When first playing through the tutorial for Session on Xbox One, I was reminded unfairly of Surgeon Simulator, and how that particular game is made ten times more difficult than it needs to be by making the controls purposefully tricky. But where Surgeon Simulator’s controls offer no cohesion as to why they’ve been designed that way, Session’s do at least make sense: the default control scheme uses the principle that the left stick controls your left foot, and the right stick the right foot.
Session can seem overwhelming at first – particularly for us folk who have never set foot on a skateboard. The game even issues a warning on the control scheme stating that ‘Session is a hard game and will test your patience. Be advised’. But it also prides itself on boiling away the excess and focussing in on what makes skateboarding and the culture around it so unique: “no other goals than expressing yourself and achieving success through hard work, perseverance for no one else other than yourself”. And after my time with this early build, that is 100% true.
Session has released through the Xbox Game Preview initiative and is leading the charge, somewhat, of a skateboarding renaissance on consoles, with Skater XL, the seminal Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 and recently announced new instalment in the Skate series reboot following in the near future. Unlike the Birdman’s emphasis on putting together outlandish combos and finding hidden videotapes, Session is a much more grounded skating experience.
Instantly it is noticeable that laying down a trick is not rewarded with a description and a score at the bottom of the screen. There is no fanfare for pulling off a trick; no score, no trick name, not any sort of indication. It is just you and the area. Session gives you several small areas of New York to skate around, but it is down to players themselves to find a good line and what tricks work well into a grind – and out of it.
If you find a line you like you can put down a Session marker. If your attempt to pull of your trick ends with you bailing, you can use your Session marker to quickly retry your trick, without having to line yourself and your board back up again.
But you don’t always need to be skating to find those lines; you can pick up your board at any time and take in the sights and sounds of NYC on two legs. In fact, some areas can only be accessed whilst you are running around.
Across the five areas of NYC currently available in Xbox Game Preview, there are plenty of various objects to grind, to jump on and off of, and generally to live out the skater lifestyle with. But for players looking for a bit more structure to their games, Session does offer daily and weekly challenges. These offer money upon completion, but as for where and what to spend it on, well, none of that is currently available in this preview.
To really get into the skate culture of the ‘90s though, those flips, kicks and tricks need to be recorded and put together into a montage. And on VHS no less. Session does feature a robust save editor and montage creator that, like the standard controls, can be a bit tricky at first. This unfortunately does not have anywhere near as much of a tutorial to help grasp it, and one would be greatly appreciated. I of course saved that one decent trick I did manage to pull off, but for now it is sitting there with nearly three minutes of bails before you get to the successful attempt.
On the subject of the default controller settings, already in place with this early build are other methods to make skating that little bit easier. And for those coming from the Skate games, there is a Legacy controller option that does a good job replicating that control scheme. My advice though is to stick with it: it is completely alien at first, but with a little bit of practice and understanding it feels very natural.
The other aspect of skateboarding that has had an impact on modern life is the soundtracks, and Session has focussed on this also. There is the default station which contains tracks ranging from hip-hop to metal, but there are other stations available – if you know how to find them. This again isn’t made apparent, but by holding in the right stick and pressing up on the D-pad you can change the station; there are both a rap-focussed station and then a chillhop one also. Chillhop is definitely a more modern musical choice, but for those concentrating on laying down the best lines it is perhaps the best choice.
As with other Game Preview titles, Session does have its issues. But these are all part and parcel of purchasing a game still in development, and shouldn’t be held against it. Any menu features – such as local multiplayer and some of the control schemes – are listed as Experimental, meaning that they may not work as intended. The heads-up is appreciated on these, still being work-in-progress features.
But what Session on the Xbox One does give you in Game Preview is a taste of a simulation skating game. Those jumping straight from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series to this will have a lot of re-adjusting to do; likewise it’s the same for those coming from the Skate franchise but with a bit of a foundation to build on. Session doesn’t try to emulate these games. Much like the skating community, it is happy to be its own thing in its own environment.
Session does have a free demo up for those who want to give it a try. The Xbox Game Preview version does not currently have a release date but there are future updates planned to include new environments and customisation options, so it could be a good idea to get your stance nailed in this early version. Then when the full version releases you will already have a plethora of montages to show off to all your friends.
Massive thanks go out to crea-ture Studios for providing us the code to allow time with Session on Xbox One. We’ll be sure to follow this piece up with full review as and when the game launches for real.