Ever seen a fat skateboarder? If you're going to pull off flip tricks and delicate balance moves, being light on your feet helps. That's what makes Tony Hawk's American Wasteland such a paradox - it's gained a lot of heft as a franchise over the years, but now it's starting to be weighed down by its own legacy.
Granted, if it ain't broke, don't fix it - the Hawk mantra has always been to extend the skateboarding experience rather than fundamentally change it. And THAW definitely offers extension: a huge, sprawling Los Angeles, yours to explore without loading times getting in the way. (Well, they're there, but you get to skate through them as you travel from, say, Hollywood to Beverly Hills, or Downtown to East L.A.)
Like the Underground series, the single-player mode unfolds as a story. This time, a punk from the sticks moves to the City of Angels and ultimately helps his motley crew of outcast friends to build the greatest skatepark ever known to man. The story-driven but largely non-linear structure compels you to keep playing, but old-school players will also find a rich and completely independent Classic Mode full of simpler, goal-oriented objectives scattered around polished levels they already know and love.
Part of THAW's Xbox 360 upgrade is full Xbox Live support, which offers a dozen games plus a free-skate mode that's basically a chat session on wheels. PS2 gamers have enjoyed games of King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, and the self-explanatory Slap! for some time, but that just means they're all honed to perfection now that they're finally on Xbox Live.
The Xbox 360 game isn't bad, but there's nothing to really justify the extra $10 in the price, other than higher resolution and support for the new Xbox Live Achievements system - as you hit milestones in the Story, Classic, and online modes, you'll add points to your Gamerscore. Unfortunately, the only other Xbox 360-specific element is the mushy d-pad on the 360 controller, which makes you fight to pull off precise combos.
Some of the other new bits, such as the awkward Bert slides and the ungainly addition of a BMX bike to the proceedings, feel tacked-on and shoehorned-in - there's too much to do, in a bad way. Even with some amazingly sloppy environmental and collision bugs, the strong multiplayer support and enjoyable single-player story make Tony Hawk's American Wasteland the most satisfying Xbox entry of the franchise to date, but less would be more for next year's inevitable release - the core thrill of defying gravity with four wheels and a plank of wood is starting to suffer from all the extra poundage.