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Session Is More Than Just Skate 4 // HeavyEyed

Session Is More Than Just Skate 4 // HeavyEyed


Session is the perfect skateboarding game.
It’s messy, it’s tough and it takes a lot of patience to pull off even the smallest
things, and that’s really what’s at the core of skating. After a very successful Kickstarter
campaign in 2017 and since having been in development for what felt like an eternity,
I finally picked it up a month or so ago and I haven’t really been able to put it down
since. Having been penned as the spiritual successor to Skate, I personally don’t really
buy that comparison, it feels like a lot more than that, it’s skating by skaters for skaters,
not only does it ground the culture in a way like nothing I have ever played, it feels
authentic in it’s mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore games like Tony
Hawks, Skate and Thrashers Skate and Destroy but they are more idealized versions of what
you want to be when you’re skating and not what feels like to actually hop on a deck
and try to nail tricks. When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater hit the market, it was loud, over
the top and bombastic, and I loved every second of it, but while it nailed the culture of
skating with its soundtrack and attitude, it never captured the feeling of joy you can
feel just from pulling off a kickflip down a three stair. Skate came a lot closer, with
the flip trick control scheme, you had to really consider your inputs carefully and
plan ahead, but even that was a little too easy. Session is, for lack of a better word,
hard. There are no objectives and no story, the only goal is self-improvement. It even
comes with a warning label in the games very extensive trick library to exercise patience,
because you will not be doing what you want fast, so take it slow and enjoy the ride as
you get it all right. Let’s take a look at why this is the perfect game to represent
skateboarding. When it comes to skating, like most things
in life, you’re not going to pick up a deck and immediately be good at it, it takes a
lot of patience and hard work just to even nail your first ollie, let alone pop shove-it
or kickflip. Weeks on end of grinding out simple tricks, resulting in rolled ankles,
cuts, bruises, fractured bones and damaged egos, if you don’t have the grit and determination
to stick it out, you won’t last. And that’s what Session represents, every time I spent
hours in a single spot trying to just get one small thing done, it felt amazing to finally,
pull it off, even just once and for my efforts, well I got nothing but the self satisfaction
knowing that I did it against all odds. Where anyone can pick up THPS and instantly transcend
to the status of skating God, it takes the want to be good at Session to really see it’s
full potential and what makes this game perfect. When I say perfect, I don’t mean it’s
polished to a perfect shine and for full disclosure, Session is still in early access, so there
is a lot of jank, especially when it comes to bailing, the ragdoll physics lends itself
to some truly funny moments of spectacle, which in all honesty softens the blow a little
bit with each failed line attempt. To me, this adds to the full package, skating isn’t
always pretty and it certainly isn’t always clean. the goofiness of the engine adds to
the entire package, funny bails has always been a weird subsect of skateboarding culture
and this kind of just adds to all of that. The game opens with a very simple tutorial
and one of the best lines I’ve ever seen in a game warning players the dangers of pushing
mongo, to give a baseline introduction of the weird new control scheme you’ll need
to get a grip on before even attempting anything. With an Xbox One Controller, it’s A to push
with your back foot, aka like a normal person and X to push Mongo, tilting all the way down
with the right stick will setup your back foot for any regular trick you want, and pushing
up on the left moves your front foot to complete it. What this equates to is essentially, hold
down on the right and flick up on the left to ollie, every other combination from here
on out is how to pull off tricks. Want to do a regular kickflip? Set up with the right
stick and flick the left stick to the side and bam, done. Swing them around to pop shove
it, and so on. Y will get you off your board and the triggers control your turns. This
took me around half an hour to really get a basic handle on, but once it clicked, it
felt incredibly natural to just roll around the city, popping tricks as I found the next
spot to spend hours bashing my head against. What I love with this setup is that, between
spots, I felt like every little flip trick was practice, getting a feel for exactly how
to move my thumbs to execute the precise thing I wanted to do when I arrived at my destination.
The sheer about of depth this system allows for is staggering, when you add in skating
normal, fakie, switch and all the nollie tricks, there is a lot to try your hand at to find
your own unique style. Personally, I love how obtuse this is, if I leave the game for
even just a week, it takes a fair bit of practice to get the hang of things again, you know,
like if I were to pick up a board now, chances are I’ll fail miserably for hours before
I could probably kickflip again, there’s something strangely homely about all of that
being reflecting in a video game. If I don’t stick at this, I won’t get good. With no hint of exaggeration, grinding in
Session may be one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to accomplish in a video game.
I have spent hours trying to hit rails just right to get it down, different heights, surfaces,
approaching from different angles, none of it seems to work out, maybe, just like in
real life, I’m not committing to it properly, but boy, those few times I have managed even
just a 50/50 has been immensely satisfying, like I just killed Ornstein and Smough 10
times over. Contrast this with Skate, I never felt out
of practice, while some of the more complicated things to do took a little bit of time to
