Some games do not age well. Unlike wine, games tend to become hideous with age. It’s true, however, that one may like a wine that has yet to mature, and the same can be said about games that have matured greatly.
Of course, “retro” games have a charm. The NES pumping out 8-bit melodies is something damn beautiful. Despite this, some games just don’t age well, full stop.
Anything from the last ten years is subject to potential suckage caused by low polygon counts and bad visuals. If a game isn’t a timeless classic, then the veil of nostalgia doesn’t cloud it, and we can see just how hideous it really is.
This was touched upon in GC Podcast #25: When Cowboys Wore Pink, where it was pointed out that some of the games on the original PlayStation are pretty darn ugly when we look back at them. I am in full agreement with this.
American Wasteland is one of these games that wasn’t all that good looking when it came out, and definitely still ain’t that good now. Once disgusting, always disgusting. It’s one of the many games in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series that may be ridiculed as it grows older, but despite its ugliness and complication, it also stands as my favourite skateboarding game released after Pro Skater 3.
Speaking of ugliness, there are about three talking animations that everyone uses, and most of the time, people don’t move their mouths. Subtitles constantly get it wrong, and you can clearly see that the game was made for PlayStation 2, then ported to Xbox, then ported to Xbox 360. Like making a copy of a friend’s videotape, which is a copy of their friend’s videotape. The quality deteriorates with each duplication.
The problem with Tony Hawk’s long-running game franchise is that with each of the main games, content was added. I understand that this is necessary with sequels—but content has just continually been added. Piled on in such vast quantity that we’re unable to tell just which damn straw broke the camel’s back.
Since Tony Hawk’s Underground, oodles of content has lead to things becoming unbearable. You have to understand the difference between and be able to pull off perfect Acid Drops, Bank Transfers, Rail Stalls, Natas Spins, Bert Slides, Wallplants and Sticker Slaps like they’re everyday common shit.
In the old days of THPS, and in real life, to pull a 900 is an accomplishment. In Tony Hawk’s Project 8, you’re expected to pull a 1080 Super-Wheelkick-Hip-Flip-McFlurry in your first mission. The series has gone more downhill than Downhill Jam.
Despite this, I still prefer THPS when it comes to this argument: Tony Hawk vs. Skate. Sure, Skate offers a far more realistic and “better” skating experience. Tricks are far harder to pull off, and the game is very much driven by the freedom to skateboard wherever you want. The difficulty of pulling off tricks was one of the reasons I loved Pro Skater 2 back in the day.
But even though Skate handles the skateboarding physics far better, I actually prefer the arcade aspect that THPS has. Did you ever play Sega’s Top Skater? Then you understand why I love this kind of gameplay so much! You must hit these tricks, earn enough points and do the gnarliest shit ever seen. And THPS asks me to do just that.
There is nothing cooler than doing a Gnarly McBarley from the top of an oil rig and crashing down at two-hundred miles per hour into a giant sewage pipe. You cannot do that in Skate, rest assured.
No loading times! Or at least, that’s what they say. Of course, that will never, ever happen in videogames. For so long as games are on a removable medium, there will always be loading times. That said, for the most part, the loading times on the Xbox 360 version of American Wasteland are outrageously minuscule.
You pick a level, and within the time it takes you to say “Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day is an unlockable character,” the level has completely loaded. All the goals are loaded into the game memory, as are all the objects and all the gaps.
That’s impressive, as it beats Pro Skater 3’s eight-second level load time on the original Xbox. In the majority of cases, the level has loaded even before the loading bar realises it. You’re looking at a third of the bar for most loading times, which is incredible.
The worst loading times are actually the ones that were best handled on the PlayStation 2 version. I’m talking about the seamless loading times employed in the story mode.
With the seamless loading times, you skate through a small interconnecting area (like a tunnel between two rooms in a Metroid game). The door at either end will open when the loading is complete.
These take an awful long time, and more often than not, my skater has his line rudely interrupted by the closed door between one area and the other. There are also a few occasions where the seamless loading times backfire, and places turn entirely invisible beyond the loading sections.
So, as well ascertained by this bug, the game is much older than the console for which it was released. Ported to the Xbox 360 much like King Kong and Lego Star Wars II were, American Wasteland contains plenty of artefacts that effortlessly point out its age.
The story mode is the main meat of this game. Unlike THUG and THUG2, which had awful storylines, American Wasteland tries to make a difference. Sadly, it still contains the usual ass kissing and ceaseless praise that turns the games into Tony Hawk’s Pro Fellatio. “Oh wow, Tony Hawk and Bam Margera are legends! I have them on my T-shirt,” and all that.
But it does also contain a story with relationships, character development and the occasional hilarious moment.
The funniest part of the story for me is when your main character is bullied by an eight-year-old girl, which subsequently makes him feel very, very stupid.
Him? Oh yes, on this occasion (and unlike the THUG series), you are forced to create a male story character. Because of the game being driven almost entirely by the narrative, the ending forces the main character and the first girl he met when he got off the bus in Hollywood to get together. So the reason why you cannot create a female skater for the story is because it would be considered wrong by certain Neversoft writers for two women to get hitched together at the end.
The story itself has flaws, and sometimes turns into an endless masturbation over the professional skaters, but at least it isn’t three-quarters Bam-Bam like Underground 2 was. Yes, thankfully so, American Wasteland has toned down the Retard-o-Meter since THUG2 broke it. There are still some totally ridiculous things in the game, but rest assured that your goals do not include pelting tomatoes at people, or wheeling a terminally ill child to see Tony Hawk before he dies.
When you finish the story mode (or beforehand if you’re like me), you’ll probably want to play the Classic Mode.
Unlike THUG 2’s Classic Mode (which used level tiers and mid-level cutscenes), the Classic Mode in American Wasteland means business.
The first level in the game is the first of three sourced from the original Pro Skater—the marvellous Minneapolis. This time, it’s decked out with new sections, goals and gaps, as well as plenty of the old ones.
This section of the game is definitely my favourite. The ratio of classic levels to new levels is enough for it to feel reminiscent of the older games yet also maintain its edge.
There is nothing better than taking to the streets as a custom skater and shredding the goals on your list. Each level contains classic goals as well as new ones, which makes a fan of the series very happy.
It won’t evoke the same feelings in a first-time Pro Skater player, but it should still be outrageous fun.
I almost got through the review without mentioning Achievements. An easy 800-900 for non-seasoned Hawkers, and two Achievements that might be tricky or difficult for anybody who hasn’t grown up on the series. Fairly easy, and great fun.
This game is dated, and by dated I mean “really dated.” It was dated when it was ported, and it was released less than a month after the Xbox and PS2 versions. Quite as you might expect, it shows many signs of being rushed.
It is also overcomplicated and full of glitches, and reeeeaally picky about moves that must be done and where they must be landed.
The soundtrack isn’t up to much either, but it succeeds in getting the old foot tapping as you play. It contains some so-so covers of classic punk songs from the Los Angeles area, such as “Institutionalized,” “Astro Zombies” and “Ever Fallen In Love With Someone” by some of the big-name artists at the time of release.
Green Day’s “Holiday” and a song by Green Day spin-off The Network appear, which is always a plus for me. It sails far from but still reminds me of the stellar soundtrack that Pro Skater 3 ‘n’ 4 managed to muster, nonetheless.
Pay pocket money on eBay or in a local GameStop for American Wasteland, and you could be doing something a damn sight worse. American Wasteland has everything you need if you’re into skateboarding games. If you’re after freedom and simplicity, Skate is your port of call instead. You should avoid Tony Hawk’s Project 8 at all costs, unless you have a thing for self-flagellation.