Session: Skate Sim

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Publisher: NACON
Developer: creā-ture Studios
Release Date: Sept. 22, 2022


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Session'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 17, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PST

Session: Skate Sim is a skateboarding sim entirely focused on creativity and freedom of expression, nothing else!

The last time we looked at Session was three years ago. At the time, it was one small area with a bland-looking skater, a small area to skate in, a really tricky control scheme, and lots of potential. It looked like it would benefit from being in Steam Early Access, but it stayed in that state for far longer than the developers had anticipated. With a big update dropping soon, it's time to return to Session to see what the game has to offer.

If your knowledge of skating games hovers between Skate and the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, then you'll need to play the tutorial because the control scheme is wildly different from what you've played in the past. The game focuses on using the analog sticks for doing most of the skateboard-related actions, with each stick representing that respective leg. To ollie, for example, you'll need to hold down on your back leg's stick while flicking the other stick to raise that leg so the board can go up. Grinding means performing an ollie and then directing each leg in different directions to grind with your board or axles. Doing a manual means having to ollie then tilting your back leg's stick halfway to initiate that balance.

With the analog sticks taking care of leg duty, it falls on the rest of the controller to do everything else. The left and right bumpers are used for grabs if you have enough height to do it, while the left and right triggers perform spins and control your body lean, so you can perform turns. Holding down on the d-pad allows you to place a marker wherever you're standing, while holding up on the d-pad lets you warp back to that spot; this is useful for when you fail to pull off a trick and want to try it again without manually returning to your starting position. The Y button instantly takes you off your board, so you can walk and run to locations before returning to skating, a boon if you want to go somewhere quickly without necessarily skating there.

On paper, the control scheme seems inventive, since you can imagine the trick fidelity with that much control over your legs, which are doing most of the work for tricks and skating. In practice, the control scheme is difficult to master, since it means having to unlearn everything from most games, skating or not. You'll often find yourself trying to steer with the left analog stick and wondering why nothing is happening only to realize that the triggers do the steering. There's some thought required to perform even the most basic of jumps, and failure means having to hit the Y button twice to get the board and return it under your feet, since you don't automatically get back on. The scheme is difficult enough that going through the tutorial can take days with hours of constant failures because of how much brain rewiring is needed. It instantly means that a majority of people who pick up the game will immediately drop it because of how much more difficult it is to do the basics. It also means that mastery of the simplest maneuver produces absolute elation.

Session treats itself like an open-world title with various interconnected parts, but one can instantly start in different real-world impromptu skate spots in New York and Philadelphia. There's a good amount to do, but you'll really need to plan things out, since some of the areas don't offer lots of room to skate around. While the game still retains the freedom to do whatever you want, those looking for structure will get it in the form of missions that can be tackled at any time. There's also the presence of daily and weekly challenges for those who need more immediate guidance, but they're a bit of a grind and the payoff for completion seems paltry; more people might accidentally complete them, rather than striving for them.

As far as licenses go, the game has built up quite a number of them in the game, including No-Comply and Fallen. The same goes for the presence of pro skaters like Mark Appleyard, Dane Burman and Daewon Song. This puts it in line with some of the bigger skate games out there, but their presence also means the removal of Steam Workshop support, as the ability to create custom decks is absent.

The presentation also got an uplift since we last saw it. The environments have been modeled after some real-world environments, and the game looks quite good. The character models are also nicer than before and look more realistic with natural flesh tones. The skating animations look fine, but you'll have to get used to the camera angles, which go from very low when skating (so you have a better view of your feet) to a much higher view when you're walking (semi-bird's-eye view).

The audio appears to have received more attention, as the sounds of wheels on different surfaces come through clearly and distinctly. The soundtrack has also received a large upgrade, with more songs being added from various genres such as reggae, punk, and a healthy dose of lo-fi from Chillhop Records.

Those are all exciting additions and improvements, but Session still has some bugs to remind you that this is still a title that firmly belongs in Early Access for now. Some of this is more of a polish thing, like seeing your skater awkwardly run while keeping their left hand out like they're still holding a board. The board may magically gravitate toward your hand or feet, depending on when you press the Y button. There are curious design decisions, such as not giving you the ability to jump while on foot, since you can't automatically step on some low ledges. Then you have the camera, which furiously freaks out whenever you're near a wall or inside a building, both of which can happen quite often in the early portions of the game. Again, these are all fixable things but worth noting on the cusp of the game's first price increase.

If you can live with the bugs and design decisions made thus far, then Session is an intriguing proposition for those seeking a real skateboarding sim. The open world grounded in reality makes a strong case for this being a pure skateboarding sim, and the additions of modes, skaters and tricks is fleshing out the title much more than it was a few years ago. You just have to get your head wrapped around the control scheme, which takes more time than one may think, even after a few hours. There's plenty of time to do that; the game is planned to go out of Steam Early Access in autumn 2022.

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