get back to, I could still do most of what I wanted, no matter how much time had passed.
This is by no means a sleight against the Skate franchise, the game needed to appeal
to a wide audience that was feeling the fatigue and exhaustion Tony Hawk’s was showing.
So being able to do complex things fairly easily and regularly was important to making
players have that sense of accomplishment and excitement that kept them coming back
for further iterations. This is what I mean when I say Session is for skaters, you don’t
need to actually be good at the sport but you do need the determination that anyone
who has ever skated shows. Skating is no longer a cultural phenomenon it once was, so anyone
looking to get into it, even just virtually, will most likely already have an interest
in it, so there’s no need for mass appeal with easy but satisfying to pull off tricks.
In an age where games are now praised for their difficulty and want players to show
just how much endurance they have with their systems, Session could not be more timely. In a similar fashion to the control scheme,
the city is extremely realistic, minus the lack of literally anyone else inhabiting it
but that’s okay, it isn’t built for you to skate in, it’s your job to skate the
city and make that work, it’s on you to roll around, and find that one little spot
to hit. A good example of the city actively working against skaters, is this stair in
a bridge, once cleared it leads immediately into a guard rail, because why wouldn’t
it? It’s extremely high up and that’s a dangerous place to be skating you idiot,
but is that gonna stop you from trying? As you push around you find little places that
almost look perfect for skating. Oh you found a rolling bank with some road blockers at
the top? What will do here? This loading dock ramp is pretty good but the distance to clear
the rail is just a bit too wide to make this a simple feat. There are also nice little
designs around that give simple but naturally put in visual queues for how long of a run
up you may need to get some height of things like kickers. Plainly put, all of this rules,
it really hammers home the determination that is required. Small victories in the city are
what make Session truly special. I don’t have a lot of patience to sit and try the
same thing over and over again with games, I generally lose interest and rage quit fairly
quickly, but Session has a sense of peacefulness, if my day has been incredibly stressful, it
feels good to just boot up the game and try a few things that I couldn’t do prior. This
isn’t to say all of this city is your enemy, there is the odd bench turn on an angle or
grating popped up that is just begging to be skated, but this makes the city feel more
lived in, like someone came before you and had their fill here, now it’s your turn
to follow in their footsteps. Another mechanic, or lack thereof, that separates
Session from Skate is the ability to set a waypoint to restart at every time you mess
up. Unlike Skate, when you eat the ground, you must stand up, roll back to where you
were, and start again, it really does drive home that theme of determination, and this
isn’t a point towards either game, really I don’t think it’s fair to compare the
two maybe as much as I have but context is key sometimes. I really like having to turn
back around since it helps give different perspectives on this spot you’re trying
to conquer and you might see something you missed before. One thing that truly stands out while trying
to tre flip down a 5 stair, is just how stunning this game is, it’s doesn’t have the highest
fidelity or graphical prowess, but there’s something about setting the clock to 5pm watching
the sun crest through buildings and just skating. It feels like what it did when I was a teenager,
going for missions with my friends after school, no real direction or purpose in mind except
the desire to skate into the night. All of this is accentuated by the in-game video editor.
Did you finally nail that manual into 5-0 into kickflip? Well you can cut that together
into a little video to show just how good you are, again capturing the essence that
was sharing tapes among groups of friends back in the day. In real life, even the smallest
things can look sick, if pulled off cleanly, and sharing that small victory with other
people to try and copy or just for yourself to show off is immensely satisfying. Like
a lot of people that play games, I love sharing visually pleasing screenshots of what I’m
currently experiencing and Session has given me a trove of pictures that I have to show
a lot of restraint in not posting lest I become a dedicated twitter fan account by accident. Skateboarding is a sport of self-expression,
and that’s what all of this amounts to, once you understand the basics of how to control
your character, you can express yourself however you want, through your tricks to how you want
to share them with the world. I do hope some options are made available to maybe push some
benches or rails around, but outside of that, Session really does excel at just letting
me go free and do whatever I want, whenever I want and however I want, and really that’s
all I can ask as a long since retired skater whose bones are too weary to risk hitting
the pavement ever again. Perfect games don’t objectively exist as
a whole piece, in fact perfection when it comes to art is an abstract concept because
nothing can ever be that, there is always something holding it back from reaching that
highest of high points, but that doesn’t mean we can’t call them as such when they
fill the need they were designed to. If I could have one actual criticism of the game,
it would be that the soundtrack is very one track, it’s all hip hop, which is fine and
I understand the limitation given budgeting most likely went elsewhere, but I can’t
imagine licensing some local pop-punk, hardcore, metal and indie bands would be too difficult
or expensive to do. So yeah, Session, for all of its flaws, is perfect, it plays exactly
like skating feels and will probably be the best skating we get in this generation, if
not ever.

