Who’d have thought ten whole years have passed since (the now-defunct) EA Black Box dropped their last skate-sim entry, Skate 3. After the runaway success of Skate 2, it was the logical next step for EA to expand on the streets of San Vanelona. Except this time, it was back to school as skaters were sent to Port Carverton University and its neighbouring districts as their new proving grounds. Last November, the online servers for Skate 3 were reinstated out of the blue.
Was it a sign? Or was it just a form of gratitude to the fanbase? No-one knows but there is one thing clear in the years since Skate 3 landed: the skateboarding genre is deeply missed.
The early 00’s were dominated by Neversoft’s genre pioneering Tony Hawk Pro Skater series and its subsequent sequels. All was well and good for the series, achieving its peak with the mighty Tony Hawk’s Underground, but there was still room for improvement. The year of 2007 rolls around, the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 still fairly young at this point. Skate (stylised as Skate.) would drop into the scene of September that year to a positive start for the series.
Since that September, I don’t think it’s an understatement to say the genre was changed forever. EA Black Box went back to work, birthing the series opus Skate 2 in 2009. Bigger maps and challenges were present but Black Box knew their formula of authentic skate thrills could go be tweaked too. The experience of a Skate 2 was like butter, with a satisfying feeling of skill once particular tricks and combinations had been mastered in sessions of online competition. ‘Skate 3’ would follow suit, adding an aesthetic variety to its locale and more depth to it’s tricking system.
Nothing could have beat the rush of successfully landing under flips mid-combo was unmatched. Multiplayer was given new life with the advent of a skate park editor, not unlike its series rival’s mechanics. Whilst the critical consensus was that Skate 3 may have been a little too safe in regards to innovation, fans seemed to be pleased with another well-rounded sim to get stuck into. And that was it.
EA Black Box would, unfortunately, close its doors, with many of its employees pursuing new ventures or finding new projects within the EA infrastructure. Surely this wouldn’t signal the death of the genre? For a long time, it has seemed that way. Fans of the genre have been looking for an alternative to fill that Skate sized void in their life.
Now it seems that void is not so empty after all.
December 2018 and September 2019 saw the genre gain a new life in the form of ‘Skater XL’ and ‘Session’ respectively. Both claiming to offer gamers a familiar experience but with a twist, these games are clearly coming from teams looking to solve the demand for a revival. Influenced by the Skate series mechanics, both games seek to improve upon the tricking system but adding a simple but challenging flavour into the mix. By making each analogue stick represent the players left and right foot, the ability to trick would be closer to that of real-life movements.
Whereas ‘Skate’ would render its tricks into reality via pre-made animations, ‘Skater XL’ is entirely dependent on its physics engine and the player’s decisions to enable tricks to be completed. ‘Session’ takes this into consideration, with a focus on weight and balance at the core of its mechanical ethos. Since the drop of both games into Early Access, there have been ongoing debates between fans about which game is the victor. Whether you may stand, I’m personally glad to see the genre alive again with not one, but two games available to play.
Recently, I’ve been getting my teeth stuck into ‘Skater XL’ and even at a lower specification set on my hardware, the core gameplay is strong enough to distract me from my aesthetical downgrade. Those familiar feelings of freedom to create, to explore and to fail came rushing back after a few minutes of playing. The challenge of learning the new tricking method is a challenge but that’s not a detriment to the developers. I’m not the only person with 10+ years of muscle memory from the Skate franchise diving back into this world.
My time with ‘Session’ wasn’t as fruitful in my opinion, but this viewpoint on preference is sure to be the core decision-maker in the ongoing debates between both games. Both games are offering a new avenue of potential skateboarding adventures and for that, I’m truly thankful.
‘Skater XL’ (already in Early Access) will make its 1.0 debut on Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch in July of this year, whilst ‘Session’ is currently in Early Access on Xbox One and PC.
In the last week, the rumour mill began to turn again as professional skater Jason Dill sparked the fires again. Detailing an encounter with an EA representative via email at least ten months ago, EA were hoping to make a Skate 3 mobile adaptation. Alongside that, Dill has allegedly been collaborating on an upcoming instalment of the Pro Skater series set to release later this year. Dill didn’t mention what developer or publisher was involved, but mentioned that his likeness and signature deck would be featured in the game.
Whilst I don’t question Dill’s character, as always with these kinds of things, a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, Dill’s plea to EA for a Skate 4 (whilst declining their mobile game pitch) was nice to see. Whether that comes to fruition, only time will tell.
When all is said and done, no matter what game you pick, Skateboarding is coming home.