The Basics: Los Angeles has been begging for years to be turned into one big skate park. Grinding the endless line of benches and quick check-in counters at LAX, doing a transfer through the windows of the convention center, getting massive air to trick out as you sail over the Hollywood sign...it's like some kind of beautiful skater dream that could never happen in real life. Since 1999, Neversoft has been letting kids with two left feet mix it up with the likes of viva la Bam Margera and the legendary Tony Hawk. Now they're giving you the world's most well known city to grind up and tear down.
Not only can you pull off a truly massive line from one end of the city to another with no loading times in between (at least once you've unlocked all of LA), but there's barber shops to get a stylish new cut, clothing stores to deck out in the latest 80's fashions, and skate shops...I think you can guess what they're for. Not to mention all the optional missions and items to collect, giving you plenty of playtime even if you're just cruising around Santa Monica. If that's not enough, Classic Mode returns with levels drawn from past Tony Hawk titles that can even be tackled in 2 player co-op, and at long last the Xbox version, along with the Xbox 360, will support full online play just like its PS2 cousin (sorry GC users, no online for you).
The cars in THUG handled like Tony on Ice, while the carts in THUG2 should never be mentioned again. They weren't part of the game, just an obstruction in the way of getting to the real objectives. Meanwhile, Activision's O2 line of other extreme sports games has been sadly dead and buried. Neversoft have pulled off a bit of revival by integrating BMX riding and tricking out to the point that it feels like a whole new game by itself, complete with a control scheme making use of both analogue sticks to turn, spin, and grind like you've never done in a Tony game before. While the on board controls have been refined, tossing in such new tricks such as Bert slides and one-foot grinds.
What do we think? I've been a fan of THPS since the first, and Neversoft always justified my love, bringing major improvements to the gameplay every year, while providing bigger and better arenas to smash and thrash...until THUG2, which felt more like crash and burn. Aside from humor too crude for even my tastes, the whole thing had begun to feel just too limiting, and the structure of grinding a series of missions in one locale before moving onto the next had started to wear thin. More freedom, more fun; that's what I wanted. From what I've seen so far, THAW is non-stop dance party with Neversoft bringing the beer. With the addition of Xbox Live, it's bound to make me a believer all over again.
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland is also in development for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube platforms.