SkaterXL is barely a game. As someone who purchased it long ago in early access at $10 on sale, and seeing the price jump to $40 on release date, it came with the hope that it would have flourished into the next Skate or Tony Hawk franchise, I was sorely mistaken.
More a sandbox or technical demo of skateboarding physics, SkaterXL is barely anything different than what was available in 2018. Sure, they got a handful of real life skaters to be in the game, and some licensed music and a few extra levels, but wow, this is not what I was expecting from a 1.0 release.
When you first load up SkaterXL, you are given a brief Assassin’s Creed loading screen with a vast empty void. Your skater staring into the abyss of nothing but textured pavement as far as the eye can see. Equipped with only a single skateboard and with a red and blue shoe combo, you are given the task to figure out the control scheme. Most of it is fairly simple. Your right stick controls your back right foot, the left stick controlling your front left foot. Push down on the right stick and let go to perform an ollie, do it again with the left stick to do a nollie. Incorporate both sticks with swinging them in different ways to do various tricks. Turning is done via the triggers and pushing off is the tap of the A button.
Once you are out of the tutorial level, you are plopped into the game proper, and here is where the real issue is. At this point, its up to you to make your own fun. There are plenty of obstacles and things to jump over, grind and skate on, but none of it is all that fun. There is really no point to doing much of anything. Do a really cool grind? Ok. Did an awesome looking flip trip…. Good for you. No points, no progression, no objectives, just go and virtually skate some stuff. You can use the in game replay system to watch your various moves and make little clips from them, but it ultimately serves very little purpose outside of just being able to say “yup, I did the trick I was trying to do”.
The single only thing resembling a set of objectives is the Challenges, that do provide a bit of fun. You must complete a single trick in a certain location. A ghost skater preforms the trick while an onscreen controller shows the correct inputs in slow motion, so you can learn how to perform the trick. Then you get a chance to do it as well. Once the trick is done, it shows you a replay while forcing slow motion when the skater gets to the tick part. It looks really cool, and gives you a feeling of actual accomplishment.
I wish the entire “game” was like this, with setting up a part with a run of tricks that need to be done in a row without bailing. Add in some points, and maybe a score for style, and you got yourself a real video game. Adding in some of these things would go a long way to make the game feel much more than a glorified sandbox tool.
The soundtrack for a skating game is almost as important as the characters or levels. SkaterXL has added a bit of licensed music, like Band of Horses or Interpol… but nothing upbeat or really enjoyable enough to pump you up. It feels more like a “chill” selection of tracks to relax on than something to get you amped up to finally make that 20ft Hardflip gap across two buildings.
If there was a single word to describe SkaterXL, I’d use “lifeless”. The characters don’t grunt or huff as they push up a hill. They don’t scream or yell if they fall. Looking into their eyes is a black lifeless void… black like a doll’s eyes. No real breath or life giving them any other movement other than the physics based animations. When they bail out on a rail or fall, they fall like an action figure, not a ragdoll, which is what made the Skate series so memorably funny. No emoting of any sort to say this is a living breathing human, just a lifeless puppet with you manipulating the feet.
I really did have a bit of fun with the game, but ultimately came away from the experience bummed out that there really isn’t much value or worth to SkaterXL other than a sandbox environment to give inspiration to actual Skaters to go out and try some new tricks.
I was hoping, with the couple months of delays to the 1.0 version release that there would be something more… anything more than what has been there for years. Instead of focusing on real life skaters, real life brands and licensed music, the game should be more fleshed out with something more than a “creative tool”. I admire the devs who wanted tp create a sandbox game with a unique and intricate control scheme, but that isn’t enough to stand a “game” on, especially one asking $40 for. Maybe it’s trying to recoup development costs, but out of the two Skating games, this is definitely not the one to get. And it’s just going to get worse in another month as Tony Hawk Remastered comes out in the beginning of September. Call this game what it is, a Technical Demonstration of a physics engine and control scheme.