It seems like I'm saying this a lot lately, but is just that I have a hard time seeing how many more "improvements" can be made to a game based entirely on the theme of skateboarding. Now don't get me wrong, I fell in love with the Tony Hawk series long ago and say it through many early titles which definitely brought major changes to the gameplay to bring it to where it is today. However, I do not believe that I am the only fan who, after playing Tony Hawk's Underground (THUG), said, "Well, that's it. They've definitely outdone themselves this time. What's there left to do?"

I guess the developers at Neversoft didn't share my point of view. And that's a good thing too; without people like these constantly trying to outdo themselves, we would not have many of the highly polished games that are available to gamers in this day and age. Enter Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, the latest in this long running, wildly popular series that seems to appeal to gamers of all varieties. This is probably the result of its initial simplicity (and quick fun), yet extreme complexity (and reward) later on that scales well to a gamer's skill level. Plus the facts that there are se.emingly endless goals and missions to complete, tricks to master, and that these games are just damn fun to play.

I should mention that although I played it at X'05 on the Xbox 360, American Wasteland has already been released for all current generation consoles. I have not, however, played it on any of these as of yet. Therefore, this preview is both my opinion of the new game as a whole, as well as its comparison to other 360 titles I have played.

What makes American Wasteland different from past titles in the Tony Hawk series. This time the game is designed as a completely free-roaming adventure set in Los Angeles. With no set out levels and, therefore, no load times, players are able to explore the city and discover missions at their own pace. Throughout this city there are also many stores located, in which players are able to purchase many different accessories for their character. Some of these may even be required to complete missions. Entering a store from the streets is fairly quick, although it does not quite feel seemless.

Probably one of the most drastic departures from the premise of the series is the inclusion of a BMX bike this time around. For reasons unknown, players are able to locate the bikes in different areas of the city and switch away from their traditional skateboard to pull tricks and complete missions. Of course, there are also new board tricks, as well as new off-board tricks extended from the THUG games.

One of the new features that has me intrigued, although unfortunately I did not get a chance to try it out, is the Classic Mode that has been added. In this mode players are able to team up and play two-player co-op through levels chosen from previous Tony Hawk games, as well as a few new ones. To my dismay, Activision did not give me any hints as to which classic levels were included.

The controls of American Wasteland on the 360 are nearly flawless, even though combos are getting much more complicated with such a wide variety of possibilities. However, I was not nearly as impressed by the graphics displayed. In comparison to other games on the show floor at X'05, Tony Hawk just did not even compare to the competition on the Xbox 360. I kept finding myself thinking that although the graphics aren't terrible, they still look lacking in detail, on the level of previous generation systems, and not really utilizing the power of the Xbox 360.

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland appears to be a solid extension of the popular series. The free-roaming aspect, as well as the Classic Mode, appear to be definite pros. Also, the game of course can be played on Xbox Live. However, I can't help but think that the BMX addition is nothing more than a last grasp at innovation with little added value. One can only see how this one stands out when it launches with the Xbox 360 later this month.