If you pause Session: Skate Sim to check the controls needed for a trick, it will remind you that it’s a “hardcore” skating sim, and you should expect it to “test your patience.” At times, that’s a laughable understatement.
Session, like most challenging games, makes up for it with an incredible sense of satisfaction when you actually manage to achieve your goal. This might entail a 5-0 grind across a handrail, a simple ollie, or perhaps a gravity-defying mix of both.
There’s a brilliant sense of physicality that makes Session feel even more rewarding. Each analogue stick (Session doesn’t support keyboard and mouse) controls your front and back foot, while you’ve got separate buttons for pushing the board with either foot. Tricks are carried out by flicking, twisting or rolling each stick – some can demand very specific timings, while others need fast reflexes or precise measures of pressure to get right. Crea-ture Studios has attacked skating with more depth than any game has attempted before, and as a result hopping on your board feels more fluid – and admittedly, more challenging – than ever.
Unfortunately, Session doesn’t do a great job at explaining how to pull these tricks off. The game’s missions mostly consist of sending you away to complete a trick with a brief explanation, but there’s no help to be found if you’re left struggling. Because Session‘s tricks require unflinching accuracy, it can take so long to get it right that you run a real risk of forgetting how the trick was explained, and there’s no way to replay the instructions you’re given. Trying to impress a fellow skater with a switch manual on a tiny, awkward plinth condemned me to 30 minutes of pavement-slamming purgatory, and trying to get it right took so long that I quickly forgot the technical details required to pull off the trick. With no way of replaying the mission’s instructions, getting a trick right can devolve into a messy guessing game – there’s nothing wrong with Session‘s inherent difficulty, but it does a very poor job at giving new players the tools to overcome it.
But when a trick clicks, the rush is immense – after eventually getting the hang of manuals, the rest of the night was spent spinning every ollie into a manual like a proud parent. Because landing anything is so technically demanding, skating around feels massively rewarding. Unlike Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or most other skating titles you may be familiar with, Session doesn’t feature a points-based system. The game feels no less rewarding for it – simply landing on both feet is prize enough – but it would be nice to get a name for the trick you’ve just accidentally pulled off.
The challenge of Session is what makes it so fun. Beyond the obvious reward of landing a trick for the first time, you’ll frequently find your heart set on turning a city’s most mundane adornments into props for you to style on. Expect to become fixated with random ramps or unassuming handrails that you’ll be unable to tear yourself from, until you land the stunt you’ve envisioned it for.
Thanks to some grounded level design, Session‘s free-roaming joys are what you make of them. Each area – from neighbourhoods in New York to San Francisco’s hot spots – resembles their real-world locations and turns them into compelling playgrounds without gamifying them – daredevils will find a lack of ten-foot ramps or rings of fire, but Session is all the better for it. That’s because at its heart, Session is a game that captures the reality of skating – not just its hard knocks, but the simple pleasure of skating around with no particular goals in mind.
However, Session‘s atmosphere could do with a bit of livening up. Despite taking place in some of America’s biggest cities, there are no pedestrians, traffic, or signs of life. On one hand, having to account for pedestrians and traffic could prove an inconvenience for a game that’s already throwing enough at you difficulty-wise. On the other, the disquiet means Session can often feel cold and lifeless, and at times feels a bit like doing ollies through Pripyat.
The only characters that are in Session are static NPCs that wait, forever unmoving, to hand you a mission. They’ll only spare a few lines of unvoiced dialogue at the beginning and end of missions, and the writing feels painfully stiff and awkward. As mentioned, they’re not up for repeating any guidance they hand out at the beginning of a mission – they will watch like unfeeling observers as you smash yourself to bits for their approval, meaning that as you repeatedly fall head-first into the pavement, desperate for pointers, there’s no help to be found.
If you come prepared with patience to endure a rough learning experience, Session is more than worthy of your time. However, casual players be warned: Session makes no apology for its challenges, and there’s not enough tutorial content in place to avoid making the experience frustrating for newcomers.
Session: Skate Sim is out now, and is available on PC, Xbox Series X|S, PS4 and PS5. This review was played on PC.
As rewarding as it is challenging, Session: Skate Sim is the best skateboarding sandbox available. However, it’s by no means perfect – due to very poor tutorials, it’s hard to recommend this one for casual players.
- Everything about skating – from the basics to tougher tricks – feels amazing
- Fantastic lo-fi soundtrack
- Solid range of maps to make your playground
- Poorly designed dialogue and tutorials make learning new tricks a nightmare
- It can feel rather lifeless
- Lack of mouse and keyboard support