A couple years ago, I tried to pick up skateboarding again. It had been about 15 years since I last stepped on a board–15 years of growing up, gaining responsibilities, and building a solid foundation of fear and anxiety. But none of this came to mind until I stepped on the new $200 board I had just purchased and would soon fall off of. I had forgotten how to ollie, and with the short skateboard now feeling like a 50-foot diving board, there was no way in hell I was going to try to remember. The kid who was ready and willing to send themselves flying off a set of stairs was now an adult man, falling ass first towards the earth and wondering if it was too late to get his money back. Thankfully for him, skateboarding video games are pretty damn good, and that hasn’t changed with the latest one, Session.
Session is currently in Steam Early Access (and coming to Xbox One soon), and it could one day be the most in-depth simulation of skateboarding yet. Each foot is assigned to an analog stick and button. The sticks are used for performing tricks, while the buttons are used to push and gain speed. This leaves actually turning left and right to the respective triggers. Think of pulling the triggers as leaning: the further you pull them, the harder you lean.
This control scheme will be extremely foreign to any Tony Hawk or Skate veteran–Session itself suggests it “sounds like witchcraft at first.” It does take some time to get used to, especially when it comes to retraining your brain to use the triggers for turning and not the left stick. However, once this small hurdle is cleared, Session becomes immensely satisfying to play.
Performing tricks almost feels like playing a fighting game. If you’re skating regular (left foot forward), then you input a direction on the right stick and then finish with a direction on the left. For example, to do a pop shuvit, you want to do a quarter-circle on the right stick and then push up on the left stick. For an ollie, simply push down on the right and then up on the left–the exact same way you’d move your feet on a real skateboard. It’s an incredibly satisfying system that emulates skateboarding like no other video game has. It’s surprisingly enjoyable to just stand in one place and perform flips and shuvits. And when I finally nailed my first Treflip while standing still–a half-circle back on the right stick and then a left up-diagonal on the left–I couldn’t wait to implement it while rolling.
Session’s sound design complements and enhances this realistic control method. The sound of the wheels rolling against the concrete, the deck slapping against the ground, and the trucks taking the impact after a trick are all so tactile that you can almost feel the coarse grip tape under your feet and sense the smoothness of the streets you’re skating on. The sound and the controls–paired with an excellent hip hop soundtrack–come together to make a great foundation for an excellent skateboarding game. Now it’s just time for the content.
Session is currently in Early Access, so it’s light on content and some features are in the early stages of development. The experience you’ll be able to play on day one includes a single, large level with a great variety of spots for imaginative skaters. However, if you’re dreaming of catching air and doing a benihana (or any other grab trick), then you might be disappointed. Grab tricks are currently considered an experimental feature by developer Crea-ture Studios and are only included in the game as of now to give players an idea of the developer’s direction for the controls. There’s no trick list for grabs, and I unfortunately wasn’t able to perform any. The current version does, however, include a replay editor and video montages, so you’ll be able to chop up your footage and create your own skate tapes. There’s even a spot where you can customize your skater and deck to your personal preference.
At the moment, there’s a lack of polish in some of the visuals and non-skateboarding animations. You can jump off your board and run around, but your skater’s model looks a little awkward doing so. Jumping back on the board can also look a little strange, with the board magically appearing under your feet when you press the Y button.
When you’re actually skateboarding, however, your skater animates very nicely, looking almost exactly like a real skater would–which makes it disappointing when you bail. Your character won’t put a hand out to stop themselves from rolling into a wall, and as soon as you hit a curb or anything blocking your way, your character rag-dolls like every bone in their body suddenly disappeared. It didn’t take long until hitting obstacles became a rare occurrence, but it would still be nice if your skater reacted more to their environment and was able to take a few minor bumps.
Thankfully, none of these things ruin the experience, and if the quality of the actual skateboarding is any indication, then it won’t be surprising if everything else falls in line over the course of development. With the amount of fun I’ve had skating, tricking, and bailing, I’m eager to see how Session evolves in Early Access.
Session is available right now for PC on Steam Early Access. Its Xbox One Game Preview release is slated for October 2019.