24 comments

How closely should a game represent the actual experience of skateboarding before you might as well go outside and learn how to skateboard?

Oh man, I really enjoyed this video. I think the actual learning-to-do-something-with-physics gameplay loop is such a weird concept that it won’t be understandable unless you’ve done it before.

Rocket League is that game for me, and let me actually resonate with this video despite never skating or really even playing skate.

Have you ever played Rocket League before? And if so do you have any thoughts?

I really hope they will add progression/career mode where you start with 3 basic tricks and need to perform and learn more and more to get better, like in Thrasher:S&D (my fav skating game)

there is edit mode when you're on foot, it's RB, I don't remember, oh and bus stops work, when you're on foot you can travel between bus stops 😀

wow, I wasn't even aware of this game but it sounds perfect for me. Last year, I decided to try the outsides again and revive some of my old hobbies and thought about getting a new skateboard, but I'm not willing to put up with all the hassle anymore like constant injuries and all the problems with shop owners, police or residents, that are kind of inevitable, unless you have some good skate parks in your vicinity. But this sounds like it's really made by skaters for skaters. Looking forward to trying this game tomorrow.

edit: actually just tried it out right away. steering with the triggers is awkward but i still freakin love this game wtf

What a goddamn good vid, literally is making me pick up my board and go outside right now to skate a bit. Thanks for this, you got a way with words HeavyEyed! now to eat shit over and over again

I find trying to conquer self set goals in mechanically demanding games extremely addictive. I imagine it's closer to what speedrunners experience when playing a game since you are constantly using your knowledge of the game to search for potential, retrying and optimising. For a while I've been drifting in Project cars 2, something that most see as too hard to bother. The feeling of stringing together a few corners after the 30th attempt, with perfect positioning, momentum and steering/throttle inputs feels way more rewarding to me than being able to easily slide around in arcade or even other sim games, which is similar in comparison to session and tony hawks/skate. Hopefully most people who buy this game can find enjoyment in the type of progression that is in your brain, not in the game.

Mobb Deep – Survival Of The Fittest, nice.

I just wish there was actual stuff to do
Not anything too abstract, just stuff like being able to move shit around and uncover hidden skate spots or something, really make exploring and skating the world that much more impactful

About the soundtrack: if the devs are not able to add more variety or to integrate a personalized playlist feature, turning the in-game bgm off and get a music player running while playing could be an improvised option. It would be a great opportunity to finally use the PS4/spotify "listen as you play" thingy that I maybe used once and never again (I don't know if the XBOne has something like it).

Edit: the game won't be released on PS4, so I guess I'll just keep not using that feature for now.

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