the game focuses on the L.A. scene with missions or goals, and some BMX stunts thrown in for good measure.

The game was recently shown at an Activision/Neversoft event in San Francisco where the media was able to get their hands on some builds and wander through the playground that T.H.A.W. offers. The game is slated to release on the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube in mid-November and will also be offered on the Xbox 360 machine. Vicarious Visions is responsible for the porting the game to the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS platforms.

Getting hands on a PlayStation 2 version revealed a game that had all the style and panache of the previous Tony Hawk titles. The characters sported plenty of attitude and the game comes with a host of modes in addition to the story mode. There is the classic mode, create-a-modes, and several multiplayer games that will have you tricking out all over the various zones. There are a total of 10 types of multiplayer games.

Of course, when our country boy first arrives in L.A., his hair and clothes are not exactly up to the local code. He meets a tough-talking street-wise girl named Mindy who sets him on the straight path, advises him to spend some coin to get a new hair style and some new clothes. That accomplished, he gets her opinion and she commends him on achieving that “I don’t give a crap” look. The clothing store, skate shop and barber are three stores that pop up in various zones. The player’s toon can pick up technique-based challenges from the skate shops, and should he accomplish them, he will not only earn coin, but maybe pick up a sponsorship for local events. The skate shop challenges, which must be completed by midnight, will also boost stats.

The skater will have to skill up and this is done by meeting some street skaters, taking challenges and learning new tricks. One skater asks him to do a kickflip over the head of actor Ben Whofleck, who is standing in front of a cinema for a premiere event with a couple of bodyguards. The trick is timed, and if you manage to pull it off, you are rewarded with a slow-motion cutscene of the trick.

The focus mode is back, which requires players to pull off tricks, fill the specials meter and then punch the appropriate button to initiate the slow-motion effect. This is used to pull off some of those particularly tough tricks.

After working up skills, the skater is eventually introduced to a private area, run down and in need of work, that will eventually become the Skate Ranch. Mindy has a plan for the park, and there are more than 40 pieces that must be collected to transform the weed-ridden concrete playground into the dream skate park. Progressively piecing together the park serves as a visual representation of the player’s progress through the game.

Of course, the game does have some new moves to learn, like the Nata Spin and vert slide, You can easily make your way around the zones by skitchin on car bumpers or the tail of the pit bull, Sanchez.

The game’s control scheme was very similar to other Tony Hawk games, save when it comes to hopping on the BMX bike. This is where the controls switch up a bit, with a lot of the tricks relying on use of the right analog stick. Players can jump on and off the skateboard, talk to NPCs or switch to the BMX bike at the punch of a hot button. It is rather easy to, though when it comes to pulling off the tricks, it takes quick reflexes to get some of the high-flying aerials right.

The graphics are similar to other Tony Hawk games, except when it comes to the static graphics that punctuate the story. These are often humorous, boldly colorful and very eye-catching. The different zones will stream in the final version, and the game takes place in a free-roaming city. And, of course, playing off the high-def capabilities of the 360 really gives the game some added pop.

The game’s soundtrack fits the game model perfectly, from the street banter to the musical score.

Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland is the next progressive step in the series, taking the game in a different direction for the T.H.U.G. series of games, but adding to the franchise in a very solid way. For those who can’t get enough of the video game industry’s top skateboarding franchise, the playground is about to get a lot richer and definitely more enjoyable.

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