Reviewed: 10th August 2020 - 22:22
The amount of skateboard games we have received over the last few years has been rather scarce. Other than OlliOlli and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, I cannot name another game that springs to mind and the latter of the two wasn't exactly leaving behind satisfied gamers. Luckily for fans of the genre, it looks like we are in for a treat with a sudden rise again in skating games. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is returning in a remastered jacket in September, EA has announced a new Skate game and Session is also currently in early access. Before we get to any of those, we are met with another skating title that has now left early access; Skater XL.
Where other skating games offer you challenges to complete and even story modes, Skater XL has none of these. There is a 'challenge mode' where you learn how to do tricks and you can complete these challenges, sure, but that isn't the same as the challenges that you do in other skating games, nor do they grant you any experience points. The main goal of Skater XL is to bring forth the realism of skating in the form of a game, which means that Skater XL won't hold your hand. It gives you a variety of maps, it allows you to do any trick you like, how you like, where you like and as often as you like, and it offers the option to film these tricks and make skate reels. Other games will reward you for your progress by opening up new levels or parts of the story to you; the progression in Skater XL lies in your actual skills to skate.
Now that we have that clarification out of the way let's dive into how Skater XL plays. For starters, a keyboard and mouse combination won't work; you will need a controller to play this. Skater XL’s game mechanics are set up so that each foot is bound to a joystick. It might sound strange, but once you start playing and you learn how the mechanics work through following the tutorials, it will make more sense. It makes Skater XL far more unique; this way, not a single trick will ever be the same. For example, if you want to do a basic ollie, you hold back the joystick that is bound to the foot on the back of the board and you let it go when you want to jump. While you can do the same manoeuvre with your joystick every time, the trick’s outcome will never be the same, as the trick isn’t built into the game; the action of the trick is a result of the physics-based mechanic.
Thanks to the physics-based controls, there is an incredible feeling of freedom when skating and performing tricks. Granted, for those who skate in real life, I'm sure that the physics feel a bit ramped up as it feels like the character jumps too high, but that is just a small detail that doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the game.
There is one hurdle for those who have an interest in skating games; the difficulty. The basic set of moves are easy to pull off, but once you get into more advanced tricks, the learning curve flies off the charts, as it can take you a long time to finally pull off that one trick you’ve been trying to land for hours. But hey, that’s only adding to the realism, right?
Finding spots to pull off those tricks in Skater XL is incredibly easy. The maps that are included offer a variety of environments. While most maps are set up for street skating, there is also a map called 'The Big Ramp', so vert ramp skating has not been left out. These maps offer an abundance of opportunities to show off and do tricks and flips. The maps are articulately built by skaters for skaters, with a lot of inspiration coming from real-world skate areas that people may have seen in skating reels, or perhaps they have skated there themselves as well. Despite having the perfect set up for skaters, the maps still feel rather empty and frozen in time. Other than your skater, there is nothing else in motion in the environment; there are no pedestrians, no other skaters showing off their moves, and all the vehicles are stationary as well. If this were an option that would allow you to flip between active and non-active surroundings, it could be a useful feature, but it isn't one, which will leave behind an empty feeling.
Not only does it feel like everything in Skater XL is devoid of atmosphere, but there is also a general lack of content. There are only five maps the developers created, and three maps that were made by the community. The game advertises that it comes with pro skaters that you can select from to skate with, but there are only four that you can choose from; the characters don't exactly look that great either. The skaters are all the same height and their faces are all similar too. The developers have opened up the game so that people can create mods and custom maps, which is a very welcomed feature, seeing the lack of content, but the sad part about this is that consoles won't be able to enjoy these mods.
While there is no extra content (such as a story mode, collectables, or anything similar), Skater XL does offer challenges, where you can go through different types of tricks that you have to complete at a certain spot. The only use of these challenges is that you can learn how to perform tricks. Other than learning these tricks, there is no point to it and it doesn't even work properly. One of the many challenges, for example, is to do a kickflip or heelflip while jumping down a set of stairs; I was perfectly capable of doing the flip trick before I even reached the stairs. After jumping down the stairs regularly, the game will still count it as challenge completed, which gives a false feeling of accomplishment.
Completing tricks remains very satisfying; I definitely had a big smile when finally fulfilling trick challenges as they were intended to be fulfilled. If you mess up the controls and fail, however, you will see your character turn into a ragdoll in no time and fly away. I may not be the best at skating games - I will admit that - but I can safely say that I have come across a variety of bugs that caused my character to flop away randomly as if I just shot him out of a cannon. Invisible walls that just stop you dead in your tracks or your skater defying gravity by skating against a wall in a very casual way with his feet broken are just some of the issues I've come across. They give you a good laugh at first, but after a while, they become annoying and ruin the fun for you.
Visually, Skater XL comes with a mixed set of graphics; some aspects of the game seem to have a nice amount of details, where others seem to lack details entirely. However, for a game like this, the graphics are perfectly fine and shouldn't be a hurdle for you to consider buying this. The audio design, in its turn, really stands out. You can clearly hear the difference of what you are skating on and how the tricks and the board sound and it is satisfying to listen to, even if you are quite bad and fail a lot - like me. The soundtrack is rather short compared to other titles but offers a nice variety of tracks that skaters will definitely remember and enjoy listening to. For me, the most enjoyment came from turning off the soundtrack and throwing on my own playlists.
+ Intriguing mechanics
+ Audio design
+ Offers freedom in skating like no predecessors
- Feels like an unfinished title
- Way too expensive
- Lack of content in general, be it maps, modes, ...