I think this is just about the first time where I have felt overqualified to write a gaming review. Let me explain. I’ve devoured skating video games ever since I was a little ripper, playing every THPS game that graced consoles, before being won over by the EA Skate series in the late 2000’s.
I also tried my hand at every indie offering that would come my way, with titles like OlliOlli, Rollerdrome, and Jet Set Radio offering unique but inviting skateboarding adjacent gaming experiences. Then along came Skater XL, a skating sim that focused on realism above all else, and that game would steal over 500+ hours of my life. In short, I love skating games, but the credentials don’t stop there.
I’ve been a fan of skateboarding and all extreme sports from a young age, I skated as a teen and picked it up again as an adult, and regularly rip it up while sporting a full beard, and I’ve bought more skating gear that I care to admit. So if you can find a professional games journalist who is better on a plank of wood with wheels than me, then I commend you.
All of this leads me to the subject of this review. A game that sees Skater XL’s realistic approach and volleys the metaphorical ball back over the net at top speed with one of the most ambitious skating sims of all time, Session.
Session is a title that has been in early access for some time, and while it has played second fiddle to Skater XL for some time, the full release has significantly overhauled the experience, smoothing the rough edges, adding a tonne of new and exciting features, and most importantly, offering a version for console-based players to enjoy.
However, you may be wondering, is this game really worth playing, especially with a new title from the EA Skate series on the horizon? Well, I aim to answer all of this and more. Without further delay, here is my Session: Skate Sim Review, conducted on PS5.
A Sprawling Concrete Playground
Let’s begin with the visuals in Session, which I would argue are both one of the stronger and weaker aspects of the game, and that’s down to inconsistency. Now, don’t get it twisted, they are far from terrible, but you can clearly see that the process of painstakingly crafting each map and skatepark has led to some compromises along the way. The low points come in the form of inconsistent textures dotted across New York, San Francisco, and Philly.
As you skate around, you will come across gratings, barricades, walls, cobblestone, and foliage that feels like an asset borrowed from a past generation. Plus, the character models aren’t anything to write home about either, maybe slightly less rubbery than Skater XL, but the difference is minimal. Then to top it off, when you try and alter graphical settings, such as layer physics and animations, for a smoother look, the game simply can’t cope with the strain.
However, when you put consistency to one side, when Session looks and performs well, it’s a sight to behold. Some of the textures are staggeringly well rendered, the animations for each trick are polished, and the maps themselves are meticulously crafted and really feel like a playground with endless possibilities to explore.
Plus, the game looks incredible at night, with subtle lighting that offers visibility while still making the early hours of the morning feel just like those desolate late-night sessions that we skaters know all too well.
In addition, the finer graphical details, toggles, and features are all very much appreciated too. The player can turn on wear and tear for their board and clothing, you can turn on cloud animation, and within the replay feature, you can record with a fisheye lens which I appreciated so much, because it makes those sick lines look even more gnarly.
Overall, there is room for improvement, but considering the scale of the project and the bells and whistles offered, I think this is a solid final product that will only look better with continued updates.
Lo-fi Hits & Grinding S**t
Okay, so let’s talk audio. Skating games down the years are pretty much synonymous with killer soundtracks. THPS had Goldfinger, Dead Kennedy’s & Powerman 5000. EA Skate had me bopping along to Green Onions, and You Have No Faith In Medicine, and even Skater XL had some nice tracks like Islands on the Coast by Band of Horses.
Well, the bad news is that Session can’t compete on this front. It doesn’t have the same star-studded line-up, instead opting to cover the sound of polyurethane on concrete with a blend of Lo-fi and Reggae tunes. These are played via radio stations, but despite my initial excitement of having a GTA-style library of tracks at my disposal, there is no way to control the tunes, and eventually, you just accept the mindless lo-fi melodies and carry on shredding.
It’s filler background music, but it’s quality for what it is, and it clearly shows that the developers know their audience, because skaters love mellow, lo-fi beats. If you don’t believe me, go watch some IG reels and get back to me.
This was a minor letdown, but the game redeems itself when it comes to gameplay audio, and by that, I mean the authentic stomps, clinks, grinds, and thuds that a street skater knows all too well. One problem I always had with Skater XL was the grinding sounds.
They took away from a satisfying line as in the back of my head; I would always be thinking, that’s not how that’s meant to sound. Well, Session’s foley artist is a pro, and includes a symphony of street skating sounds that are bliss to hear as you tear it up.
From the true-to-life sound of grinding metal on metal, to the more subtle sounds like the whirring of fresh bearings as you take flight and flick a steezy kickflip.
There were so many little moments where the assortment of sounds had me smirking as I carved up the concrete jungle, and for that, I have to say kudos to the sound team.
Hyper-Realistic Thrills and Spills
Onto the gameplay here, which is really what will make or break your overall experience with Session. Now, I’ll say this now to get it out of the way. If you like THPS or EA Skate, and you are looking for more lighthearted, arcade-style gameplay, then Session will only serve to infuriate you.
