The highly anticipated Skate Sim Session has just left early access. We take the title for a ride and see it delivers on the promise of being the most realistic skating sim yet.
Out the gate, I have to say if you're looking to buy Session you should probably temper your expectations. The title was initially funded on Kickstarter in 2017 and after being in Early Access since 2019. Then got picked up by publisher Nacon and received even more funding. So if you boot up Session now it's not exactly a cutting-edge Video Game on the tech side. In fact, it's still running on Unreal Engine 4 as of writing, and whole a lot of the game screams low-budget.
Out of Early Access?
Compared to the Early Access version we've already covered here, everything feels much more polished and all the preexisting maps have received a slight visual overhaul. The menus look cleaner, the presentation looks a little nicer and there are a few more gameplay features as well. But if you've touched a Simulator game before you should know what to expect. The world is empty and lifeless and overall the game seems a little bare bones in its current state.
The team at crea-ture Studio is dedicated to adding more features and maps to the title, this 1.0 version allows them to publish the title on consoles in order to secure additional funding. A story the game shares with its cousin SkateXL which on the surface level appeared a lot more polished on release.
So with that in mind, I don't know how to treat Session in this review. I missed the initial Kickstarter campaign but I bought the title as soon as it hit early access and I've played pretty much all iterations of it. And I'll tell you right now, if you're not into skating in virtual space then you might want to sit this one out. Session is a very dry simulator and I somehow have to review it now as a complete package. But we'll get into that in great detail!
Reliving and Making History
Session is really a game made by skaters for skaters. Not only is the game drenched deep in the sports lingo, but its main goal is also to recreate the 90s atmosphere of being an up-and-coming pro. That means hitting up iconic spots from skating videos and leaving your mark on them. For that Session has a handy list of historical challenges ranging from Dane Burman's 50-50 down the city hall rail in Philadelphia to the various feats achieved at New York's iconic Brooklyn Banks.
Session recreates three cities worth of iconic spots for you to explore and leave your mark on. New York, Philadelphia, and San Fransisco. All of them have been faithfully recreated and don't suffer from being video-gamified for the sake of being skateable. Instead, you'll have to look at those asphalt wastelands, trash-filled parks, and loading bays and figure out how to skate them. That's where the simulation aspect really kicks in because Session is a love letter to street skating, which means no ridiculous mega ramps or conveniently placed ramps.
After a short tutorial that tries to teach you the basics, most of the missions are centered around challenges in all kinds of spots. Something as simple as a back alley sloop can turn into a final boss if you need to stick a grind, ride down the bank with a manual and then stick a trick onto the street. Those challenges get you to think and experiment with what is possible. And while Session's world might seem empty if you're used to the Tony Hawk and Skate games, it is really a playground for you to express yourself on. That is mostly thanks to Session's amazing gameplay that really starts to shine once you get the hang of it.
A Steep Learning Curve
I foresee many people bouncing off Session just because of its rather unique control scheme. Taking Skate's controller layout to the next logical step, Session is mostly controlled with two sticks and your shoulder buttons. Instead of controlling the camera and movement, your sticks control each individual foot. So for example, you're skating in the regular stance (facing left) and want to perform a basic jump. You pull the right stick down to lean on your back foot and then you flick the left stick up to kick the board up and jump while releasing the right stick. Your speed and momentum will then affect the height and speed of your jump.
Sounds pretty gnarly right? This takes a bit to really sink in and there is definitely a steep learning curve to it. Like learning how to skate in real life, it takes patience and getting timing and movement down. So expect to eat dirt a few times before you get it down. To make it a little easier, the game offers an auto-catch function that completes tricks automatically after the initial input and an option that switches the controller layout from left foot/right foot to front foot/back foot. Because if you're skating switch the controls with naturally be mirrored as well.
At first, you'll really, really hate how unintuitive all of this feels. Micro adjusting your direction with the shoulder buttons and flicking your stick at a precise angle to land a certain type of grind. But that's also Session's biggest strength. Because once you really hunker down and learn the basics, the level of control you'll have over your skater and your board is unmatched in any other video game.
Nothing comes close to riding full speed at a set of stairs sticking a frontside big spin only to backside boardslide down the rail. That mission took me about an hour to complete and it was probably some of the most fun I had with a video game all year. There is just something about if you're trying to figure out how to attack a spot from the right angle. You know what trick you'll have to land but you gotta micro-adjust every single input to get it just right. And when you eventually land it feels like you really earned it.
