Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (GCN)
I just finished up THPS4, and as I'm already very familiar with the two Underground games, I decided to finally give American Wasteland a shot. I bought it like ten years ago but I didn't like how much of a departure it was from the previous titles. And when I started to replay the game, it seemed like my judgement was right, as everything felt awkward and bloated compared to what I'm used to. But eventually, I started warming up to the game, and now I can say that, while still not my favorite, I definitely appreciate it way more than I used to, and I may even revisit the game occassionaly if the mood strikes me.
THAW was notable for being the first Tony Hawk game with an "open" world (open in the sense that you can travel between the levels through tunnels that are not all there to mask loading times). The game takes place in Los Angeles, with several locations like Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Santa Monica pier taking up the main playable areas, as well as some additional areas like the Oil Rig stage from THPS3 Xbox. It also has a slightly different art style than past games, with a more "inky" look to the textures and comic book-esque illustrations used all over the place.
The story feels somewhat in between the two THUG games tonally; the goal of the game is stealing all sorts of LA landmarks to put in your own skatepark, with the help of some misfit skaters whose trust you earn along the way. It has the more open-style of goals as the past few games, but with some bonus goals and challenges you can do to build stats. There's also shops in all the major areas of the map to buy clothes, skate gear, tattoos, etc. as well as a day/night system with certain events being affected by the time of day. It feels like a more-realized version of what THUG was trying to be, while also embracing the more destruction-oriented plot structure of THUG 2. Oh also, your character in story mode MUST be male. Lame.
The core gameplay feels very much like your typical Tony Hawk game, but this game goes above and beyond with adding new things and mechanics to play with. Things like Bert Slides for sharper turns or Boned Ollies to clear narrower gaps are somewhat useful, but the walking controls are completely redone here. They tried to add some parkour mechanics to the game, which honestly could be really cool if done right, but imo it just feels stiff even compared to the admittedly-janky off-board controls in the Underground games.
The game has BMX segments too. I didn't like them, so I'm glad there's only like two goals in the whole game that required it. I'm sure it appeals to like, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX fans though, so it's cool that they got tossed a bone since that series is never coming back.
The Classic Mode is back, but unlike THUG 2, it's super-short this time. None of the story mode levels were used in this mode, so you're only left with six levels (even the original game had nine levels). You have the return of three THPS1 levels (Minneapolis, Chicago, and Mall), two levels from THUG 2 Remix (Santa Cruz and Kyoto), and a new level called The Ruins, which is a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. It's worth noting that the PS2 Collector's Edition got two additional stages (Atlanta from THUG2R and Marseille from THPS2), but I didn't play that version so
The music is also very interesting, as it features a lot of covers of classic punk songs by modern (at the time) bands like Green Day or My Chemical Romance, and they're all made just for this game. It's so cool and interesting and it's one of the things about this game that I genuinely love.
Overall, I think THAW is a lot better than I gave it credit for, even if I still don't think it's my cup of tea for what I like in the series. At the very least, I can appreciate it's ambition and spirited attempt to make a yearly franchise feel fresh again without compromising what makes it fun.