This is it, folks. We’re entering a bold new era of fresh skateboarding games. There are several new titles on the way, and the first out of the door as what can be considered a full, complete product is SkaterXL. Buckle up for the official Terrible Company review.
SkaterXL launched on Xbox One and PS4 last week, on July 28th. The game’s road to launch has been long, with an Early Access period on PC (where the game initially launched in December 2018). The game was put together by a very small team at Easy Day Studios, so given the complexity of this game, the long wait was to be expected. There were high expectations from the hungry community that surrounds skateboarding games, so it has a lot to live up to.
Reviewed on Xbox One and PC
First things first: we can’t discuss SkaterXL without mentioning Session. There are so many similarities between both games. Both games claim to be skateboarding simulators. Both use the left and right sticks as left and right feet. Both use triggers to turn. Both aim to recreate a golden triangle of American spots from major cities (although from complete opposite coasts of the US). Both have drafted in real pros and brands to help bolster their authenticity. There is just no getting away from the comparisons here.
What I will say, is that my initial assessment of both games, which pegged Session as potentially being the better game, was wrong. I know it’s too early to say, with Session still in early access and a far way off of Version 1.0 (which SkaterXL is obviously now at), but the directions of the two games, although similar, also offer many differences. SkaterXL’s path, in context, plays, looks and feels better.
SkaterXL is a much more forgiving and accessible experience all up. Developers Easy Day Studios aren’t slaves to the super realistic control scheme, in the same way Session developers Crea-ture Studios are. The ability to steer your board with the left and right stick as a safety net for anyone with muscle memory stuck on Skate3 mode is a really nice touch.
SkaterXL is missing many tricks like late flips (which Session does have), no complies, darkslides, footplants and handplants – but the tricks on offer are designed to look and feel different every time you do them, and in many cases everyone will do them differently. It’s the first game where you can truly have and own your style, which is an impressive feat. Easy Day are clearly building a foundation for what may become the most sophisticated skating simulation the world has ever seen.
The game doesn’t use canned animations, and relies more on real time physics, which is what makes every trick look unique to you. Grinds depend on the angle and position of your board, which means you can tweak and style certain grinds, or even accidentally land in tricks you didn’t expect (which is realistic – you ever go for a Smith and end up in lipslide?). Compare this to Session, where you absolutely have to be doing the right combination of left and right stick movement to do a specific grind, and anything but perfect execution causes a slam.
SkaterXL’s slightly more lenient approach is it’s saving grace here – if the game was any more punishing it would just be completely frustrating. It balances difficulty perfectly with teaching you just enough to peel away at the surface. Spending time with the game, you begin to figure out tricks that seemed completely impossible to you mere hours earlier.
The game boasts an impressive amount of content, having roped in various talented developers from the game’s modding community to bulk out the game with great replicas of real locations, amazing fantasy spots, and a robust replay editor. A large portion of LA can be explored and shredded alongside the smaller levels. The locales are a little dead, with no traffic cars or NPC’s walking around, and in a way I understand that this is intentional so you don’t get hit by a bus or mess up a line because of a random person – but the levels just feel lifeless without them.
You can play as a custom character, using boards and clothes from some rad, real life brands like Santa Cruz, Element, Lakai and Dickies. The character customisation isn’t as expansive as I would like: you only have 4 preset characters to pick from for male and female body types, you can’t add facial hair, and the boards and hardware are all the same size. Compared to Session, which has various board widths and board shapes (pool boards are so hot right now) as well as varied sizes of wheels, SkaterXL falls short in this department, and I hope they improve it post launch.
You can play as one of 4 pro skaters – Evan Smith, Tom Asta, Tiago Lemos and Brandon Westgate. The skaters all look kinda dead and robotic when you’re watching replays of them. Again, it would be great to see some improvements with facial animations here so the characters feel a little less like action figures. There is a distinct lack of transition rippers, which is kinda weird considering there is a whole map dedicated to transition skating.
One of my major concerns playing the Early Access build was that the transition skating was kinda borked. It just didn’t feel right in the first pass version I played. Everything felt way too difficult and odd, and the controls just didn’t gel with how I feel skating transition should be in real life – it was frustrating just feeling like I had to put so much effort in for a simple scratch on the coping, and more often than not it didn’t look or behave how it did in real life.
I’m glad to say Easy Day really went all in on trying to get this part of skateboarding right for the full release. Although it could do with some more tutorialisation: The transition skating looks and feels better than Skate 3 when you know exactly what you are doing. The game is missing some footplant and handplant tricks, but it is a ton of fun: Transitions feel like transitions, rather than ledges disguised as ramps.
They even added controls to drop in appropriately from basically any lip trick you can land in, which is a massive improvement over Skate3. Whilst they get lip tricks mostly right, the grabs are kinda difficult: Indy and melon grabs are easy, but you have to contort your hands around the controller in bizarre formations to do other grabs, which is baffling and disappointing.
The other area of transition skating that feels a little poor is bowl skating. There’s one proper bowl in the California Skatepark level, and it’s a pretty standard clover bowl with pool coping. The pumping in this game is super hard to get right, and it’s clear that (for the time being) it mostly works with mini ramps in mind, and not much else. Carving corners slows you down, pumping seems overly difficult to get right in this context, and once you roll in and do one lip trick you never seem able to hit the coping again. I hope they continue to improve this, as well as add more awesome transition parks and spots post launch, and maybe some footplant variants too (fingers crossed for the first video game Sweeper).
Past just skating around, there is a distinct lack of goals or objectives. The game has loose trick and line challenges for every level that you can burn through: frustratingly the game forces you to do these in Regular, so I had to do these in switch! A lot of this mode can be cheated by just doing the tricks required on the spot, rather than skating the obstacles the game wants you to, which is a shame.
Other than this, there is very little else in terms of campaign or progression. I know skateboarding is about finding your own fun, but in a video game, this lack of real goals can just feel like there is nothing to do. A video game where you “find your own fun” should give you more tools for hours of fun (e.g. Minecraft allows you to build practically thousands of things, hunt monsters, etc) – for SkaterXL to be the same kind of game, it would need a robust park editor, or allow you to modify in game spots. As it is the 8 levels are great, but lack any real substance other than “go skate”.
Skate, as a franchise, worked because it had these short, medium and long term goals to work toward, and a loose story to pull you through the game, and SkaterXL could benefit from something like this. The achievements offer a little something to work toward – for example there are cumulative goals such as total distance in grinds, as well as big, cool one off challenges like ollie a drop of 5 metres or more.
It just isn’t enough though: I would’ve liked more crafted challenges that make you think a bit more and allow you to get creative. Giving the player access to all levels, all gear, and all clothing from the outset, with no structure to what it is you’re meant to do, might sit well with some hardcore skateboarders, but it doesn’t make a great “video game”.
But still, even with this complaint, the gameplay is fun, accessible and a worthy successor to Skate 3. The best way to describe SkaterXL’s approach is that it’s a happy medium between Skate3 and Session – it’s trying something new and maybe a little bit difficult to understand like Session, but it’s doing so in combination with the best lessons learnt from Skate.
As a simulator of technical street skateboarding, it excels expectation. As a video game, it doesn’t yet quite hit the mark that will make it the cult classic Skate3 was, and suffers from some polish and User Experience issues you would never get in a similar game made by EA. My hope is in time they’ll update and make this thing even better. Overall, though, at this moment it’s an impressive package for anyone looking for a decent game about skateboarding.