I will say this about Session; the last time I felt this aggravated, exhausted, and self-defeated was, incidentally, when I was learning to skate in real life. The frustration of repeatedly botching a simple trick, the pain at watching my poor character hit the pavement over and over, and the eventual sense of cathartic accomplishment at finally pulling something off, with both feet landing firmly back on the skateboard… It's as if I'm back in the park, covered in grazes, yet still smiling with the knowledge that none of them have been earned in vain.
I'll freely admit that I definitely can't skate anymore, nor do I have much of a hankering to get back into it, making Session the closest I'll get to returning those childhood memories. And boy, does it get disarmingly close. Creā-ture Studios crowdfunded skateboarding sim has been repeatedly hailed as the spiritual successor to EA's Skate series but, frankly, comparing the two is like equating Kirby's Dream Land with Super Meat Boy, simply on the basis that they're both platformers.
Sure, Skate invented the concept of tethering the controller's analogue sticks to the main character's feet, but Session is riding that design mechanic into far more ambitious territory. Here's the deal; your left and right analogue sticks determine the direction of your character's legs, while their respective triggers direct where the character shifts their body weight (thus guiding the angle of the board), with two separate buttons used to prompt a push from either foot for building acceleration.
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All of Session's controls are designed with the duality of skateboarding's kinesthetics in mind, then, as everything, from pivot grinds to pop shuvits, requires the use of either one or both of your legs, synchronised in unison or even performing completely different manoeuvres at the same time. What's more, if you decide to ride "goofy" (a.k.a. skate with your left foot forward), the entire control scheme is thus reversed, forcing you to mirror your muscle memory to perform even the simplest of actions.
If it sounds complicated, that's because it is, but it's also the most authentic representation of real skateboarding I've seen in a video game thus far. Like skateboarding, then, Session has a deceptively high barrier to entry, but it'll never be more difficult than the first few hours in which you're stubbornly getting to grips with its unique and unfamiliar set of controls. That said, I can definitely detect spots where the physics engine and collision detection could use some polishing, as certain moments had me questioning whether a wipeout entirely my own fault, or a result of some technical hiccups under the hood.
Speaking of, it's worth emphasising Session's Early Access status, despite releasing as a paid product on PC and Xbox One. The game currently has no soundtrack, for one thing, and I wasn't prepared for how... disconcerting it felt to be skating around in silence without any Dead Kennedys to underscore my exploits. That can be easily fixed for anyone with a Spotify subscription, of course, and Creā-ture has teased an official soundtrack of old-school ear worms and post-90's surprises, but its absence is currently one of Session's most glaring omissions as a skateboarding sim at present.
The game is also a little light on the content front, with only one playground (New York City) available so far. You can see the beginnings of a more comprehensive Career system from the menu options of Session's Apartment HQ, which is where you'll be able to customise your character, edit your in-game capture footage, and take a break from the game's to-do list of daily and weekly challenges, but most of these features appear only in placeholder format for now.
What's important is that the core mechanics of Session's skateboarding gameplay are in place, and you'll know whether its purist approach to the sport is up your alley or not from the moment you're asked to perform your first ollie. Session is a skateboarding game for skaters or, at the very least, people who really like skateboarding games. If you've been brought up on a healthy diet of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Oli Oli, you may be jarred by its unforgiving brand of hyper-real controls. Even Skate 3 enthusiasts will struggle to adapt.
Like any sport, though, Session demands practice through repeated failure, which only lends further euphoria to mastering its schema. Perfectly nail a sequence you've been working at for hours and, for a brief but brilliant moment, you'll finally understand why Creā-ture Studios has taken such care to distill the highs and lows of skating on to the gamepad.
For more, check out everything we know about Skate 4, or watch our more in-depth exploration of "Easy Modes" in video games below.