osiris's Skater XL (PC) review

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Skater XL Review - The best skateboarding game since EA's Skate!

Hi, I’m Oziriz, let’s talk about Skater XL! A new skateboarding game in early access, released by Easy Day Studios.

Skateboarding and video games have a long history together. And for good reason. In skateboarding you can do a lot of things, you can grind a rail, grab your board in the air, flip your board while jumping or you can just cruise around. The best part is you can combine all these actions to create some amazing tricks and combos.

Skateboarding games didn’t really take off until Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS) released in 1999. Since then the “extreme sports” genre took off followed by a lot of similar type of game releases. THPS managed to capture skateboarding at its best. Doing awesome combos and making you feel great about doing them. It turns out that the freedom of riding a skateboard and being able to combo tricks on it opens up a whole lot of gameplay opportunities. Each iteration of Tony Hawk game improved this gameplay somehow making it more fun and ridiculous to ride a skateboard in a virtual world. However with the annual release schedule, the series grew stale after reaching its height with Tony Hawk’s Underground 1 and 2. The genre needed something new and fresh.

This is where Black Box Games came in with their interpretation of a skateboarding game, simply named Skate. Skate was different from the Tony Hawk games and took a more serious approach to the genre. In Skate the skater is controlled by the sticks on the controller and tricks took a lot more effort to do. Giving a different sense of satisfaction completing trick lines and combos. It wasn’t so much about cranking up endless combos but more about controlling your board in a precise manner to make you feel in control while doing some awesome, realistic looking tricks. Skate 2 came out two years after the original release as a more polished and complete version of the game. Most people consider this the height of the series. Skate 3 however, released a year later and became the most popular, mostly because youtubers started playing it long after its release.

Ever since Skate 3 however the genre didn’t really give us anything worthwhile, Neversoft tried to recapture the tony hawk series with Tony hawk’s Project 8 and Proving grounds but without any success. Activision then gave the job to Robomodo who took the Tony Hawk series in a whole new direction. The studio gave us the really awful Tony Hawk’s Ride and Shred games, I’m really NOT going to get into it. Activision then even tried to milk out the Tony Hawk name some more by selling us some nostalgia in the form of THPS HD and THPS 5. Both games didn’t even come close to the amazing feeling of the games created by Neversoft and left a sour taste in your mouth.

You’d think more people would be interested in creating a skateboarding game. The formula is fantastic on paper. But it seems nobody seems to be willing to bite. This until Creature Studios announced their partnership with Xbox at E3 2018. Creature Studios had already successfully kickstarted their skateboarding project prior to this announcement. With the Kickstarter they released a demo for people to show them what they were buying into. The pre-alpha tech demo was fun but was very buggy and the studio introduced even more complex controls than EA’s Skate. I personally didn’t end up supporting the company because I felt the vertical slice wasn’t really there. They just hadn’t convinced me of their core gameplay and the it just didn’t give me the satisfaction the Tony Hawk and Skate games had given me in the past.

For some of you who do not know what I mean by Vertical Slice, allow me to explain quickly. Vertical slice is when a game company tries to demo an idea to gain funding. The demo includes most core gameplay and a finished level or area that represents the core game. If the Demo is successful the company may gain enough funding to add the last features and levels to the game in order to release it.

This is where Skater XL comes into the picture. Skater XL was surprise announced in early December by Easy Day Studios. As the name suggest it is made by the creators of the popular mobile game Skater. Similar to its mobile counterpart it gives the player control of a skateboard in simulator like fashion. And it works, it works fantastically. Right from the start the game gave me the same feeling THPS and Skate gave me the first time I tried them, thinking this feels awesome, I suck at it, but I want to get better, NOW!

From the trailer I immediately saw the vertical slice. The animations are good, the sound effects great and the game just looks butter. After its release I instantly bought it and after 30 minutes I felt like a pro skateboarder cruising around West L.A. courthouse. So why did Skater XL give me this feeling and Session did not? The simple answer is, Vertical Slice. The long answer, well allow me to sum it up:

The most important part of a skateboarding game is the way it controls, it’s all about the controls. Easy Day studio took the Skate control scheme and reinvented it to be better and it makes so much sense.

It’s this simple: You control your left foot, with the left stick and the right floor with the right stick. You press A to push and B to slow down. In the air you can rotate your body with the left and right trigger (just like most skateboarding games). The key part here is that you can still turn with either analog stick as long as you are rolling on the ground. And this makes so much sense, in real life you turn a skateboard by using your feet by tilting the board left or right. This, I think, is what put me off the most in Session. The control just wasn’t natural enough.

The two stick configuration gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to popping, flipping and/or shoving your board. Combining, flicking and holding your sticks in a direction allows you to do double variations of a trick or making your board flip/shove faster or slower. When not flipping in the air you can control the position of your board by moving your feet, allowing you to precisely lock into the grind or slide you want or making a quick rotation 90 degrees. Giving you an incredible amount of control of your board. Kickflipping into a smith grind works exactly as you might think and works every time. I feel like I am much more consistent with tricks in this game than I ever was in EA’s Skate.

So it’s more of a simulation type game, but you can still do cool combos if you manual in between tricks or do crazy tricks if you have enough air. The core gameplay is amazing, the animations are mostly fantastic, especially with the foot control in the air and being able to catch your trick with either foot. The grind, slide and pop sounds are ridiculously good and extremely satisfying. So the vertical slice I was talking about is looking to be pretty darn good.

But there must be something bad, right? Aside from the clipping on certain flips (forward flips) and the skater freaking out on some occasion the game feels solid. But, the vertical slice is missing some core skateboarding features. For example there are no quarter pipes or banks in the game nor can you grab your board in the air. These are some major things that really belong in a skateboarding game and I really do hope they get added. For now you have no idea what it’s going to be like, it almost feels like they forgot about it since the control scheme leave little room for even more complexity. Which really sucks.

The level you get with the game is pretty good, a nice variety of things to do and I already feel I got my money's worth. The developers said they will come with more info soon and I am very excited to see what the next few updates are gonna bring.

I am however disappointment that they didn’t release some sort of road map so early access backers have something to look forward to or at least know somewhat what they are buying into. With that said here is what I’d like to see being added in Skater XL:

  • quarter pipes and banks
  • grabs
  • lip tricks
  • fast-plants and no complies
  • late flips
  • casper/dark slides
  • manual combos
  • getting off the board
  • trick names
  • objectives ( perhaps like the Skater App)
  • online multiplayer
  • more and bigger environments

Until then I am going to enjoy this game and perhaps check out some crazy map mods that the community has released already. You should support this game by buying into early access so that the creator can polish the game and add fantastic features. This is best current generation skateboarding has to offer. And even in the current state is worth the money, in my opinion.

Thanks for reading my review, I hope you enjoy your day keep on rocking.

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