It’s been ten years since the death of EA’s Skate series, having been decapitated for the heinous crime of meeting moderate sales. The game was beloved for its ability to replicate the true feeling of skateboarding, forcing you to muscle-memory your way through the minute movements needed to land your tricks. The act of relaxed cruising through the city or of spending hours trying to get your bluntslide just right, a contrast to the physic-defying wackiness of the Tony Hawk series. In comes rolling Skater XL, heavily inspired by its forebear, with an even bigger emphasis on simulation. It comes with an arsenal of thumb-wrecking mechanics to make any self-respecting skater bail in excitement, but unfortunately without the thrills to attract those not willing to spend hours training themselves to perform a basic grind.
Like EA’s Skate, Skater XL uses your controllers thumb-sticks as a metaphor for your feet. Unlike Skate, where only the right thumb was necessary, here the right and left thumb-sticks represent their respective feet. To ollie requires a quick flick up on the right, to kickflip you need to add a well-timed sideways flick on the left. Advanced manoeuvrers require a dexterousness that will seem mind-bending to new players.
There’s no concession to casualness, the game screams at you to get on its level. While Tony Hawk pats you on the bottom and walks you through the two button presses to pull off a boardslide, Skater XL tasks you with correctly lining yourself up to the rail, timing your ollie perfectly, using the triggers to turn your body just so, keeping your balance, and then repeating the process in reverse so that you can land it without cracking your skull open.
There is a wonderful skeletal structure here, a set of base mechanics that confidently build upon the past, almost-arrogantly assuming that the sense of flow and grace it provides is worth the many hours you’ll need to drop to understand it. And, despite some minor issues with floatiness and bone-twisting glitches, it succeeds. The void in my heart is overflowing, it makes me want to finally remove the love-letters to EA’s Skate from my house and move on.
However, while the skating itself feels like a solid accomplishment, creating a game world around it wasn’t on the list of priorities. A smattering of medium-sized maps, devoid of life. A blank-fart of a challenge list that does very little to actually teach you. Never has there been a game more reliant on its modding community than Skater XL. With the latest update, over half of the ‘official’ maps in the game will have been produced by the players themselves. Bedroom programmers have been given the job of fixing the game and making it worthwhile to return to after you’ve already grinded every surface Skater XL has. No sheen, no sparkle, no smiles. Which is a tragedy, for as much as the game can reproduce immense feelings of accomplishment, it makes no effort to show you the charms it has on offer.
Publisher: Easy Day Studios
Developer: Easy Day Studios
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Release Date: July 28, 2020
Photos by author.