When Tony Hawk's Underground 2 was released last year it was one of the only times since the Tony Hawk franchise has begun that it was criticised. Whilst the game was fairly decent, a lot of the tasks in the game just weren't related to skateboarding, and when you play a skateboarding game you really expect to be skateboarding for most of the time (ironically enough). Neversoft have taken the criticism on board and have reinvented the game for the third time (THUG was the second reinvention for the series), so are we better off? Or is it time for Tony to stop skating?
The main mode in the game is once again the story mode. Whilst Neversoft claim the game is very focused on skateboarding, the very first goals we had were to change our clothes and change our hair, which left us a little wary from the beginning of the game. The story mode is set in LA, and your player is an upcoming skater who has just moved here to establish himself as a serious skater. The first character you meet is Mindy, who introduces you to the surroundings of LA and becomes your unofficial mentor.
Overall the game really is a lot more focused than its predecessor. We were wary of the claim, but the seemingly pointless goals are all but eradicated now. One of the other drawcards of the game is that it is set in a free roaming Los Angeles without any loading at all. Free roaming is becoming a feature of just about every second title here, but it is good that the Tony Hawk franchise is progressing.
Whilst the claim that the game takes place in one large city is relatively true, each part of Los Angeles is still broken up into little segments. Whilst this may seem like a disappointment, it really is essential so you're aware of exactly what the goals are, otherwise it would be far too easy to become confused with all the objectives. The game remains very free roaming by allowing you to go basically anywhere at any time, so if you don't like the objectives then you can skip parts of LA as you so wish.
The classic mode is back as well, and is completely seperate to the story mode. Most of the levels are taken from the first two games, and the goals are very reminiscent of the goals we used to be used to. We hope the classic mode stays in future Tony Hawk titles, as it is a great blast of nostalgia, considering i've been playing the series since it's debut on the PSOne.
Aside from the classic mode and the story mode, it's also possible to customise a lot of the game's options with the "create a" options. All of these "create a" options (which range from create a park to create a trick) are implemented in basically the same way as the previous titles, but they do help to extend the lifespan, and there absence would definitely be noticed. The create a player option also includes support for the Eyetoy, so it's possible to take a photo with the camera and implement it into the game without the need to upload the image and then download it into the game.
The story mode itself starts off relatively slow. The first twenty minutes or so just introduces you to the basic tricks, such as manuals, grinds and reverts. Fans of the series will find the first part of the story mode incredibly simplistic and there is unfortunately no way to skip these cleverly disguised tutorials. The goals themselves appear to have been designed with the beginner in mind, and didn't appear to be as difficult to me as in the previous titles. Although the difficult level can be changed for those who want more of a challenge.
The game also includes BMX riding in the story mode, which works better than we had expected. The pyschics aren't as well honed as the skateboarding physics are and at times controlling the bike can be a little difficult, but it's been years since the Matt Hoffman titles, so Neversoft have introduced the bikes into the game fairly well. Whilst the option to ride the bikes is there, it is barely compulsory for you to ride the bikes to pass a story mission. Neversoft are demonstrating that they don't feel the need to force a new feature in your face when it's implemented into the Tony Hawk series, which is a positive.
The multiplayer options have always been a highlight of the Tony Hawk series and this year Neversoft have added even more options to the mix. The classic mode allows two players to join in at once and play co-op to achieve the same goal, such as collecting all the SKATE letters. All of the previous multiplayer options have also made the cut, including the online play. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 was one of the first online games for the Playstation 2, and ever since then the game hasn't really evolved much online, but it is still awesome fun to play online, although we should warn you that there are some extremely skilled Tony Hawk players out there.
The controls haven't really changed that much from Tony Hawk's previous outing. Those insanely skilled Tony Hawk players will be pleased to know it is actually possible to pull off a combo which stretches the distance of Los Angeles, despite our feeble attempts we were unable to do it though. There are a few new moves included such as grind stalls, boned ollies, off footed modifiers and wall flips and runs. None of them are huge inclusions, but there really isn't much else that can be added to the moveset as Neversoft have covered just about every aspect of skateboarding now.
If we had one complaint about the gameplay it would be the city, whilst the fact that you can go one from point to the other without any loading is an incredible technical achievement (and could quite possibly be the reason this game isn't coming to the PSP) the large corridors that connect each level are uninspired and flat, this makes each level seem rather interconnected instead of connected fully.
Graphically the game looks a little cleaner than the predecessors, but the major technical achievement is the sprawling Los Angeles. Los Angeles has been well recreated and throughout the story mode you're likely to spot some of Los Angeles most recognisable landmarks including Rodeo Drive, the Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Sign.
The frame-rate stays fairly solid throughout the entire game, except when you make the transition through each interconnected level. We did encounter a few bad textures at certain parts of the game, and there were a few graphical glitches, but the visuals in the game are unlikely to get any better in future incarnations of the title, simply because the environments are fairly huge.
The soundtrack is always an incredible highlight in the Tony Hawk games and it is no different with this title. The traditional and recognisable sounds of skating and ambient noises all help to set the atmosphere of the game well. The voice acting is also superb and the pros actually sound like they've put more effort into there delivery this time around (in comparison to the hangover effect of the previous titles).
The soundtrack features around seventy songs, and the entire playlist can be edited. The song list is fairly varied and includes songs from bands such as Bad Religion, Black Flag and Circle Jerks. Those wanting to look at the entire song list can view it here.
Lifespan wise the game's story mode isn't incredibly long and won't last as long as say THUG 2's, but there are plenty of options outside of the story mode. The classic mode is fairly decent, (although not as deep as story mode) and there are always the "create a" options and the multiplayer modes. We assume that the story mode doesn't last as long because there are less pointless tasks in the game, which we think is a worthy trade off. Tony Hawk veterans shouldn't have too much trouble with most of the goals though.
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland is thankfully an evolution upon the previous titles. The Tony Hawk franchise was getting stale, and Neversoft have listened to the criticisms and developed a title that puts an extremely large emphasis on skateboarding. If you've been disappointed by the previous titles in the series then you really cannot go wrong with THAW, it is the best Tony Hawk game since the fourth titlte, we really don't know where the series is going to go after this though, but for now we're pleased that the game has actually switched the emphasis back onto skateboarding.
PSP:Tony Hawk's Underground 2: Remix
PS2: Tony Hawk's Underground 2: World Destruction Tour
XBOX: Tony Hawk's Underground
NGC: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4
NGE: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater