Skater XL Review
For years, there has been something missing in the gaming industry that I and many others have desperately yearned for. Finally, a game is attempting to fill the gap that Skate 3 left in our hearts so many years ago. SkaterXL is the radical idea we have all been waiting for, a video game about skateboarding. The bare-bones simulator is vastly different from skating games of the past. The game shows the power of modern gaming can be applied to a skateboarding experience.
Rather than HD textures or an epic campaign full of giant set pieces, SkaterXL utilizes modern gaming power with a single goal in mind. To feel as close to skating as possible. Detailed dual-stick physic-based controls let the player control each foot with great accuracy. Even the most basic tricks take precise movements to land and will take hundreds of hours to master. Despite the lack of a campaign, there are challenges on each map that will push players to their limit trying to land complicated tricks and lines. Mod support and an active community make the amount of content for the game seem limitless and help deliver the best video game skating experience since 2010.
SkaterXL, at its core, is a game about skateboarding, and that’s what it excels at. Successfully landing the trick you intended feels awesome, especially when it takes a few tries. The base game comes with eight maps and immediately drops off players to skate however they desire. Players turn on the game “press any button to start” and are thrust into the game world on a skateboard. No tutorials, no objectives, just skating.
A diagram of a controller is fixated in the bottom left corner and shows the player’s inputs as they happen. This is helpful because it allows players to see exactly why they didn’t land a trick. The near-miss factor is a huge part of gameplay, and in part, why this review took so long. I swear I was one try away from landing a kickflip to 5050 for a few hours. Every time a trick doesn’t land, it feels just within grasp. This “near miss” or “Just one more” mechanic is the core driving factor in replayability.
Landing that particular trick you’ve been trying for hours is one of the best feelings in skateboarding, and SkaterXL does an excellent job of capturing that. Once players become comfortable with the controls, the game busts wide open. The highly detailed manner in which the controls were designed to allow for an insane skill ceiling and could take years to master.
The most subtle input to change the entire outcome of a trick, and that only adds to the quality of the game. Hitting a particular grind or my personal favourite, 360 shuv onto a grind feels like butter, and I could do it all day. That being said, grinds and manuals once initiated have no mini-game or method of balance to it’s effortless to boardslide 50 feet or manual for over ten minutes. Hopefully, after a patch or two, this minor issue can be addressed, along with a few other things.
Skating around with no direct objective jamming out to the soundtrack feels natural, and I could do it all day. Still, there is one significant issue I had with the gameplay. Often when trying to do a kickflip or a more basic trick, I would throw a 2650 dodeca triple flip instead. Now that’s an exaggeration, but in a sense, it is much easier to throw more complicated tricks than it is to throw basic ones. I found this took away my gratification when I did land a sick trick like a heelflip to manual combo because two seconds later, I would throw a triple tre flip with little to no effort. That problem was addressable with mods, but I found myself getting used to it and taking pride in calling my tricks before I landed them to add challenge.
At first, the lack of a campaign or any mission-based structure might seem like a turn-off. Luckily, challenges are there to fill that void and push player progression. Each map has its own unique sets of challenges that help showcase skate spots around the map and teach players more complicated tricks. These tasks range from doing an ollie over a stair set to intricate multiple trick lines over obstacles. After successfully completing a challenge players can watch a replay of their run and see the specific inputs they made as they did the trick. This helps when missing tricks because players can see exactly where the joystick went and why they missed the trick. Challenges show off the best parts of the game, and I hope there are more to come or mods in the future that allow users to create their own sets of challenges for skaters to tackle.
Mods on PC
As with most mods, it took some figuring out how to get them running properly, but the community at Skater XL Mods is incredible; they are active and helpful with guides, and there’s even a Discord server full of people to play the game with. There is a crazy amount of content on that site, and it ranges from real-life skate spots to the brand new Simpsons x Vans collab hats and shirts.
Mods come in three types, system, gear, and map. Gear mods are everything from trucks to new hats and grip tape. Maps are just as you would think; user-created skate spots. The system mods are where it gets fascinating and take SkaterXL to the next level. A few that I installed successfully were a multiplayer mod, some real-life recorded skate sounds, and a mod called SkaterXXL. System mods open numerous options like adjusting gravity or pop height. SkaterXXL also adds the ability to do just about every trick in existence, so let the games of SKATE begin.
A quick note about modding
Bugs and Problems
By far, the biggest issue with the game is your skater’s stance in challenges. To put it plainly, you can only do the challenges riding regular. For the non-skaters, there are two ways to stand on a skateboard, regular and goofy. This just means which foot you put forward on the board. The best analogy is to think of handwriting and being left or right-handed. Using the hand you are not used to is usually disastrous. Now imagine that you could only accomplish challenges left-handed, that’s what it feels like to play this game as someone who skates goofy. That being said, it didn’t stop me from playing the game, but it was a bit annoying. Often I would frontside instead of backside or heelflip instead of kickflip. Skating in regular, everything was backwards for me. This wasn’t a significant issue because I think it could easily be fixed in a patch. Sometimes you might spawn under a map or come to a complete stop on a rail and hang like a bat, but it’s rare and doesn’t take away from the overall experience.
Realistic trees and reflective rails make the game’s environment stand out. Player created mods take full advantage of the Unity engine and have made some outstanding looking spots. Directly opposing the clean aesthetic of the game world is the crash test dummy-like player model. Lifeless eyes grace the blank face of the model and stare back at you as they slide across concrete or down a stair set. Clothing and the board itself are highly detailed and help to hide the chunkiness of the player model. When grinding or rotating through the air, the action feels good, but the animation looks robotic and near-identical every time. Ultimately, these were not significant issues because the core gameplay of skating feels so good that the last thing players will think about is how realistic their arms look.
I do have to mention that there are pro skater playable characters who’s models are better than the customizable options.
Reminiscent of my glory days in the first Tony Hawk pro skater, I often found myself just skating around doing nothing but listening to the soundtrack of SkaterXL. Jamming to music and trying to land a nollie double heelflip over a stair set will be something I can see myself doing a few hours a week just to unwind. While robust, the soundtrack does run into the same problem as its glorious predecessor, and you might hear the same song a few times during your skate sesh. The non-music sounds in the game are quality and sound quite realistic, but some mods utilize hundreds of real-world skate sounds and take the game audio to the next level.
Skater XL Review
- GAMEPLAY - 75%75%
- GRAPHICS - 85%85%
- AUDIO - 85%85%
SkaterXL is a highly detailed game about skateboarding and doesn’t try to be anything else. There are no unlockables, campaign, or story missions. The game’s only goal is to make the player feel like they’re skating, and it succeeds at doing so. Each map is vastly different and offers countless hours of unique skate sessions.
Challenges help teach players the best skate spots and fill the void of not having a campaign. Once players have run through the base game content, there is a near-endless stream of mods for the game on PC coming from an active community. SkaterXL has massive potential and is a dream come true for skaters everywhere. I just hope it’s not so intense that it turns people off who’d enjoy the game but might not know a ton about skating.
For more on Skater XL, check out our previous coverage.