Session: Skate Sim is currently in early access, ESTNN's Lahftel offers a preview of the upcoming title.
Crea-ture Studios Session will leave early access soon and is already the best virtual skateboarding game on the market.
“Wow it really feels like I'm bad at Skateboarding!”
Okay, I'll rip that band-aid off immediately. Session is not exactly an easy game. It's kind of hard actually. Being the experienced, notorious game critic that I am now. I think it's safe to say, Session is the Dark Souls of skateboard sims. Alright, let me just cross ‘buzzword marketing' off my sheet and let's get into the nitty-gritty of things.
Skateboarding games are kinda dead, even if we've seen a resurgence as of late with more realistic, niche titles. But then EA had to come out and light a fire under all of this by announcing that skate 4 will be out some time whenever it comes out. That one will be a free-to-play title called skate. and is in open development and bla bla. I've already talked more about another game than the one I'm actually trying to hype up here.
A True Skate Simulator
Session is a game, that exists. It's currently in early access and is probably the greatest skateboarding game ever made already. At least if you are not looking for the insanity of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. Instead of encapsulating what 90's and early 2000's MTV was like in a video game, Session is more like a quiet love letter to the sport and the culture around it. Particularly street skating. Outside of the few skate parks in the game, you won't find many suspiciously set up ramps, bend-out-of-shape rails or perfectly curved swimming pools.
Instead, Session gives you downscaled recreations of some of the most iconic spots from videos and Thrasher covers and asks you to look at them like a skater would. At first, you'll seek out the spots that are obviously meant to be skated. Be it the few skate parks or oddly specifically set up gaps to jump. Soon you'll look at staircases and the brick wall next to them, and think to yourself ‘I could definitely Frontside 50-50 grind this and jump off with kickflip.' And thanks to Sessions' easy-to-use marker feature, this will be the next 10 to 30 minutes of your life.
If you're into skating, you probably know that what all those cool videos and pictures on social media don't show are the many tries it took to land the trick. Sometimes you get the timing down in a few tries and sometimes you get so angry that you have to come back in a few hours. It's odd how Session manages to simulate this process of real-life skating by having really bad controls that turn into amazing controls the moment you nail that trick you've been working on.
The Controls Suck Until they Don't
If you come from the skate series, the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games or any other video game ever made. Session will feel weird at first. You can't control the camera and you steer by holding down the left and right trigger buttons. And you operate your board with four wheels by flicking, scooping or gently lifting your analogue sticks. Left sticks for left foot, right stick for fight foot and all of this gets more complicated once you start skating switch.
To illustrate this, I will now teach you how to do an ollie, probably the most elemental of all the skateboarding ticks out there. If you skate regularly, that means your left foot is on the front of the board and the right foot is on the back. You have to hold the right stick down and then flick the left stick up to jump. Pretty cool right? Now depending on the speed you do this with and or the amount you push that left stick up, the height of your jump with change. Great right? And you'll definitely earn some style points for doing short little ollies onto some curb instead of trying to recreate the moon landing.
While this layout and those controls need some time to get used to, sooner or later they'll reveal their brilliance. The level of control you have over your board is absolutely insane. I realized that when I managed to grind the middle rail of a handrail. After that, I tried to squeeze the nose or tail of my board into all kinds of gaps and it just worked. By tinkering around with the almost exhausting options you can set up even more narly stuff. Like doing a Pop-Shuvit under a bench while jumping over it.
So yes, the controls are weird at the start, they feel inorganic and have a rather steep learning curve if you're coming from more arcadey titles. But the thing about Session, much like real skateboarding, if you think something is possible it probably is. Especially as you unlock placeable objects like rails, ramps or just a good old plank of wood. You can also move some objects in the world around like camping benches, trash containers or traffic cones.
Throwing Down Lines and Waging Wars
If you have any interest in skateboarding, you probably know about Thrashers mini-documentaries titled ‘My War'. Which tell the stories of skaters mercilessly throwing themselves at a spot until they land a trick. Honestly, that's a world in and of itself but in Session you can recreate that experience.
Thanks to the Replay Editor feature, you can film yourself doing during tricks or shoot photos of something insane. And here lies was Session is all about. Not chasing high scores, getting into antics with Tony Hawk and Bam Margera or launching yourself off a mega ramp into space. Instead, you're supposed to look at all the spots you can find in the loving recreations of New York and Philadelphia and see what you can do with them.
