It may well be the most realistic skateboarding sim ever made but how does Skater XL cater for more casual skate fans?
Skateboarding games, once ubiquitous and hugely popular, ended up dropping off the radar a few years ago, largely because they had become too similar and formulaic. That isn’t an accusation you can level at Skater XL. Unlike any of its mainstream predecessors, it takes a lofty, sim-style approach to the ever-popular sport, which is clever in many ways but unsatisfying when it comes to gameplay.
You have to admire the rigour of its approach, however; Skater XL is all about its control system. In the past we grew used to manic button-bashing in skateboarding games, chaining together sequences of complex tricks almost automatically. Skater XL goes back to first principles, by giving you fine control over the movements of your skater’s feet on the board. Effectively, by doing that, it is showing you how to skate in real life.
Thus, when you hit a ramp and get some air, you aren’t merely launching pre-defined moves: the tricks you perform are defined entirely by your foot movements, with the left stick controlling your left foot, the right stick your right, the triggers taking care of body-rotation and the bumpers allowing you to grab. To ollie, for example, you must pull back on the right stick (presuming you’ve taken a normal stance) then release forward at the right moment.
For those used to conventional skate games, these controls take a bit of getting used to (especially since the best way of steering when you’re on the ground is via the triggers). But when you manage to do so, they become highly intuitive and there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had from pulling off specific tricks in Skater XL.
A short but decent tutorial teaches you the most fundamental components of skateboarding, such as ollies, nollies, and kickflips. And when you start finding some big air and adding to those with rotations, grabs, and grinds, as well as chaining runs together, the game has the capacity to leave even the least co-ordinated individuals feeling like heroes.
Skater XL also has the excellent soundtrack and welter of character-customisation options (you can also play as the pro skaters Tiago Lemos, Brandon Westgate, Evan Smith, and Tom Ast) that are prerequisites of any skating game. The ability to set your respawn point is also extremely handy.
But Skater XL also has a glaring problem. Once you’ve begun to master the control system, you swiftly discover that in terms of gameplay, there really isn’t much to do. Sure, the game simulates real-life skating brilliantly, and you can skate around the five large, generally well designed levels to your heart’s content. But you can’t do that in the company of others – Skater XL is a single-player game – which seems very odd given that its sim-style approach is of primary appeal to real-life skaters, who tend to be gregarious types.
Concessions to those who are first and foremost gamers, rather than fanatical skaters in real-life, are few and far between. Once you pick your map – most of which are recreations of well-known Californian skate locations, although the best is a giant ramp and bowl complex set in the desert – there’s only one thing you can do other than skate around.
Select Challenges from the game’s menu and you’re confronted by a huge list of prescribed tricks to pull off, split into seven categories. These increasingly complex tricks must be enacted at specific places on each map, with the game teleporting you to the right location when you select one.
That list of challenges is huge and working your way through it is both fun and educational, but it is presented without even the slightest fanfare, and just feels a bit flat and academic. Skater XL has absolutely no structure or variation to its gameplay. Indeed, it barely has any gameplay at all – it’s a sandbox game in which you pretty much have to make your own fun.
That’s fine as long as you’re an uber-enthusiast whose life revolves around skating. If, say, you couldn’t make it out to your favourite skate venue due to the weather, then you would turn to Skater XL. But for any ordinary gamer who may be skate-curious, it feels like less than half a game.
There’s another problem, too: Skater XL’s physics are mighty impressive, as are the animations of your skater when he or she is on their board, but when you crash, the resulting ragdoll animation is basic and invariably unimpressive.
Skater XL has a mid-budget price point and comes from a small indie outfit from which you wouldn’t expect triple-A polish and heft. It also has a substantial community busy designing mods and items for it, too. But unless you’re a truly fanatical skateboarder in real-life, your most likely reaction to buying it and booting it up is likely to be: ‘Is that it?’. It’s an exemplary control system in search of a game.
Skater XL review summary
In Short: Skate XL cleverly mimics real-life skateboarding, but the minimal amount of gameplay means it’s only ever going to be for real-life skate fanatics.
Pros: Clever, highly realistic control system. Some good maps, a great soundtrack, and supported by a large community. Pretty good at teaching you the basic principles of skateboarding.
Cons: Lacks structure and gameplay. No multiplayer, dodgy rag-doll animations, and mediocre graphics.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Publisher: Easy Day Studios
Developer: Easy Day Studios
Release Date: 28th July 2020
Age Rating: 3
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