Session Review – Virtual Skateboarding Doesn’t Get Any Better
I'm gonna come right out and say it: Session is the best skateboarding game ever made. Yeah, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is a classic, but it's really a point-scoring arcade game disguised as a skating sim. EA's Skate is great too, and a more accurate recreation of the sport, but still very much a video game with little concern for gravity or physics. Session, on the other hand, is skateboarding. It's a simulator in the truest sense, capturing not only the technical intricacies of skating in a way no other game has before, but its more abstract qualities too.
Everything in Session is governed by a brutally realistic physics system. The best illustration of how crucial it is to the experience is how grinds work. In other skating games your board will 'snap' to the rail, ledge, or whatever it is you're trying to grind. The strength of this differs between games, but there's always an invisible guide keeping you locked in. In Session, however, pulling off a successful grind is, as in real life, a matter of speed, precision, and angle. Misjudge either and your trucks won't lock, you'll lose momentum, and you'll bail.
If you want to perform, say, a noseslide, you can't just ollie towards a rail, tap a few buttons, and watch your skater magically transition into one—the way tricking usually works in skating games. You have to come in at the correct angle, ollie at just the right moment, twist your front foot, then position the board so that the nose connects with the rail and your trucks lock in—and with enough speed that you won't slow to a sudden stop and fall. It's tricky at first, and you'll probably swear a lot. In this game, even the simplest trick has to be earned.
But when you do it, man. The sheer delight of hitting a clean grind in Session—hearing the metallic clink of the trucks hitting the rail and the underside of your board scraping along it—is unbeatable. If you're feeling flashy you can pop out of the grind into another trick, and if your skater's eye is well honed, find another piece of unassuming city scenery to incorporate into a line. It might take you countless, frustrating attempts to do it without a sketchy landing or eating concrete, but that's skateboarding, baby: the pleasure and the pain.
Session's twin-stick control system is beautifully elegant and intuitive, with each analogue stick representing one of your skater's legs. To kickflip you pull one stick back—which one it is depends on whether your stance is regular or goofy—to crouch and shift your weight onto your back leg. Then you push the other stick diagonally to ollie, scoop the board with your front foot, and flip it. Advanced tricks require faster and more complicated inputs, but everything from a 360 inward heelflip to a feeble grind is based on the same core principle.
Session has three cities to skate—New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. But in another example of its dedication to realism, and how brilliantly it captures the spirit of street skating, these big urban sprawls have not been designed specifically with skaters in mind. You'll never turn a corner to find a perfect collection of obstacles, rails, and ramps laid out for you. You have to think like a skater and pick them out of the landscape yourself, taking the bland infrastructure of a modern city and doing something awesome with it.
You can place your own objects too, dropping kickers, ramps, manual pads, rails, and plywood boards to augment the city's architecture and create interesting opportunities for lines and tricks. Between this, the size of the cities, and the infinite potential of the physics-driven skating, Session is a sandbox of incomparable depth. I often find myself obsessing over a single rail, ledge, or set of steps—sometimes for as long as an hour—trying to turn the line in my head into a reality. Nailing it is about as rewarding as video games get.
But mastering a trick and feeling amazing is a relatively small part of the Session experience, especially in the early hours. You spend a lot of the game on your butt, having flipped too late, attempted a grind at an awkward angle, or clumsily slammed into a wall. It's a game that demands patience and perseverance to get the best out of it. You will rage quit. I have many times, and will no doubt continue to do so. But you'll always come crawling back—sometimes minutes later. Session is a deeply compelling game, even when it's being annoying.
You can play Session freeform with no particular goal in mind. But there are optional missions if that feels too aimless, which also drip-feed you the fundamentals of the game: grinds, flips, switching, object placement, and so on. You can dip in and out of these whenever you like, providing some welcome structure if your imagination runs dry and you can't think of anything to do. Some of these missions are given to you by the game's roster of pro skaters, which includes Daewon Song, Mark Appleyard, Annie Guglia, and Ribs Man.
The game is ridiculously customisable too. You can tweak a huge number of variables to have exactly the experience you want, from the tightness of your trucks and the grip of your wheels, to how fast you sprint off the board and how high you can pop. You can also enable advanced tricks like darkslides, caspers, and primos if you want to go full Rodney Mullen. The default controls will be sufficient for most people, but if you want something more bespoke you can really get into the weeds and create a control scheme that is completely unique to you.
Refreshingly, there's no scoring system. When you do a trick or a line, you do it for the sheer pleasure of doing it. That said, did it really happen if you don't have the footy to prove it? In that spirit, Session comes bundled with a powerful replay editor that lets you edit and share your best moments—and quietly leave out all the times you messed up and ate shit. There are some neat visual options too, tapping into the game's '90s skate video aesthetic, like the classic fisheye lens and the ability to simulate the scratchy low-res image of an old video camera.
This has all been pretty glowing so far, but there are some things in Session that still need work. The streets are devoid of traffic and people, making them feel slightly post-apocalyptic. There's an experimental menu where you can enable NPCs, but the implementation is rudimentary—and they just get in the way most of the time. A distinct lack of voice acting, in the missions or anywhere else, also adds to the lonely feel of these vast, lifeless cities. Unfortunately, when it comes to vibe, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Skate both have Session beat.
But I'll cut the dev some slack. Session feels so revolutionary and genre-redefining that I often forget it's an indie game created by a tiny 9-person team. Crea-Ture Studios dedicated the bulk of its time and resources into making the core skating as good as possible, which is evident the instant you grip the controller. Pushing, flipping, grinding, spinning, manualing, even bailing—whatever you're doing on the board, it feels sublime. As a pure skating experience it's hard to beat, and writing this is giving me an uncontrollable itch to play it right now.
I almost took a star off the score, because there's a lot of room for improvement here. The aforementioned lack of atmosphere is occasionally distracting, and it's a shame having all these pros on board and not hearing their voices. There are a few UX issues, like having to click through multiple menus to bring up your trick list, or some harder missions not making it totally clear what you're supposed to do to complete them. Also, there's a distinct lack of punk music on the in-game radio stations. I thought this was a tribute to '90s skateboarding?
But screw it: I'm giving it 5 stars. Session is the skating game I've always dreamed someone would make, where performing even a 'simple' trick is significant and challenging. There are no mile-long grinds or 900-degree kickflips here: just real skating in its rawest form. It doesn't just simulate the sport, but the art of skating too. You need to get creative, looking at the everyday clutter of a city and dreaming up ways to make something rad out of it. That's what street skating is all about, and why Session is the best virtual expression of the artform yet.
Score 5/5. A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher.
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