Authentic Thrills You Have to Earn

Skateboarding games have seen a solid resurgence over the past few years thanks to quality releases such as OlliOlli and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, novelties that didn’t quite hit the mark like Skatebird and Skater XL, and even upcoming titles like EA’s Skate reboot. And now Session: Skate Sim is leaving early access during this skating revival and coming out on consoles and PC. Most of the recent skateboard success stories have been through more arcade-like releases — skaters in OlliOlli World do ridiculous combos that could never be done in real life — so Session finds its niche by offering the most realistic skateboarding game to date, which is as compelling as it is humbling.

While Skate has historically been the benchmark for simulation-style releases, Session feels much more grounded. You could still pull off ridiculous combos and stunts in Skate, it just required much more skill in execution than in a game like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Going in the other direction, Session has a sense of realism that is much more in line with what you’ll see if you visit your local skatepark. If you truly have dedication and a natural knack for it, you might be able to ball out like the best in the world in the game, but otherwise you’ll have to settle for thinking of a cool line, failing at it 20 times, and finally doing it in a way that likely wasn’t as cool as you had dreamt up.

However, sometimes the dominoes fall in just the right way where the combo of tricks link together perfectly and it looks amazing, and these are the rare yet special moments that make Session worth playing. Performing combos like this and falling into a flow state is a key aspect of skateboarding games and Session is no different. It’s just that the game requires more of players and makes them work for it a bit harder.

At first glance, Session looks like it might play like Skate as both use the right analog stick to maneuver the board around for tricks instead of button presses. However, it differs in that it uses both analog sticks for tricks, with the left and right sticks controlling the skater’s corresponding feet. Even simply doing an ollie will take some coordination as the directions you need to tilt the sticks in will differ upon your actual skating stance. By controlling both feet and determining leaning via trigger presses, there’s a great degree of nuance to every aspect of skating.

This incredible nuance is both Session‘s greatest triumph and why it won’t be appealing to many players. A simple combo that would take a minute to learn in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater can take dozens if not hundreds of attempts in Session; a satisfying journey for some and a grueling one for others. This is not a game about looking awesome without putting in the work first and sometimes that awesome moment never comes and players will have to decide to try something else. This sort of mastery isn’t completely foreign to the genre, but it’s rare for more simple maneuvers to be this difficult to pull off. It really is like actually picking up a board and learning to skate as you won’t be able to do the awesome tricks and lines that you see in skate videos for a long time.

RELATED: New Skate Will Be Free-to-Play in Order To Be the ‘Best Game Possible’

While there are some simplistic missions, tutorials, and challenges to check out, they are rarely captivating. This is in part due to the absence of a scoring system, thus reducing challenges to stuff like manualing 3,000 meters within a week or hitting a specific trick at a cool spot. Instead, Session is mainly about just skating around its three locales: New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Some iconic spots have been recreated, so you can skate FDR Park in Philly or the Brooklyn banks, which is pretty rad. However, this lack of structure means it is a little aimless and almost entirely up to the player’s own determination to get better at the game and judge their own progress as it’s not like there’s a satisfying career mode like in Tony Hawk or a gold medal to strive for like in the X-Games.

Session: Skate Sim Review: Authentic Thrills You Have to Earn

While there’s no scoring system in place for the tricks, you’re still able to record your dope sequences with an in-game video and photo editor. Session clearly takes a lot from the ’90s skating heyday and there are filters that allow you to recreate the look of old skating videos. Being able to easily share your best lines online or on social media should help bigger skate fans stick with the game, which is important due to the lax structure. But while the editing suite does give Session players something more to grasp onto, it’s still not a substitute for a more substantial campaign or objective system. The light framework combined with a certain amount of jank, such as getting stuck on ledges or the in-game geometry, make the game feel like it hasn’t shaken its early access roots despite its 1.0 launch.

RELATED: OlliOlli World Review: Ascending to Gnarvana

Session: Skate Sim lives up to its name as it’s certainly the most realistic skateboarding game ever made. However, realistic skateboarding doesn’t always translate to a fun time in the virtual space. Getting good at the game will take plenty of time, which ironically could also be spent actually skating (although you’ll get far less banged up this way), so that might be a turn-off for some. That being said, those that stick with Session will be rewarded with a game that encourages aspiring skaters to appreciate its commitment to the smaller things and makes nailing a cool line feel like a genuine accomplishment rather than a simple button press.

SCORE: 7.5/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7.5 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.

Disclosure: The critic bought a PlayStation 5 copy for our Session: Skate Sim review. Reviewed on version 1.003.000.

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