You’ll never forget the first time you successfully pop your skateboard, finally performing an Ollie and giving gravity a middle finger for that glorious second that you’re airborne. If you’re get better, then a Pop Shove-It or a heel-flip isn’t outside the realm of possibility even if the road to landing that trick is a painful one.
That’s what skateboarding is about at its very best. A single trick, a moment frozen in time and a memory earned. Skater XL, the first of many games headlining the skatenaissance that’s currently unfolding within the genre, is all about that single trick. Having spent a good deal of time in Early Access, developer Easy Day Studio has slapped together a game that nails the sensation of a well-placed flip of plywood.
The tricks beyond that though? That needs a bit more practice.
Skater XL’s meat and potatoes gameplay will feel instantly familiar to anyone who grew up with EA’s series of Skate games, as each analogue stick controls a facet of the art of skateboarding. It feels daunting at first, but within minutes you’re easily able to Ollie over some stairs or kick-flip your way past a rail. It becomes delightfully organic, each subtle flick leading into a trick and positioning your skater for the next attempt at grinding greatness.
Here is a learning curve that feels natural, as you have to pay attention to multiple factors: Where are you going to land? What angle will your skateboard hit the concrete at? Do I have enough time to accurately land this plank on a nearby table? There’s multiple So-Cal computations running through your head at any given time in a game of Skater XL, as you seek to not only successfully land a trick but several.
Get it right, and there’s a fist-pumping sensation of accomplishment in the air. Get it wrong, and you’re looking at another awful bail animation as you prepare to pick yourself up and try again. Where Skater XL truly succeeds, is in making its skateboarding feel like a fantastic simulation of the street style. It’s down to Earth and authentic, ripped from decades of collective experience and an underground culture of thrash or die.
And then Skater XL’s map design throws a spanner into your trucks.
It’s admirable how Skater XL attempts to stretch its legitimate skateboarding roots into the world around it, with maps like downtown Los Angeles being an accurate reflection of grimy streets, pristine convention center steps and sadly extinct spots where legends like Tony Hawk performed, but it’s a world that doesn’t feel right for the catharsis that skateboarding should provide when you can perform without having to worry about shredding your kneecaps like wet toilet paper in a sandpaper convention.
Sure you can perform a trick in some decent sections of the maps, but chaining them together into an exhilarating run will seldom be on the cards if you’re exploring any map other than the school level. With an emphasis on street skating, you can also kiss big air tricks goodbye as the physics engine appears to have an issue with trying to pull off the grand 900s of legend. It’s Rodney Mullen in the streets, your first week on a skateboard under the vert ramp sheets.
It’s a pity, as the Big Ramp stage is just dying to be taken advantage of in EXTREME style but it’s more of an oddity that you can explore than an attraction that you can engage in. That lack of level satisfaction extends throughout the product, with Skater XL currently having only five completed stages and three community contributions. They’re also pretty much empty, skateboarding limbos that feel absolutely desolate save for their accurate reconstruction of American landmarks.
What should be a meditative experience is instead an exercise in frustration. Skater XL’s handling is superb but its betrayed by its level design and you’re never truly pushed to do anything. You’re left to your own devices, wandering a world with a lacklustre soundtrack that’ll have you switching to your Spotify playlist within an hour and cruising around for a spot to help recapture your childhood.
Skater XL simply feels like a barebones product at this point in its lifecycle. Those bones are solid though, able to take a thrashing and get right back up to soldier on, but the package is incomplete. What is there is basic, and even though Easy Day have promised that more content is on the way, there’s getting around the fact that Skater XL still has a long rail to grind before it gets close to feeling like a substantial offering, especially when competition such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or Session is right around the corner.
Last Updated: August 4, 2020