After the ten-year drought left in the wake of the okay-but-not-quite-stellar Skate 3, skating fans finally have a noteworthy 3D skating sim to scratch that virtual gleaming itch. (Do the kids still gleam?)
Developed by Easy Day Studios for PC, PS4, and Xbox One — and scheduled for some yet-to-be-determined later date for the Nintendo Switch — Skater XL has finally left early access and is hitting the streets. You can pick it up for a cool $39.99.
Although it’s still rough around the edges — and bereft of the wealth of mods available for the PC version — the console version of Skater XL (PS4 for me) mostly succeeds in delivering a solid, physics-based skateboarding simulator.
To be clear, the options are rather barebones right now, but what’s there offers a rich and rewarding experience with an impressive amount of personal customization.
Since this is a physics-based, the board actually responds to how well you maneuver on it. Instead of snapping into place after performing a canned kickflip, as was the case with EA’s Skate games, your tricks in Skater XL will be as sloppy or as polished as your ability to control your body (specifically your feet) and, by extension, your board.
So how are the controls?
Well, unlike Skate, which mapped tricks to the right stick and character controls to the left, Skater XL maps your character’s left foot to the left stick and the right foot to the right stick. You can use the trigger buttons to turn. This configuration basically simulates how you distribute your body weight to veer and pivot in real-life skateboarding.
It’s a little tough to accurately explain in text, but once you get your hands on the controller, it makes sense — even though it does take a little while to get used to, and a “whole lotta while” to master.
Which brings us to the biggest issue with Skater XL. Whereas the Skate series was more of a casual sim with some added depth for advanced or skilled players, I don’t think folks who cut their teeth on more arcadey games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater will be drawn into Skater XL.
Especially since it doesn’t offer a campaign, cutscenes, or a cast of colorful characters. In case you missed, just I said there are no story cutscenes. There are some trick challenges if you’re into those, but they don’t really do much other than familiarize you with the basics and help you understand how to do certain tricks.
But it really all comes down to mastering the controls, spotting good sessions areas, and possessing a shit-ton of patience. Some of that has to do with the inherent difficulty that comes with skating in real life, which Skater XL emulates with a reasonably amount of success (as much as a video game can, I guess). It is a tough nut to crack. But some of this also comes down to the level of polish in this game, which fluctuates between serviceable and rudimentary.
Take the character creator for example. The customization options you’re given are less than stellar. There doesn’t even appear to be an option to give your character a buzz cut. Yet if you give your character a hat to wear — regardless of their hairdo — they get a default buzz cut in the parts of the head visible under the hat. Would it be too much to ask to just have the under-the-hat look be also included as a hatless option?
I’ve also seen better character models in DayZ, which isn’t saying much.
In addition, although there are five decent-sized maps to skate around in, they are completely bereft of any other living entity. This isn’t a huge deal considering this isn’t an RPG, but it is noticeable and feels odd not seeing another NPC skater shredding it up in the background, or NPCs walking around — or even moving cars, as was the case in Skate. Skater XL often makes you feel like you’re skating in the aftermath of the Rapture.
At least there is a decent, laid-back soundtrack to keep your mind off the surreal lack of other humans so you can find your pavement-shredding flow.
Despite all the issues I’ve mentioned, however, the game’s flaws rarely impact the one thing we all came here for: a skateboarding simulator that lets us spare our real-life bodies and insurance premiums while making dope skate videos.
And in that department, Skater XL definitely delivers. It might not be for casuals, and it definitely isn’t for anyone looking to rack up a million-point combo. But if you enjoy spending time trying to perfect a difficult trick, or practicing a specific line over and over until you finally nail it, this game certainly has the goods.