Skateboarding may not be part of the pop culture zeitgeist like it was during those heady Tony Hawk days, but it’s still a popular pastime that comes with its own culture attached. It’s surprising, then, that outside of the excellent OlliOlli, the extreme sport has been underrepresented on the PlayStation 4. Skater XL is indie team Easy Day Studios’ attempt at plugging the gap – at least until Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 and Skate 4 arrive.
This title is defined by its control scheme, which sees you independently controlling each foot using the DualShock 4’s two analogue sticks. Pulling down on your back foot, for example, will enable you to ollie; you can then flip your front foot out to the side in order to kickflip. It’s not the most intuitive control scheme – and once you factor in grabs and spins with the triggers, it becomes even more complicated – but the developer’s trying to replicate the “feel” of being on a real board.
While it is challenging to get to grips with, it affords you a lot of control. Gameplay revolves around a handful of maps based on real world-inspired locations, like a high school and parking lot. It’s here you’ll find “lines”, and you can create custom starting points that you can warp to as you attempt to master them. This is a sandbox-style experience: the fun comes from, well, making your own fun. First you need to envision what you want to do, then you simply practice until you nail it.
There are some challenges for you to complete if you don’t have the “eye” to create your own lines, but you’ll get most of your entertainment from simply skating around and trying things out. This, of course, is what real world skateboarding is like – it’s about repetition, practice, and capturing your best runs on camera. Fortunately, there is a built-in video editor suite here, so if you do happen to nail that 360-degree shuvit into a nose grind, then you can save it for the world to see.
While the video editor is fiddly, it affords you some neat options, like different camera angles and panning tools. Unfortunately, the game’s not exactly a looker; the physics of the skateboard are good, but your character will look stiff and awkward each time they fall, and the scenery is basic at best. While the focus is on the skateboarding itself, it’s hard to make “pretty” videos when every other aspect of the game looks so drab.
This criticism applies to the character creator, which is packed with licensed clothing and shoes, but the models look far too simplistic to represent real people. The game doesn’t really feel finished; its popularity on PC can partially be attributed to the fact that mods have fleshed the package out, but stripped of many of those features this PS4 version is basic at best. Yes, there’s room for this release to grow, but it’s hard to recommend unless you’re a skating enthusiast.
Once you overcome Skater XL’s learning curve there’s some fun board-based entertainment to be had here. But this is a lightweight package with subpar presentation, and unless you’re so deep into skater culture that you absolutely need a simulation for your PS4, we’d recommend either waiting for this to be updated – or pre-ordering Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 instead.