But if you're not into punishing yourself to land a cool trick in a skating simulator you might want to tinker a little with the options. You can modify everything, from the height you'll jump to the maximum speed of your grinds. You can definitely tinker with all the options to make Session feel a little more arcadey but at the same time, you'll eliminate one of the game's most fun aspects. So I suggest you just start practicing and it turns out that even just skating around town, messing around is also pretty fun.
No Scores, Only Skill
One of Session's biggest deviations from its contemporaries is the lack of a proper scoring system. Because to a lot of skaters, the sport is more of an art form than a contest. Street skating is not about laying the fattest combo imaginable to put up on a leaderboard. It's more about finding some weird spot in your neighborhood and figuring out how to skate it. To help with that, Session has the object dropper feature, which you'll unlock more objects as you progress through the missions.
A rail to drop over a gap? Or maybe you need just a little piece of plywood propped up on a sloop so you can make it up that manual pad you've been eyeballing? You get a lot of tools to make things more skateable. And that DIY spirit really makes you think about certain areas differently. Trust me, once you realize that there are objects you can move something as simple as a park bench can make a great asset to your next screenshot.
Probably one of Session's big downsides is the lack of tools it has to teach players how to play the game properly. While there is a handy sheet for you to reference what inputs result in which trick, it is really hard to hone those skills if you don't really know what you've been doing wrong. You should probably tick the option that will show you what trick you've just landed. It'll make the game just a little more readable but often you're left to your own devices.
This will probably lead to many players dropping Session after just a few minutes of play, but that same element is what makes this game so fun in the first place. If you don't want to practice and figure out what you're doing wrong it is probably not a title for you. So I feel a little at odds with trying to figure out who this game is for. Because Session is a lot of fun once you get the hang of it, but I say that having to spend a casual 100 hours on it before the 1.0 version was even released. This leads us to the question…
Who is Session: A Skateboarding Sim for?
If you're looking for a spiritual successor to the Tony Hawk games or EA's Skate series, you'll probably want to wait till EA releases their new skateboarding game sometime in the future, because Session is not even close to those titles. Instead, you have a really hardcore simulator that not only tries to get you to think like a street skater but also demands the same amount of patience and mental fortitude.
In its current state Session is really bare bones to a point that is infuriating. Some missions are incredibly hard because they don't properly tell you what they want you to do. And the accuracy required for missions is wildly inconsistent. Landing a manual on a pad can range from only manual for 2 seconds to landing the manual the moment you jump up to the pad and slowly roll to the other side for at least 10 seconds.
It is bewildering and frustrating how everything in this game outside of the actual skating and the maps feels really incomplete and unpolished. But knowing that this game was developed by a rather small team I can at least appreciate how most of the effort went into the skating instead of the latest graphics or the AI for bystanders.
And this is me complaining about a game I really love, in my ideal world this is just the stepping stone for something that deserves the polish of a Skate or a Tony Hawk game. But I also understand that this game serves the niche of a niche and if it was to sacrifice its complex mechanics in order to be more accessible, it would also lose what makes it so special in the first place. So it is very hard to recommend without all these proper warnings.
But Session is for the type of person that likes to make clips of their latest, sickest trick or make screenshots of that insane gap they just jumped. And with the release of consoles, I really hope that posting Session content on social media and the official Discord will eventually create a thriving community of e-skaters pushing themselves further and helping each other out. And Session's features to record and screencap your gameplay are definitely up to speed. I've already seen players cut videos that could be out of a professional's back catalog.
Final Score: 6.5/10
I would like to sit here and say that Session is better than the sum of its parts. And it is no doubt. So if you're the kind of person that only cares about the raw gameplay aspect of it and isn't bothered by a lack of polish then you'll get probably one of the best skating games out there. BUT Session will also make you work for it. As I have hopefully illustrated here putting in the work is half the fun of the gameplay.
But since I have to feign at least some air of professionalism here I can't really recommend Session to everyone with good conscience without putting up those few warnings. It is a title I really want to do well but I also understand that it serves a really, really specific niche. So if you want a skating game that's really rewarding to play and master, gameplay wise this is as good as it gets. And if the team keeps their promises, there is much more to come like grab tricks and proper vert skating.
So yea, I give this 6.5/10 score with a heavy heart and I hope that when we revisit the title here in a year or so I don't have to feel so damn guilty about it. If you want to check out more gaming and esports related new, check us out here at ESTNN