With the rise of the Dark Souls series and other FromSoft games, the discussion around video game difficulty has grown along with it. But games that drive this kind of conversation are often perceived as difficult but fair because of their design and mechanical balance. While the developers at Crea-ture Studios are undoubtedly enthusiastic and trying to set new standards for realism in the skate genre with Session: Skate Sim, what seems to be forgotten is that, at its core, the game is fun.
It seems that when Crea-ture Studios had a choice between realism and fun, the studio chose the former. In no area has the developer leaned more towards the promise of realism than the level of control granted to the player. Between the analog sticks, face buttons, and triggers, players have unprecedented control over their game character’s feet, especially. But this control also means that the player needs to manage the tiniest of actions in the session.
On the default difficulty, Session offers minimal assistance to the player to facilitate a smoother, more enjoyable experience. The actions the player performs, from the execution of the controls to the timing of the inputs, are translated precisely on-screen in a completely ruthless manner. While the lack of assistance makes sense for a sim trying to deliver a faithful experience, this sense of realism makes even the simplest tasks tedious. Session’s quest skills and objectives are well thought out and certainly demanding of the player, but when a trick or set of tricks takes more than an hour to land, the whole experience starts to drag.
Early on in the tutorial, the control scheme feels fresh and exciting, but as things get more complex, even gliding in a straight line or sliding to the side of the road becomes daunting and difficult. The moment Crea-ture chooses to assign the rear foot to the left stick and the front foot to the right stick seems to be at the point where it loses any connection with intuitive control mapping. Not only is each foot individually represented by each analog stick, even something as simple as pushing is overengineered, with rear foot and front foot push being assigned to square and cross respectively. As if to make things more complicated, the controls are not assigned to the rear foot or the front foot at any given time. Instead, control is assigned to the rear and front feet, just as they would at the start of the game when standing in the regular or silly stance the player chooses. So when the skating switches (“front” foot on “back”), the lever controlling the back foot suddenly controls the front foot.
Athletes rely on the muscle memory of years of practice to excel in their sport, but the muscle memory of skateboarding cannot be mapped onto the controller. As such, Crea-ture’s request to its audience is to learn something completely new and develop muscle memory for their control schemes through dozens of hours of honing. Crea-ture is clearly aware of this, as it has built in the option to get off the board and run. In a game where something as simple as traversing to an actual quest or objective requires verbal practice, it’s doomed to lose all but the most loyal players.
As frustrating as it is, the game gets at least a few things right. The story mode is very cleverly written. Through text-based dialogue, the game is able to provide backstory to the player characters, explaining why they are already familiar with the basics of skating and seem to be highly respected in the community. Mentioning injuries over a decade before the game starts is to establish a totally believable premise as to why the player character learns faster than anyone in real life. The way the game chooses to break the fourth wall is just right, and it’s never overused. Characters, objects, and sets look and feel like they were lifted from a real-world modern skate park. Wonderful details like the semi-retro VHS-style interface and fisheye rendering in photo mode are proof that Crea-ture’s developers are skateboarders at heart.
Gameplay and controls aside, Session still has a few issues that add up to a game that’s unfinished and not quite ready for prime time. Graphics The look of the game is inconsistent. The open world doesn’t have any traffic or NPCs other than other skaters standing still waiting to give the player quest objectives. Faces look like clay, there’s absolutely no sign of emotion, there’s no hair physics to speak of, and the walking animation effectively puts every problem with character models under the microscope.
The goals themselves are well designed and a joy to execute, but that’s when those lists of goals are readily available. At the start of each mission, the game presents a list of objectives, but after that, the list is only available when the player completes one of the tricks on the list. However, the game’s detection system for determining that a trick has been done is so inconsistent that even if executed perfectly, whether it counts is purely the luck of the draw. The game offers no insight or feedback on what players might be doing wrong.
In the end, the downside of Session is that it lacks polish. The emptiness of the world, the lack of communication, and the difficulty of even picking up a skateboard add up to a seemingly unfinished game. Aside from the lack of polish, there are several bugs that can plague any game. Hit detection errors were the most common, but other flaws made an already extremely difficult and frustrating experience even worse.
Session: Skate Sim is a skateboard simulation game designed very explicitly with skaters in mind. From its incredibly complex control scheme to its perfectly captured recreations of skateboarding culture, the game never seemed intended to be a gateway into the sport for non-skaters. But the game’s bugs, difficulty, general lack of fun, and incomplete state also make it difficult to recommend Session to its target audience. Some gamers might be able to push through the learning curve and appreciate the thoroughness with which such an involved skateboarding sim was created, but in the end, it’s not fun at all.
Session: Skate Sim will release on September 22, 2022 on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch. Game Rant obtained the PlayStation 5 code for this review.