Session is a hard game; it takes the art of skateboarding very seriously, and will test you to your very core. Even Skater XL players transferring over to this one will feel the immediate shift in difficulty. I for one had to unlearn hundreds of hours of muscle memory to get to grips with the new mechanics.
The game forces you to understand the physics and fundamentals of each trick, forces you to think about foot position, your stances, the sensitivity of your rotations, and even if you have all the assistance toggles on, the game won’t relent until you have a good basic understanding of how to skate. Unlike all games that have come before, this is a certified skate simulator. This is as close to reality as it gets.
The hyper-realistic physics, animations, and overall gameplay are a joy to behold for those that love the sport, and each spot, challenge, or line feels like a puzzle to solve. You’ll find yourself experimenting with the object placer tool and adding new pieces to the puzzle in the form of kickers and rails to add some spice to your line, and when you finally do put it all together, it feels like a real accomplishment, like slaying a boss in Dark Souls.
To put it in perspective, I remember playing the original EA Skate, and there was a challenge towards the end of the game where you were asked to Lazer Flip into a BS Tailslide on a tiny little ledge. That was a reasonably hard input and took me a little while.
Well, Session asks you to do a Switch BS Tail, then a Fakie Full Cab Flip, into a Switch Nosegrind, and then Switch Kickflip a 10-Stair, all in one complete line, and that’s just to effectively complete the tutorial section. In short, this game pulls no punches, but I love that.
Plenty of Gnar to Shred
Another aspect of the gameplay that really surprised me for the better was the content included in this game. The title offers an admittedly flimsy story in the form of challenges that the player must complete to progress.
You start as a former skater coming back from a terrible injury and have to tear it up to earn clout again. You skate around, find pros and locals, do specific lines, gaps, grinds, and more, and then get awarded XP and cash that you can spend on new gear in a local skate shop.
If I had to compare it to something, it would be Tony Hawks Pro Skater 4. Then when you exhaust these missions, you’ll also have access to daily challenges and historical challenges that ask you to hit notable spots around the three main cities.
Overall, it doesn’t have EA Skate’s level of production value, but it serves its purpose, keeps players engaged, and shows all the basic and advanced mechanics to the player before letting them off the leash for good in this skating sandbox. Oh, and it puts Skater XL to shame.
Outside of the content, though, when you are let off the leash, there is still so much to do in this game. The maps are massive, offering countless spots and little pockets of bliss to skate.
Plus, there are also some extra parks like the incredible Petrius Park in Luxembourg and Crea-Ture Studios Warehouse, and I can only imagine, much like Skater XL, the development team will continue to add custom parks and developer-made parks as and when they pop up.
The only criticism is that there isn’t a park creation tool for community parks, but provided they don’t leave console players in the cold as Easy Day Studios did, then there shouldn’t be an issue.
It’s The Little Things
Now, it’s not often that I will be so overwhelmed with things to talk about when it comes to the extras and finer details within a game, to the point that I don’t know where to focus on, but that’s the situation that Session has put me in.
When it comes to customization, skater-friendly features, and details that offer add authenticity, there is a cavalcade of options to choose from. For this reason, I’ve decided to list the most eye-catching features that blew me away below:
- You can turn on Wheelbite
- Board size, Wheel Size, and Truck Sizes all matter and alter performance
- You can add risers and Deck rails
- You can turn wheel graphics inside
- You can turn on primo tricks & darkslides
- You can do late-flips, and they feel great
- Wrapped tricks like Caspers and Impossibles are included
- Custom options for physics like gravity & more
- A hardcore difficulty that asks players to manually catch tricks after flicking & more
I could go on regarding the finest details hidden within the fabric of this hyper-realistic sim, but I don’t want to steal those ‘wow’ moments from you should you choose to purchase this game.
All I will say is that if you skate or love skating and you are wondering, did they add in this small, almost insignificant aspect of skating? Let me save you some time; they probably did.
The dedication to realism is commendable, and while a lot of this will go over casual players’ heads, I would be remiss not to pat Crea-Ture on the back here.
Okay, so you might have established that I already think this game is a stellar skating title, but my views aside, the game is far from perfect. Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room here. This game is glitchy. It was a lot worse as little as a few months ago when in early access, but some of the core issues still remain.
The camera will pop under the map sometimes, the player will miss a rail and shoot off into the sky, and your board may get stuck in the concrete occasionally. This is immersion-breaking and isn’t ideal, but it’s certainly not a dealbreaker.
\Skater XL had, and still has, a lot of the same issues. I believe it comes with the territory. Yet it still managed to achieve a cult following, and I believe that this game will too, and with time, patches will irradicate a lot of the more pressing issues.
The glitches were something I expected, but the flaws that really caught me off guard and disappointed me were related to UI and clarity. For those unaware, my wife is a usability expert, and as I did some menuing in this title, she looked up from her book to tell me, ‘Oh god, the UI is so ugly,’ and I agree.
There is a lot of detail and features to play around with, but would it have been hard to make it look more inviting and easier to navigate? Then to expand on this, the game assumes a lot of knowledge, essentially limiting the number of casual players this game will attract.
