Five years after the initial Kickstarter demo and three years in Early Access, Session: Skate Sim has officially launched. With creā-ture Studios promoting version 1.0, a new set of eyes are on the game. It doesn’t seem like it was ready for prime time though, with a litany of bugs and the removal of old features, but it’s still the ultimate representation of skateboarding in video game form.
Starting with a compelling foundation
Before we delve into whether Session: Skate Sim 1.0 is being delivered as a title update, its uncompromising vision cannot be understated. Billed as a skateboarding simulator, virtually every element of the game influences the player’s connection to the board and the environment. Everything from the size and shape of the deck to the size of the wheel influences the end user experience.
Along with a full-featured stats menu plus dozens of other tweakable gameplay options, Session: Skate Sim offers an unparalleled degree of customization. This makes it possible for just about any player to find setups that click with them, just like every real-life skater has their own preferences. This extensive customization is the perfect match for Session: Skate Sim’s commitment to realism.
Related: How to change your stats in Session: Skate Sim
As a simple example, grinds are completely physics based. While the different grinds require specific inputs, you’re not guaranteed to get them unless you line up perfectly. You can drop out of impact without proper focus. Alternatively, it’s possible to grind and slip because you didn’t tighten the wheels enough or landed too close to the edge of the nose or tail.
True posture controls are its biggest innovation, introducing the dual-stick control scheme to the genre before Skater XL hit the scene. These real posture checks force you to think ahead at all times. Your mind is constantly undergoing training, which prevents you from going into autopilot mode. This constant level of engagement keeps you interested even when performing tricks and basic lines. More than any other game in any other genre, you can feel your growth as a player over time.
This only scratches the surface of what makes Session: Skate Sim such a rewarding game. It’s been true for most of its Early Access period, it’s still true in 1.0, and it’ll continue to be true in future title updates. As long as the core game remains intact, Session: Skate Sim will remain the best of its kind.
Where Session: Skate Sim 1.0 Succeeds
The official release has brought a number of drastic additions. The revised powerslides now allow you to transfer your body weight, opening up a range of possibilities. This includes new glide options and smoother transitions between poses when combined with body rotations.
Related: How slides work in Session: Skate Sim
More importantly, this bodyweight transfer mechanic is tied to the new lip tricks. While they are difficult to pull off at first, once you get the hang of them, they are among the most satisfying tricks in the entire game.
Even if Session: Skate Sim didn’t introduce any new maps, the simple addition of lip tricks makes many of the existing locations more skateable. Venues like LES Coleman, creā-ture Park, FDR, and the mini-ramp at the Brooklyn Banks Experimental Stage suddenly feel like brand new places.
Fortunately, Session: Skate Sim 1.0 also adds San Francisco with 10 main areas. Like the other cities, a large part of San Francisco is connected with some areas that require separate charging. San Francisco itself is huge, with some of the most exciting potential, especially with the updated mechanics. In fact, the number of interesting locations and obstacles make the San Francisco limit overwhelming, which bodes well for the game’s longevity.
Board clipping is also mostly eliminated thanks to a new auto-sensing system, whereby the skater’s feet move out of the way if they are positioned in such a way that they would cause clipping with the current trick. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a huge step forward that makes shooting clips much more manageable.
Speaking of filming, the replay editor has been slightly tweaked. It’s not something the casual Early Access player has noticed, but the creā-ture’s commitment to skate culture remains admirable. The replay editor now features time of day keyframes, allowing you to adjust the time within a replay without affecting the time of day during gameplay. These keyframes even make time lapse footage possible. Coupled with over 80 camera filters, the footage is the best it’s ever been in Session: Skate Sim.
The extensive hit and bail system, along with the revamped audio design, also add an extra layer of immersion to Session: Skate Sim. While some of the bails are a bit over the top, they are largely activated in believable circumstances, like sliding off a board when both feet fail to plant properly.
Where the session fails: Skate Sim 1.0
Despite all the improvements, there are still many steps back with this new version of the game. For starters, the experimental skater physics animation setting, which was introduced in the last Early Access patch, is now capped.
This feature overlays physics-based movement over canned skater animations, exhibiting behaviors that weren’t present in the last Early Access version. As you push, your arms go through your body and contort like never before. Also, enabling the setting periodically results in unnaturally exaggerated shaking at the most random of times, sometimes even while idling.
Lip tricks are another point of contention. While they are incredibly satisfying to pull off and open so many doors, they are also prone to inconsistent behavior. This is because the lip tricks are buried within the experimental menu. This doesn’t sit well due to the marketing cycle. Lip tricks were one of the main announced features of the Session 1.0 release.
As a game that will continue to update over time, there is nothing wrong with having and continuing to have experimental settings. It just feels fake that one of the main features of the official release is a highly experimental environment.
Progression is another important issue. Being built with freedom of expression in mind, this Session skin feels a bit out of place, locking most clothing and board options behind career mode progress. Do you love doing 180s? Do you prefer single tricks or unbroken lines? Nothing stops you from playing the way you want… except the story mode. If you want to make use of the in-game store, you will spend hours being told what to do before you can access most of the things in it. The entire progression system feels antithetical to the vision of Session: Skate Sim.
Other questions are worth raising. The official release version removed the two most interesting radio stations, leaving existing users with a more restricted selection of music genres. It’s also unfortunate to see the removal of grips, even if they rarely looked presentable. The developers were transparent about its removal pre-release, but the reasoning doesn’t add up. Cousins are an experimental setting that looks broken half the time and yet they’re still in it, so removing grabs feels like an unnecessary step backwards.
The official 1.0 release makes many notable additions that radically transform the game. At the same time, it was not ready for launch. Certain features and gimmicks like physical skater animation and impossibles were broken in the transition from Early Access to 1.0. It also hurts that lip tricks aren’t a fully polished feature in this version of the game. Also, the removal of radio stations, marks, captures, and even the scary hairstyle doesn’t sit well with me as a long-time Early Access player.
Even with those caveats, Session: Skate Sim is an undeniably infectious game. It will go down in history as one of the genre’s landmark achievements along with the conception of the Tony Hawk and Skate franchises. Does it feel like a finished 1.0 product? No. Is it still the maximum expression of skateboarding in digital format? Absolutely.