‘Skater XL’ review: the closest gaming has gotten to the real thing

It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but boy does it look good in the air

Skater XL is a game made by skaters, for skaters. You can feel the authenticity in every kickflip, hear the labour of love in every scratching grind. Truly, this game is skating. It’s technical yet spectacular in places, but also rough around the edges and feels strangely lonely. If you’re looking for a skating game, Skater XL might not cut it. But if you want a skating experience, look no further.

The game utilises an intriguing control system, where the left stick controls your left foot and the right stick controls the right foot. This offers not only a far greater level of control, but also more personalisation. You could do five heelflips in a row, and they’d all be slightly different.

It’s an intuitive control system which you can get to grips with immediately, but even ten hours in I’m still figuring out how much variation each trick allows for, accidentally pulling off slightly different moves as I experiment with foot positioning.

Skater XL Review
Skater XL. Credit: Stacey Henley

Skating is Skater XL’s first language, and gaming is its second. It’s fluent, but occasionally stumbles over the pronunciation or misunderstands a phrase. The map clips far more often than you’d like, especially on replays, and the board can be weirdly unforgiving when you roll up to a curb. The camera occasionally fails to follow you in the way you’d expect it to as well, making manoeuvring and landing far more difficult.

These are minor gripes, but then the game is littered with minor issues. Replaying your tricks is an ordeal thanks to over complicated button inputs and a video trim system that refuses to work.

Considering the focus is on getting an authentic skating experience, having a replay system which doesn’t function as designed is a bummer. That’s compounded by the fact that even if it ran smoothly, there’s no way to collect these highlights together into something more significant and personal.

Skater XL Review
Skater XL. Credit: Stacey Henley

The game certainly has a pick up and play feel to it, although there’s substantial learning to be done in order to master it. But this is to the game’s credit, and most definitely necessary given the game’s structure; a topic we’ll get to in more depth below.

On the question of difficulty though, the game does not consider all things equal. Within five minutes of the game, I’d landed a 900. A couple of hours in, I was pulling off 1440 inward sextuple heelflips with ease. After 10 hours of play I’m still struggling with controlling or even beginning simple grinds.

I understand that Easy Day Studios wanted to avoid the ‘push button to trick’ arcadey, impersonal feel of the likes of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but if regularly landing 900s is easier than nosegrinding a stair rail, there’s definitely an imbalance.

Skater XL Review
Skater XL. Credit: Stacey Henley

That said, for the most part, the skating is a joy. You feel in complete control, you’re always learning and there’s great map variation. I found myself drawn to The Big Ramp for the show-stopping verts, but California Skatepark and Easy Day High School offered a wonderful time too. West LA Courthouse and community map Hudland relied a bit too much on grinding for me to head there very often, but they’re not without their charm, especially if you’re more about the fundamentals than the tricks.

While the graphics occasionally stutter, the aesthetics are gorgeous, especially on the maps played during sunset. The love of skating comes through in the various legendary skate spots the map crunches together in a skater’s ideal vision of Downtown LA, and the console versions of the game even features modded maps fans created from the PC beta.

The flaws of the game are plenty but minor. Like skating on rough terrain, you’ll certainly feel the bumps, but there isn’t enough to make you bail out.

Skater XL Review
Skater XL. Credit: Stacey Henley

On its rating, I’d say Skater XL is a four-star game in spirit. It’s far too fun, far too inventive to dip below that. Moment to moment, it’s a four-star experience, no doubt. Maybe even higher. But you can certainly argue there isn’t quite enough there for it to sustain that rating throughout. I toyed with every rating between three to four and a half.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so even after I landed my 900 and netted my Trophy, I had to do it again, immediately. The landing was a bit rough and I didn’t even pull off a trick; I had just wanted to see if the half pipe gave me enough air for the spins. So I did it again, this time going for a melon, but bailed out.

After a few more tries, I could do that easily enough, so I went for more spins, more air, more tricks. Could I use the momentum from the landing to launch myself into another trick, could that trick take me to a nearby rail, could that rail take me up to the mini ramps?

This is Skater XL in a microcosm; you set your own goals, your own targets, you create your own lines without having to go and pick up the letters S-K-A-T-E as you would in Tony Hawk’s. If that’s what you’re looking for, then ignore my rating: Skater XL is a five-star game. Just be sure that’s all you’re looking for.

Skater XL Review
Skater XL. Credit: Stacey Henley

If you aren’t used to creating trick lines, can’t see the patterns in the maps or just generally want the game to give you a helping hand with what to do next, you’ll find the game desperately empty.

I respect the game for stripping back the huge combos, the arcade challenges, the score timer from other games. In fact, there’s no score or combos ever assigned within the game itself. Easy Day wanted to go in a different direction, and it’s done that. But if you take features out without trying to replace them with your own ideas, the concept and authenticity will only take you so far.

Skater XL is like FIFA if FIFA only had Kick Off. You can see the purist appeal, especially if this were a world starved of football games. With just a little widening of the net though, Skater XL could have delivered a more rounded experience without having to sell out.

The game does, in fairness, have a challenge mode, but it’s far too dry and restrictive. It’s the opposite of its ‘skate your own way’ ethos, asking you to do specific tricks in a specific place in a specific order. Worse, rather than giving you a checklist to try and tick off as you skate, when you activate a challenge you must do so from a standing start where the game plops you down, and building momentum in the short space the game gives you adds needlessly to the challenge difficult in a very inauthentic, very anti-Skater XL kind of way.

Skater XL Review
Skater XL. Credit: Stacey Henley

There’s a great – if a little lean – soundtrack designed for the skating community (Band Of Horses, Modest Mouse, Animal Collective), the maps have been built with ease of play in mind and the skating itself is wonderful fun that keeps pushing you to get a little bit better. There’s also a decent mix of four pro skaters (Evan Smith, Tom Asta, Brandon Westgate and Tiago Lemos), as well as a basic male and female default which allows for greater outfit customisation.

If you want to skate on your console or PC, Skater XL is a five star, must-own game. Skating has never felt so real. But as a video game, it relies too much on the player driving the direction, lacks too many features and feels a little hollow. It’s a McTwist that doesn’t quite stick the landing, but boy does it look good in the air.

‘Skater XL’ is available now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Our Verdict

Skater XL is an authentic skate experience that gives you complete control of your board and provides endless opportunity to build creative lines. As a game, though, it doesn’t quite feel like the finished project, and relies too much on you setting your own targets with little help from the game itself.

Pros

  • Most authentic skate experience ever
  • Easy to learn, difficult to master
  • Killer soundtrack
  • Fantastic level builds

Cons

  • Vert play significantly superior to street/grinding
  • Empty world
  • Lack of direction

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