Do you know the difference between backside and frontside? Well, the game doesn’t really explain that. Want to see a demo of the line or trick you have to do again? Well, too bad, you’ll just have to work it out yourself. Or is there a specific way you have to complete a mission, like tricking off a bank or kicker, or moving a particular object? Well, good luck using trial and error to move the mission along. Some more clarity and direction in missions would have gone a long way.
Then there are also the drawbacks that are undoubtedly down to the size of the team behind the project, but drag the game down nonetheless. Things like the lack of humans occupying the streets, unless you turn on the experimental toggle and have mindless zombies float around.
There is the absence of voice acting, the clunky object placer tool, and the lack of multiplayer functionality. All this stops the title from being a world-beater within the genre, but thanks to all resources being pourednto the core skating experience, it comes pretty damn close.
Skating is Hard, Dude
So here’s the hang-up that most potential players will have with this game. It’s too damn hard. I’m a skater, so I understand how the tricks work, know what each foot has to do independently, know how grinds have to be locked in, and understand the terminology, so reading mission requirements are second nature, but to others will feel like reading sheet music. Basically, this game is geared toward me, and I, therefore, have an aptitude for this sort of thing.
The casual skate game fan, however, probably doesn’t want to worry about the finer mechanics, and needs more room for error. So the question remains, is there that allowance for casual players? Well, simply put, not really. The assisted difficulty will help you bail less and auto revert out of half-baked tricks, and it will make grinds and tricks easier to catch. Aside from that, though, you are still expected to do a lot.
The other option is that players can start playing around with their custom settings and adjust push force, gravity, and other features until the physics feels as floaty and forgiving as Skate or Skater XL. However, even this feels like it can cause its own issues as you soar over rails you need to hit, or inadvertently send yourself down stair sets and have to firecracker to the bottom to avoid a hall of meat entry.
I will reiterate again, that this game will only frustrate those that want a lighthearted skating game. It mirrors skating in reality. You work tirelessly, tying tricks over and over until, eventually, something clicks, and that feeling is so rewarding.
But in a world where instant gratification is the order of the day, I can see why players might just want to give up and rack up 1,000,000+ point combos in THPS instead.
If you loved this game’s hyper-realistic physics and mechanics, or you just want another game that offers a fun skating experience, then you need to check out these fun titles listed below:
- Skater XL
- EA Skate
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
- Jet Set Radio
I wanted so desperately to put this game in The Nine Club, and had my professionalism given way to my personal bias, that might have happened. This is a skater’s dream and has more features and content than I could have ever dreamed of.
The attention to detail is second to none, it’s as close to stepping on a fresh new stick and hitting the streets as you can get without stepping out your front door, and at times, it looks incredible. However, it does have its flaws. This game isn’t as refined as it perhaps could be.
The visuals are shaky at times, glitches are abundant within this title, mission directions, and explanations throughout aren’t suitable for casual players, the difficulty gatekeeps content from less able players, the soundtrack is a little underwhelming, and if all that wasn’t enough to deter the potential casual players willing to give this a go, the $70 price tag will.
That being said, this game still scores very highly, because it succeeds in becoming the most complete skateboarding sim to ever grace our screens, and to put out a message that essentially says ‘Beat that’ to EA with a team of nine developers is truly remarkable.
To sum up, this is in the same bracket as those that love Farming Simulator in a lot of ways. If you are someone that loves the fine details, the hyper-realism, and the inherent challenge that comes with this, then you will love this game.
However, this game will only be able to achieve cult status at best, as the approach and style of this game don’t invite a wider audience into the world of skating, which is a shame, because this game is a tremendous achievement. Skating isn’t a crime, but it is bloody hard!
- Great animations, lighting, and expansive maps to explore
- The incredibly realistic skating mechanics are unparalleled
- The attention to detail is clear to see throughout
- A surprising amount of content
- The game is not inviting to casual players
- Missions are often confusing and need more explanation
- UX needs a fine tune
- The visuals & soundtrack, while fine, have clear flaws
Question: Is Session Better Than Skater XL?
Answer: I can only tell you my opinion, but I think so, and by some distance too. Session feels much more realistic, has more expansive maps, has missions to keep the player engaged, has more custom options, and looks better for the most part too. Skater XL is probably a better option for those that want a middle ground between challenging realism and the arcade-style of THPS.
Question: Where Can I Play Session?
Answer: Session has been in early access on PC for some time, but thanks to the 1.0 Update, the game is now available on multiple consoles thanks to the game’s full release. Session is available on PC, PS4/5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One/Xbox Series X/S.
Question: Is Session Worth It?
Answer: It’s really down to how much you love skating, because if you only have a passing interest, I don’t think this game will offer enough value to warrant to the hefty price tag. However, if you are someone that loves the freedom and endless possibilities that sandboxes provide and could roll around aimlessly skating for hours, then this is a game that will offer hundreds of hours of fun and challenging gameplay.
This review was conducted on PS5. Callum played a total of twenty hours before conducting his review. He completed all the New York and Philly-based missions, skated all the extra parks, played around with all the customizable features he could find, and intends to pour hundreds more hours into this game.
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