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Session: Skate Sim Review

Session Skate Sim

Skateboarding games have offered me some of the best gameplay moments in my life. From Performing insane combos in the Tony Hawk series, to being amazed at the sheer realism in the Skate series. I’m no skating fanatic, but those games offered hours upon hours of entertainment that I couldn’t put down. Finally, 12 years after the release of Skate 3, we’re seeing a resurgence of skateboarding games. Not only have we been treated to an exceptional remaster of the first two Tony Hawk games, but we’ve also seen new, more realistic approaches to the genre. Whilst it comes from an indie developer, Session has proved it can stand alongside some of the greatest games of the genre, and offers a new refreshing take on riding a virtual wooden board. Presenting, Session: Skate Sim.

Virtual Urban Skating

Session: Skate Sim is very simple in its presentation. You load up the game and are instantly placed in a virtual city that’s both full of inviting skate spots and barren lifeless streets. There’s no NPC’s roaming around or cars in the street, leaving the environment feeling more like a toybox than a simulation. Players are given a fairly simple tutorial that teaches you the basics, followed by some slapped on “quests” of finding shops and performing specific tricks in certain areas. It feels very under baked and tacked on, so much so that the game may have felt better by not having these missions at all. As mentioned, the tutorial teaches you the basic controls and sends you on your way. For better or for worse, there’s an initial steep learning curve here.

Controls feel quite clunky at first, though if you stick with it, it does feel intuitive, eventually. This is probably the closest representation of riding a skateboard we’ll ever get in a video game, and since this is a simulation game, we’ve got to give it full marks for that. Players gain speed by pushing off with the A/X button, and steer with the triggers. Using the triggers to turn is very intimidating at first, but it makes sense, as you apply pressure to each side of the board to turn, just as you would in real life.

As for the thumb sticks, each one represents a foot, and you’ll use them both to simultaneously pop from the ground and manoeuvre your board to perform a variety of flip tricks. If you’ve played a game from the Skate series, you’re about halfway there already (There’s also a ‘legacy’ control option that keeps the feet controls to just the right thumbstick, similar to Skate). Want to perform a kickflip? Push the right thumbstick down and as you push it up, push the left thumbstick slightly to the right as the same time. A pop shuv? Just slide that right stick round a half circle, just like it was your foot. You’ll be able to perform these tricks in no time at all, and feel like the coolest person on earth doing it!

But if that’s not realistic enough for you, then there’s a ‘Hardcore’ difficulty mode, that really tests your skills, and patience. In this mode, you’ll have to push down on both sticks at the right time of a flip trick to slam your avatars feet on the correct side of the board and land the trick. This mode can be extremely tedious for some, as the timing is very precise, and more often than not you’ll miss the catch and will have to try again. It’s too frustrating to recommend and took the enjoyment out of the game for me – though I've seen many people push through the effort, so it’s definitely learnable, and further enhances the realism of pulling off a flip trick.

Whilst the maps feel lifeless, there’s some really nice variety and realism seen here. The main city map feels like an ordinary city (except for no NPC’s and border walls), there’s very little obviously setup skate spots. It feels quite exciting exploring the decently sized area trying to find spots that’ll provide awesome lines to pull off tricks. Part of the game is finding these locations for yourself, and it’s quite a nice change of pace to mix up your session.

Flip Trick Heaven

Other maps include various other urban environments, but the game also offers a good selection of skate parks to shred. I often found myself returning to the parks to just have a quick 10-15 minutes of skating in between other games. It's great that this game has such a wide diversity of play styles open from the start. You can go hard and train up to land incredibly tough lines, or lay back and chill with a calm easy session. When tricks are being landed, it looks so good and everything feels great. However, bail or miss a trick, and things can take a turn for the worse.

Session: Skate Sim suffers from various glitches and physics bugs, most of which occur when your character falls off the board. Missing the slam down in hardcore mode is made even more painful as your character will simply change to the idle standing pose mid-air whilst the board falls down. Or your board doesn’t hit the rail correctly, making your board phase through it and your character just collapsing on the spot with no grace. The ragdoll falls of the Skate series are sorely missed here. It may not sound like a huge issue, but after failing your 200th trick, it really does grate.

Even if you do land your tricks, there’s still many imperfections that halt your fun. Ankles can do impossible 180-degree twists, or your feet phase through the board during many of your flips. There are too many small glitches to list here, and unfortunately, they hamper a pretty big core feature of the game – The replay editor.

Without Footage, It's Fiction

A big part of this game is the ability to edit replays with a robust but finicky in game camera editor. Using the in game respawn placer, you can set up your character and line them up ready to perform a trick or two on a specific obstacle. If you fail to land it, you can quickly respawn to the start of the line and try to get the perfect trick again and again. Once you’ve landed it, that’s only half the battle, as you’ll now step into the shoes of the camera op to capture the trick you’ve just executed.

You can set up keyframes for camera movement, slow-mo and FOV, and apply a range of filters and lenses. It’s difficult to get to grips with it, but eventually you can get some really nice shots that look very realistic. That is, until you notice your characters shoes clip through the board, or their ankles are bent at an impossible angle, removing any realism you thought you had captured. This happens very often, and it takes a lot of fun out of recording your own stuff.

One final thing to mention, whilst we’ve been through what is included, there’s a very big chunk of skating that isn’t here. There’s plenty of street skating, but there’s zero vert spots or tricks here whatsoever. There are no half pipes or anything that resembles one in this game, nor are there any grab tricks to go with them. Session: Skate Sim is a purely flip trick and grind game, which is a huge shame. Pulling off big vert grab tricks in previous skateboarding games was arguably the best part about them. Of course, the flip tricks and grinds in Session are well implemented, But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I really missed pulling off some big air grab tricks.

Final Thoughts

Session: Skate Sim is a fun time for the most part. If you every played a skating game and wanted something more realistic, this is the best game to get. The controls are very well designed and the maps are nice and varied, so you’ll be able to spend a good 10-15 hours in this sandbox finding cool spots and pulling off slick tricks. It’s a great realistic take on the skateboarding genre, and one that should be appreciated for that. But I don’t think that Session is as fun as previous games in the genre. I have so many amazing memories playing Tony hawk and Skate games, and I don’t think I'll feel the same kind of nostalgia for Session in 10-15 years time. Session will definitely have it’s audience, but with its lacking features and bugginess, I don’t think its for everyone.