Back in high school, I wanted to be a skater. The only problem was that I sucked. I could Ollie and even that was a disaster. I am not a graceful person. So, back in the day, when THPS came out, that was how I could skate without embarrassing myself or doing myself a mischief.
Now though, Easy Day Studios has given me a game which actually lets me become the skater I always wanted to be. In fact, it allows me to be the same terrible skater I always way, albeit with the potential to improve with practice.
The first, according to the devs, completely physics-based skateboarding game ever, Skater XL differs from every previous skating game. THPS and Skate were animations based which meant players were limited in scope. Easy Day Studios says physics-based controls give players unprecedented control.
It’s not wrong.
But don’t go into Skater XL thinking this new level of control is going to make things easier. Skater XL is an incredibly difficult game with a steep learning curve and very little reward beyond the skating itself.
Skater XL Review
Essentially, Skater XL is a digital skateboarding simulation. You’re dropped into one of its five dev created levels or one of three community creations and off you go. There aren’t any objectives or collectibles. You’re not nudged in one direction or another. Instead, all Skater XL does is offer you up a digital playground to skateboard in.
At first, and even after many hours, Skater XL is daunting. The skating mechanics are different from anything ever seen before. Yes, X (or A on Xbox) still kicks off but that’s it. The left and right analogue sticks control your character’s respective feet. Want to Ollie? Pull back on the right stick then push forward. Want to Ollie higher? Pull back on both sticks at the same time.
Seems easy enough right? Sure, it is. But once you start adding tricks into the mix, things ramp up considerably. For instance, a simple Shuvit requires you to tilt your right stick to a 45-degree angle while pulled back for your Ollie. However, it’s incredibly easy to over or under control resulting in a slightly different trick. It’s not that big a deal, but it’s just another layer of difficulty and learning needed to become proficient at Skater XL.
Flip tricks are performed by moving your left stick in concert with the right. A Kickflip is done by moving the left stick to the left while doing an Ollie. Heelflips are the reverse. You can start to see the incredibly deep, complex and difficult trick system in play in Skater XL and we haven’t even gotten to rotation, grabs, grinds and the rest.
A set of tutorials gives you the basics and then you’re on your own, mostly. While each level is open and you’re free to do as you please, Easy Day Studios has kindly included a collection of Challenges. These Challenges include Board Control, Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Tricks and the same three difficulty levels for lines, Grinds, Manual, Powerslides and more. Challenges are basically a set of extended tutorials teaching you both how to play Skater XL and how to skate.
The first Basic Line I attempted was “Ollie Back to Back Stair Sets.” All I had to do was Ollie down one stair set, land and Ollie down a second. Immediately I thought, “Is that it?” forgetting that the skateboarding I’d grown accustomed to over years of playing THPS was, in fact, totally over-the-top and implausible. This is where I think Skater XL may struggle with the average punter. Players used to being able to pull off insane and ridiculous tricks are likely to baulk at what Skater XL throws at them.
That being said, the more difficult Challenges are really tough and completing them all is going to take a good long time. And if they’re proving too much, you can simply skate around and find your own fun. That’s the real core and beauty of Skater XL. It’s a game that wants to share the experience of skateboarding without holding your hand, without telling you what to do and where to do it. Skater XL is about finding your own lines, learning your own tricks and skating your own way.
The five included levels (plus the three community ones) reinforces this notion. While Skater XL is largely about street skating and the different variations on that theme, the Big Ramp level adds the vert flavour many skaters will seek. Overall though, as Easy Day Studios told me, Skater XL is meant to epitomise the West Coast, So-Cal street skating culture that really defined the sport.
Each of the maps is fairly large with plenty of real-world skate spots brought together to create incredible hybrid levels which include the best of the best. There’s great joy to be had from simply skating around Downtown LA and recognising landmarks. Non-skaters and skaters will be recognising different landmarks for different reasons and skaters are bound to get more out of each level but the thrill of recognition remains the same.
While having each map totally devoid of any other human life is understandable from a gameplay perspective, it makes the game feel rather lifeless. Like a post-apocalyptic film, you roam the streets with nary another person around. I’m not sure what the solution is, or if there even is one, but the lifeless levels do make Skater XL feel less than it should.
What you get out of Skater XL and how much you derive enjoyment from it is going to depend on a few things. Whether you’re a skater or not, your patience and aptitude for learning the mechanics will determine how far you get and how long you play.
Make no mistakes, Skater XL is an incredible game and an amazing skateboarding experience but it’s also punishingly difficulty, much like the sport it’s based on. It will take dedication and a hell of a lot of patience to learn enough to be able to play competently, create lines and skate like a pro. Your ability to curate your own experiences and to find ways to play without gamification is also going to be integral to how much you enjoy Skater XL.
If you’re a more casual player or someone who needs direction and objectives and craves the over-the-top antics of THPS, you’re probably going to bounce of Skater XL.
If you can stick with it, learn the controls and dedicate enough time to understand skateboarding you’ll find out Skater XL is the ultimate skating videogame.
Skater XL was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy provided by the publisher.