In May I played around with two Early Access skateboarding games, Session and Skater XL, with the intention of writing follow up pieces for each once they’d had their “full” release. Well, that day has come, sort of. Both have now had console releases, however, Session still remains in Early Access (or whatever the Xbox terminology for it is), though Skater XL, as of the 28th July 2020, has had a “1.0” release. With that in mind, I won’t be posting further on Session for now, mostly as the build that’s been put out on Xbox is the same as the one I looked at previously.
When I last looked at Skater XL it was incredibly bare-bones, you could mod it to make it into more of a game and bring some serious quality of life improvements, but it was essentially just a tech demo and Session felt more complete. However, with the date for 1.0’s release looming, I was expecting big things.
Unfortunately, what we have feels unfinished. It’s been a common practice this generation to release something that feels half-baked and then keep people coming back by introducing more and more features once you’ve got that initial cash inflow, for a smaller dev team like this, that’s fair, they can’t keep going indefinitely and you only have to look at Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky to look how things can be done if done correctly. It’s certainly not as bare as the Early Access build, where even switching stance was clumsily included, you now have a HUD and can see what trick it is you’ve just pulled off. You can choose to have a representation of your controller onscreen too so that you have a visual aid of what you’re doing rather than just relying on muscle memory, which is a nice thing to add.
It’s biggest issues, for me, come in the form of some stuff that I’d assume would be essential in a skateboarding game. There’s no revert, so you can’t quickly switch stance without popping an ollie or nollie first, transitioning is clumsy too, admittedly that’s an improvement over the old build where I couldn’t get it to work at all, but in this, it can be hit and miss as to whether or not you can smoothly transition between surfaces (so say, jumping between to quarter pipes) and there are some issues with clipping too, where you can be thrown off your board by something you’d previously skated over with no issue or instead of transitioning between surfaces, you grind along the edge of the second surface instead.
These things aren’t the biggest omission though. That goes to the lack of multiplayer. You could mod it in on the Early Access build, but I’m not sure if that’s an option in the 1.0 release on PC, it certainly isn’t on consoles, with five maps that are bereft of life, I can’t even begin to describe how much over an oversight this is, especially when you only have to look at the game’s subreddit to see it has a thriving community of people sharing spots, tricks and clips. The addition of a replay editor, of sorts, contributes to this, though its very, very basic and on PC any clips you do save use a custom file format that can’t be read by other programs so you have to use background programs (such as Streamlabs OBS or ShadowPlay) to record your clips as you’re in the editor before uploading and sharing them. Thankfully Skater XL now has a soundtrack, provided by bands such as Future Islands and Interpol, so it’s not just the noise of your face grinding pavement.
There’s also no progression, you’re given all of the maps (of which there are eight: five from the developers and three from the community) from the off, and they’re really varied in terms of their quality, and you’re given a list of “challenges” for each one that boils down to big lists of repeated tricks in different spots that you have to copy. It’s a decent way to learn the game’s mechanics and how to look for cool places to skate, but it leaves you wanting something more. On the subject of the mechanics, they’re still much looser than those in Session, this for me is a double-edged sword. I like that I can pick it, bust out a few flicks, maybe a couple of grabs off a staircase, grind some rails and manual, but as it’s so much more forgiving than Session it can also feel unrewarding. Owning both games leaves me in a bit of a predicament, when I’m playing this, I want to be playing Session, when I’m playing Session I want to be playing Skater XL. Both are marketed as Skateboarding sims, but one feels more hardcore than the other and it’s still difficult to state which one you should play as Skater XL has essentially now caught up with its competitor.