Skateboarding games are enjoying a renaissance during 2020 with numerous titles in development being developed or released within close proximity of one another. The latest on that list to release is Skater XL, a game developed by Easy Day Studios.
Having been in development for over two years, Skater XL was created alongside community feedback while in Early Access. The 1.0 release marks the end of that road for the team, bringing the game inline with their vision and releasing it on PS4, Xbox One and PC. The question is, does it live up to the high expectations that skateboarding fans have for the genre?
Firstly, let’s talk about it’s trick system. In Skater XL, you control each foot with a separate analogue stick. This allows you to move the board in a way that will perform tricks depending on which direction you pressed. It’s a clever system that looks far more fluid than I would have expected.
Hold the right stick down and press the left stick right and you’ll do a kickflip. Hold the right stick down and spin it round in a circular motion and you’ll perform a pop shove it. Once you’ve got those two tricks down, the sky’s the limit, it’s just up to you to find out what the system can do.
This intrinsic learning system is something I enjoy. Rather than forcing players to unlock tricks with points or experience, the entire toolset is there from the beginning and the onus is on you to learn it. It’s what made the original Skate game such a delight to play and I think Skater XL captures that really well.
Outside of the analogue flip system, players can also perform grabs, grinds, and stalls, using the shoulder buttons controlling grabs and the triggers to controlling rotation. There’s a real arsenal of abilities at your fingertips in Skater XL and it might just be the most comprehensive set of tricks and moves we’ve seen in a skateboarding game for some time.
There are currently a mixture of developer created levels and community made maps in the game, but I found myself gravitating toward just three of them regularly – Easy Day High School, Downtown LA and the Mega Ramp, each of which were created by Easy Day. The other levels are pretty forgettable, as they are based on smaller, more limited areas, while Easy Day High School and Downtown LA are both sprawling collections of excellent spots to skate. Easy Day High School feels like the most accomplished level as there are numerous skate spots (some real and some built for the level) that you can link together.
It’s in these moments that Skater XL feels fantastic. Exploring the sprawling environment, linking lines together and finding the best way to trick over a certain object or rail really does invoke the feeling and creativity of skateboarding. Skater XL never tries to get in your way, bogging you down with extensive menus or loading screens in its levels, it simply just wants you to skate.
A big part of Skateboarding is expression, which is why it’s great to see a pretty impressive array of clothing and skateboard customisation available to players. Alongside both male or female avatars, there are also four professional skateboarders to choose from; Tiago Lemos, Brandon Westgate, Evan Smith, and Tom Asta. I would like to see a female pro added to that list at some point, as there are plenty of exceptionally gifted female skateboarders to choose from, but it is still nice to skate with a number of characters who have distinctly different looks and feels.
Despite having some strong foundations, Skater XL needs some big improvements to its overall formula if it’s going to keep players invested. Firstly, the PS4 version does not run particularly well. I’ve been playing it on a PS4 Pro and noticing some really bad frame drops and frame pacing issues, most commonly during an extended play session. In a game like this that aims to mimic a real life sport, performance really needs to be consistent.
I also think there’s some general quality of life changes that would improve the experience. As it stands, you can’t get off your skateboard in Skater XL, but instead can switch modes and place a marker where you want to spawn. When a key part of skateboarding is being able to run with your board to gain speed and this was a really noticeable omission for me. I have no doubt we might see it patched later, but I would have liked to see it in the game on day one.
Skater XL features a number of licensed artists including the likes of Future Islands, Band of Skulls and Interpol among others, but it’s actually really hard to enjoy the soundtrack in its current state. There are no options for altering what’s included in the soundtrack or changing the order in which they play, so you end up listening to the songs in the same order every time you boot up the game. I understand this is a minor complaint in the world of Spotify and Apple Music, the devolopers clearly put a lot of thought into the soundtrack and it’s a shame that the way players are expected to listen to it is so rigid.
There’s also a lack of structure in Skater XL. There are a number of challenges on each level, but there isn’t any purpose. Where Tony Hawk had collectables and Skate had score challenges, Skater XL just leaves you to your own devices. I personally enjoy being given the freedom to skate how I please, but I know there are people out there who want some structure to their games. I feel some unlockable gear or clothing linked to in-game score challenges would help rectify this, providing players with something to complete.
The 1.0 release of Skater XL feels like a great starting point for the game, but I feel there’s still lots of work to be done. From minor tweaks to gameplay through to additional content to keep players invested long-term, the developers have a lot to focus on in the coming months. This is still a solid start though and Skater XL is a lot of fun to play. Spending so long focusing on how the board controls was a smart one, because even without a huge amount of content, I can’t put my controller down.