Saturday 5 September 2020

Skater XL

Welcome to our review of Skater XL, available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, with Nintendo Switch port dropping soon. We’ll tell you everything you need to know before you play. 

Developed by Easy Day Studios, Skater XL boldly claims to be the “The Ultimate Skateboarding Game”. Strong words indeed, but after two years in early access, it’s definitely built a loyal fanbase of players who argue it blows ol’ Mr Hawk out of the water. Now in 2020, a fully-fledged PC and console release means the rest of us can see what all the fuss is. Is Skater XL an X Game, or is it more Jackass? Read on to find out…

Firstly, it has one of the most intuitive controls schemes of any skating game we’ve ever played. On a controller, the left stick controls your left foot, and the right stick your right foot. Not only does this give you unparalleled precision in your movement, but also unlimited variation. Much like with the real thing, you’ll never do the same move in quite the same way, and if you’re anything like us, you’ll spend plenty of time perfecting a move until you’ve got it just right. It’s easy to pick up, but very difficult to master.

And this fluidity extends to the structure of the game too. Although there is a challenge mode, most people will play Skater XL as a sandbox. There’s an undeniable emphasis on you to make your own objectives, trick lines and find your own enjoyment. It’s far removed from the more arcadey nature of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, and if you aren’t already familiar with the basics of skateboarding, you might struggle from the lack of handholding. However, if you’re looking for the most realistic simulation of what it’s like to pull off tricks, this is it. 

That’s why it’s so disappointing that this realism doesn’t extend to the rest of the game. It’s pretty glitchy throughout, and that early access funk is still very much lingering. In our playtest, we glitched through the floor when cruising, and clipped through walls and cars when we bailed on tricks. Although it doesn’t necessarily affect the hands-on experience, it makes everything feel pretty amateurish, and harder to justify the price tag.

What is less forgivable is how difficult grinds are, compared to literally every other trick in the game. Within a few hours of playing, we could land a 900 pretty easily, but still struggled to keep on a rail for more than a second. This imbalance in difficulty is the only time the execution of tricks didn’t feel authentic, and the imbalance in difficulty was enough to evoke controller-smashing rage at times. But then we’d land a sweet heelflip, fist pump the air and all would be well again.

To wrap up, Skater XL is a game of extremes. When it’s bad, it’s really bad and feels more like a broken student project as opposed to a 1.0 release. But when it’s good, it’s the most unparalleled virtual skating experience we’ve ever come across. The freedom it allows you is just a joy, and the satisfaction when you finally pull off a trick is second to none. 

To any skaters or anyone interested in skating, this is an easy recommendation. But to anyone a little more casual, we’d suggest waiting for the remaster of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 & 2 dropping later this year.

Tom Baker

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