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Game Review

Once upon a time, I was a skater.


My pre-adolescent love affair with the skateboard never blossomed, however, because ... well ... I was lousy at it. I spent as much time on the concrete—OK, more—as I did successfully "surfing" suburban sidewalks. I suspect most skating novices experience the same thing. But I didn't have the patience to overcome my awkwardness atop a Plexiglas plank and four fiberglass wheels.

What does that have to do with the latest Tony Hawk video game? As it turns out, quite a bit. My real-life ineptness on four wheels paralleled my experience playing Tony Hawk's American Wasteland. More than any of the nearly 20 games I've reviewed for Plugged In Online, American Wasteland proved difficult to master. Before I talk further about gameplay mechanics, however, an overview of the game's objectives is in order.

A Skater's Story
The seventh entry in the popular Tony Hawk franchise revisits the familiar urban skateboarding themes of previous titles while adding some new wrinkles. The game offers three ways to play: story mode, classic mode and high-score/free-skate mode. The latter provides a place to hone your skills without a timer, while classic revisits levels from previous incarnations of the series. Most players, however, will likely spend the bulk of their time in the game's story mode.

Story combines the free-skating shenanigans previous titles are famous for with an open-ended adventure as you explore Los Angeles. This mode finds your unnamed character, who's driven by dreams of skateboarding glory, unceremoniously dumped from his bus in downtown L.A. Thugs steal your stuff before you meet a friend who'll help you navigate the city's streets. Punkish (and overly-endowed) Mindy oozes urban attitude, sporting a short skirt, a bare midriff and fishnet stockings. She knows the city, aspires to publish her own skateboarding magazine (American Wasteland) and helps you customize your look. (Given a chance to revisit the '80s, I naturally chose an electric blue mullet.)

After you outfit your character, you skate through 13 missions, each of which requires completing specific tasks. In the first level, for example, new acquaintances Ian and Duane coach you on basic tricks such as the caveman grind, the kick-flip and the manual. Any threat of monotony as you progress is broken up periodically by the chance to swap your skateboard for a BMX bike. One other noteworthy new element is the assignment to decorate your "skate ranch" by "retrieving" bits of urban junk, such as plastic dinosaur heads, broken sections of the street, etc.

Even with the addition of a narrative mode, the goal of American Wasteland remains the same as previous versions: putting together "sick" combinations of tricks to rack up huge points (thus earning equipment upgrades) as you progress through the levels.

Too Much Attitude?
Some reviewers have written about the ease with which players can move through the story. Maybe—if you've played the first six versions. You already know how my experience went. But easy or hard, it's not the gameplay that's most worth discussing when it comes to Wasteland. That comes in the form of the T-rated elements developers have included. Female characters' overemphasized sexual attributes are impossible to ignore, as are occasional mild profanities such as "d--n" and "h---." Then add in 60-plus sometimes-problematic songs by bands such as My Chemical Romance, Thrice and Alkaline Trio. (The worst song on the soundtrack is arguably Venom's track "Black Metal," which boasts, "Energy screams, magic and dreams/Satan records the first note/We chime the bell, chaos and hell/Metal for maniacs pure.")

Also disappointing is the way the game encourages vandalism by requiring characters to "requisition" urban debris and to deface the cityscape with graffiti. And perhaps most concerning, authority figures such as parents and police are routinely treated as fools to be ridiculed.

These content concerns may seem relatively minor compared to the more serious problems in the M-rated titles attracting so many gamers' (many of them tweens and teens) attention today. Nevertheless, it's too bad Tony Hawk didn't use his iconic status to encourage skaters to pursue their passion—even virtually—more responsibly.

Skaters often complain that they don't get any respect. Unfortunately, games such as Tony Hawk's American Wasteland do little to contradict the stereotypical view of skaters as irresponsible, antisocial vandals.

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Xbox 360, Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC




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Adam R. Holz Kevin Simpson

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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