I made a mistake. I thought that the biggest culprit of the lack of creativity and interesting level design was due to shifting to an open world structure. American Wasteland proved me wrong, being the first game in the franchise to go for an open world, it nailed it out of the park, and while it's not my favorite game in the series, it's yet another damn good installment.
Upon selecting story mode, you'll notice that Create-a-Character has seen some cuts, namely, your story mode character must be a male, and you can't tweak his face. It's sure to disappoint a few, and there're very few reasons as to why your character is locked as a male. The open world feels very nice, and the different areas, like East L. A. or Santa Monica are separated by cleverly disguised transition-loading-skate zones. Thanks to this, each Skate Park was allowed to retain a theme and personality to itself, and while you can notice the shift to realism, since objectives are not as over the top as they were in Underground 2 and levels feel more urban and realistic than before, there's still the classic Tony Hawk charm, with all the color that would be sorely missed in future installments as well as silly set pieces culminating into a crazy Skate park made up from parts gathered from all over the game, the eponymous American Wasteland.
There were a few missteps made in the switch to the new formula, for instance, some story objectives that must be completed in order to progress require you to pony up cash, which is only made by fulfilling a few random, infinitely respawning trick missions. You will have to stop by and do a few of these at least once in your playthrough, more if you are into customizing your appearance by buying clothes or what have you. It's an annoyance, and there's no good reason as to why having this dumb obstacles. Speaking of clothes, some missions will change your clothes or appearance, and the only way to put on your old clothes is by returning to the store in which you bought it, there should've been a more convenient way to change your clothes in-game. They also changed how stats are enhanced, now you have to accept challenges in sets of five, and you have to wait an in-game day in order for the challenge list to renew itself with new challenges. While you can skip time by sleeping, it's such a silly mechanic that won't keep the player from overleveling, but it will make it annoying. It was done so well in Underground 2!
From what I know, Underground 1 had a car. Underground 2 had multiple different special vehicle-characters. American Wasteland went with less, but deeper: Now you can ride a BMX. The BMX controls entirely different from the Skateboard, and it's entirely optional, the only missions that require it can be skipped. I did dabble in riding the bike, but only to make quick money from the bike random trick missions. Still, I think it was a good idea, it plays better than most vehicle-characters from Underground 2.
American Wasteland also features every 2-Player Mode the series has had since like forever, and also has Classic Mode, like Underground 2. It works a tiny bit different though, as Classic is now made up of an entirely different set of levels from Story mode, although they are simple updated versions of older stages. Since there're less levels, you start with higher stats, that made it more fun to go through than Underground 2's. As is to be expected, create a Park and create a Trick also return.
This final PS2 entry took me by surprise. It started off rather off-putting, but it quickly proved itself to be up to the standards of the franchise. It also features the most extensive moveset and toolset available in the franchise, which makes it a fantastic game to pick up and play, if only just to fool around the levels.
8.0 out of 10