And if you're really cool, you start planning out entire sequences to skate and film. Better yet, why not record several insane tricks and cut your own video part together and put it online. It seems that's the direction Session is going for, sharing your experiences online. You can check out their discord and see hundred of would-be digital pro skaters posting their work. Some of the stuff is outright inspiring.
A Love Letter to Street Skating
Session is very much a love letter to street skating, one that should probably name all of its more infamous spots so you can look them up online for some inspiration from the real life. For that, Session has a whole bucket load of historical challenges for you to tackle. Like the infamous Brooklyn Banks which has enough skate history slammed into its iconic red bricks that you could easily spend days looking up all the crazy stuff that went down there.
Chasing those historic challenges around is already a treat in and of itself. Even virtually, something like Dane Burman's frontside 50 – 50 down the staircase next to Philly's city hall is a massive feat pull off. But unlike the pros, you don't have to worry about breaking your ankles or smacking your head on the pavement. That doesn't mean that it won't take many, many tries to get something down and land it.
So yea, Session's loving recreations of sections of New York and Philadelphia speak volumes to the quality of the game and the dedication of the team behind it. That staircase near the city hall right? In real life, there is a piece of plexiglass missing under the railing. That same piece is also missing in-game, which is a very little detail but one that is very appreciated. The only thing that's a little odd is the fact that some of those locations have been shrunken down a little for the sake of video gaminess.
That being said, there are currently a ton of places to skate in Session in the current early access build and the final release promises to come with yet another city added to the game. And thanks to being made in Unreal Engine, Session is rather friendly towards mods. There is already an array of new maps to skate and I have the suspicion that sooner or later you'll be able to skate some rather interesting spaces.
Session was successfully kickstarted all the way back in the dark before times of 2017. Back then it was not more than a competent demo were you could skate a prison yard. After doubling their initial goal of 80.000$ CAD the team went to work. The project then blew up after being shown off at E3 2018 on the Xbox showcase and stuff just kept rolling from there.
To say that the title has now by far transcended the Kickstarter campaign would be an understatement. Since then, the small Canadian Crea-ture Studios has been acquired and continuously funded by the French publisher Nacon. And since then the title has only grown in size and sheer volume. The full title will release with several blocks of New York City, Philadelphia and a city that has yet to be announced.
Currently, there is something akin to a story mode in the game as well, the usual affair for skater games actually. You walk up to one of the real-life pros like Donovan Strain who's been involved with the development of the game for quite some time. And you gotta prove to them your worth in order to make money, gain experience and unlock swag.
Did we mention that there are several real-life skater brands in the game as well? Now you know. From there on you can kit out your skater as you like, customize your board from the graphic on your deck all the way to the color of the barring's in your wheels. And you can also unlock some of those skaters and recreate some of their biggest tricks. Just be careful that you'll have to learn how to skate like they do.
And while we don't know yet what the full scope of the title will be once it releases. Since the current build is well over half a year old and a number of features haven't been implemented or polished, there is lots to come. Stuff like vert skating, proper mod support, multiplayer and who knows what. And while they've overshot their initial release date of Q4 2019 very hard at this point. You can't deny that there is a great passion behind the title. And despite numerous delays, the team has always been very transparent were development is currently at and what's gonna see an overhaul.
Taking the Plunge
So, why get into Session now? It is already a pretty great title even in its current early access state. Yes, the menus and UI need some work, but since it went early access a few years ago. I've put many, many hours into it. It is the title I launch on lazy afternoons or when I'm waiting for a download to finish or servers to come back online. There is nothing cozier than casually skating and messing around on some of the maps.
I somehow always end up finding a cool spot I hadn't tried skating, some modded map that has just come out or a historical challenge that I want to recreate. And Session is a game that will probably soar in popularity once it actually releases, especially with the reinvigorated hunger for the genre. While it might not please someone who's just looking for the sheer insanity of a Tony Hawk Pro Skater or Skate, it is probably the closest we currently have to an actual skateboarding sim.
That means it gets a very heartfelt recommendation from my end and I'm looking forward to seeing what some of you are able to come up with and post on social media. Session releases September 22 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC and is already available in early access for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC.
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