In the evolution of the eight generation console wave, the absence of the skateboarding genre has been felt by a dedicated fanbase that still yearn for the experiences that EA and Activision provided with their Skate and Tony Hawk franchises, respectively. The seemingly last nail in the coffin was forced into place with the release of Pro Skater 5 back in 2015 to a largely disappointing reception. Was this the last trick that the genre had to offer? It looked that way for a while.
Slide over to November 2017 and the first glimmer of a revival was on the horizon. Project: Session (now known as Session) was shown off to the public in a demo that emphasised a familiar concept to that of EA BlackBox’s beloved franchise. The spark was there, all it needed was a little more fuel. Enter SKATER XL.
Developed by Easy Day Studios, a team with skateboarding experience outside of game creation, SKATER XL was billed as the next step in the genre. Introducing a new learning curve in its purely physics-based tricking system and a realistic approach to the sport, the 1.0 build is now available after a few years in early access. After the long wait and release delays along the way, how does it stack up? Well, it’s a complicated one.
First and foremost, SKATER XL aims to be more of an experience or simulation. A big factor to determine your purchase will lay within your preference between realism and arcade-style gaming. As soon as the game boots up and introduces its initial tutorials, there is no time wasted to get acclimated to the unique control system. With each analog stick representing a foot on the board, the combination of using them to fuse together combos and lines is the biggest barrier the game offers in terms of difficulty.
There is a fantastic sense of reward when a chain is pulled off—no kickflip or tre flip is the same. You could enter the same input 100 times and each version would be unique as a result of the physics-reliant rotations. This feeling of precision and a strive for perfection lends itself to the testament of skateboarding’s addictive pull of repetition. Whilst I’m not an expert myself, my extremely novice real life experience with the sport has seen that same pull repeated time and time again in an effort to keep moving forward with my ability.
It also has a charm to it that has continued to win me over the more I spend time with the game. Easy Day has captured the feel of success regarding progress… to an extent. After a few hours with the game, you’ll naturally become accustomed to the fundamentals. The system needs a bit more variety beyond the basic elements it provides and is far stronger when it comes to flatland rather than vert. Skating vert, within the Mega Ramp level in particular, feels a little odd; acceleration as you begin spinning your body with the back triggers feels too slow to start off with and out of sync with your overall momentum. The pull of gravity as you head back to the ground also just feels a little too disconnected.
That being said, if you prefer a more heightened approach to this aspect of skating, you may find this highly entertaining and rewarding as you pull off near impossible feats. That entertainment comes at a price: reward. Throughout my first hours of gameplay I noticed that it was actually harder to land street lines that involved grinds and gaps, as opposed to what should be the daunting challenge of traversing massive vert layouts.
It’s an imbalance that, again, will depend purely on your preference. The goal at hand isn’t rooted in traditional missions or career paths, either. SKATER XL is loaded with challenges that require the player to complete slightly different forms of a set group of tricks across different spots on each map. As you play through them, you might notice the game forces you into playing in regular stance, which came across as an odd design choice for someone who prefers to skate in goofy stance (an option available to set as design in the menu). This strange choice does shed light on the great implementation of reversed trick options, as opposed to the controls having a strictly mapped cooperation with regular stance skating.
Other than the acknowledgement that you’ve checked these challenges off your list, there is no in-game reward for completing them in the form of unlockables, characters, or currency of any sort. Leaning more into that simulation experience, the goal is up to you to set by roaming the maps and picking out your own lines to complete in an effort to become a master of the game. By using the teleporting function with the session marker tool, you’ll be figuring out what combo will look amazing when played back via the game’s fine but limited replay editor. Can you land from a high ledge into a grind with a complex varial flip along the way? That’s down to you to figure out.
The main use of polish has clearly gone into the gameplay (even if my character lacks any facial expressions) rather than the environment that players will explore. Out of the levels included on the disc, Easy Day High School is the best of the bunch, offering a plethora of flatland spots to check out. Some of the spots included here and on the Los Angeles level are inspired by famous locales frequented by legendary skaters. There is something missing from these levels though…
The world of SKATER XL feels empty. There are no pedestrians roaming the streets, no vehicles, or any multiplayer to be seen (unless you’re on the PC version using mods). From its earliest days, skateboarding has been a community sport and has always welcomed new comers with open arms. To not have this same ethos represented with basic multiplayer functionality is disappointing but understandable due to the nature of the developer’s small-scale outfit.
In tandem with the lack of any atmosphere within the world, there is also a very strong lack of in-game content to be used within the customisation features present. Aside from a few selected items of clothing (including real life brands), basic skin tone / hair features, the game leaves a lot to be desired in making this unique to everyone picking up the game. Changing into your available clothing options highlighted some issues with menu design too, with it often feeling a little clunky or unfinished in places. There is no tracklist / track skip option available for the game’s stellar soundtrack (featuring the likes of Interpol, Band of Horses, and Cende), scrolling through the game’s clothing causes frustrating pauses, and it doesn’t simply let you back out to get into another category. Instead, it wastes your time getting back to the top of the list before enabling you to change it or back out to the main menu.
In its current state, SKATER XL isn’t the Skate killing entry to the genre that the ballsy video marketing campaign will lead you to believe. There is massive potential here and it feels like it would have benefited from more time in development. The foundations for a solid skating simulation are in place, with its core gameplay mechanic offering moments of immense satisfaction. Whether SKATER XL can become a solid skating game will remain to be seen as hopefully more features and content will be implemented over the coming months.