Gaming and skating had, until the turn of the decade, gone hand in hand. The massive success of the Tony Hawk series throughout the late ‘90s and 2000s and the Skate series up until Skate 3 in 2010 has meant that skating fans have never been left wanting.
Now, however, nine long years have passed with the only release of note being the universally maligned Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, which did little to satiate the appetite of fans of the sub-genre. So, what’s going on with skating games, and is there any hope of a better tomorrow?
Well, the short answer for fans of the aforementioned series is, sadly, no. Tony Hawk announced via Twitter in February 2018 that, “Activision owns the THPS (Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater) license but I am no longer working with them.”
Rumours about Skate 4 have always refused to go away, but the last official word that we heard on the game is a trite statement from EA CEO Andrew Wilson saying that EA “are not currently making Skate 4.” EA, having recently announced that the 7.3 million sales of Battlefield V meant it had “flopped” are presumably disinterested in rebooting a franchise that sold little more than that at its zenith.
However, with the niche long uncontested, seeds of hope have begun to grow out of the ashes of despair for skateboarding game enthusiasts in the form of two in-development indie projects, titled Skater XL and Session (formerly Project: Session).
It is worth noting at this point that both games are still a very, very long way from representing the finished products. Skater, which is made by Easy Day Studios, is currently in early access on Steam, but amounts to little more than a mechanical proof of concept, being set on a small arena with no objectives, scoring system or narrative.
Nonetheless, its subreddit has been quick to praise the mechanics: in Skater, each thumbstick controls one foot, making for a deep, difficult, and ostensibly realistic playing experience; rather counter-intuitively (at least at first), board movement is done with triggers. It currently holds a ‘very positive’ rating on the Steam store and costs £15.49. It is only available on Microsoft Windows, although Easy Day have said an eventual console release is “very possible.”
Like Skater, Session maps each in-game foot to its respective thumbstick and movement to triggers, but a major difference is that it is being built using the Unreal Engine rather than Unity, which is being used for Skater. Which of these approaches is more successful remains to be seen, with Session set to hit Steam’s Early Access programme in Q2 2019.
However, Session’s life has hitherto been going somewhat less smoothly than Skater’s. Even though the game is not yet in early access, fans on its subreddit are worried about a perceived lack of communication from developers Crea-ture Studios on the project, and some feel that Skater has progressed better so far. A free demo has been available for some time, but, like Skater, it is very raw – probably even more so, having tried it out – and has not been updated for a long time.
However, it should be noted that Session’s Kickstarter backers are receiving more regular updates as to how the game is developing. Additionally, Session currently has an advantage in that it will be available on Xbox One as well as PC, and, having signed a 3-month deal with Microsoft for launch exclusivity, will surely receive some backing from the tech giants. By implication, a PS4 release may be made available following that 3-month period, although nothing has been confirmed yet.
At the moment, then, the ‘state of skate’ is that we have two competing projects with small but passionate fan bases. Both look promising, with the commitment to realism, difficulty, and punk music that endeared so many fans to the original two Skate games. However, the games default settings of using the right and left bumpers to steer feels very cumbersome, and this doesn’t help the currently clunky feel of both games; a far cry from the smoothness of Skate or even THPS. Nonetheless, development blogs show varying levels of sustained progress, even if it is not coming quite fast or regularly enough for fans who have already financially backed the projects.
However, it really is too early to tell whether either product will live up to the high standards set by the skating games of the 2000s, let alone which will ultimately will better. Whilst Skater XL has a firm upper-hand for now, there’s a long way to go until these two games are fully-fledged products ready for sale. The competition between the two and the intense scrutiny of their fan bases can only make for a more fascinating contest — may the best skater win.