Street skateboarding is a hard thing to put into words. At face value, it’s quite simple—skateboarding in public areas using already built infrastructure, that wasn’t designed with skating in mind, to do tricks. But when you peel that back by one more layer, street skating gets a lot more obfuscated. It means something different for everyone. Street skating is the peak form of skateboarding and serves as the best argument for the act as more of an art form than a sport. No two people will skate the same street spot alike, and if they do, then one of them isn’t fully tapping into the creativity inherent to skateboarding. That’s why ABDs (already been done) and NBDs (never been done) are such a big deal. Someone doing something new at a street spot, whether it’s a newly discovered spot or a legacy spot, is always special. Someone repeating something that’s been done before is fine if you’re just out skating, but it becomes frowned upon if you film it and toss it into a street part as solely your trick. There are homage tricks in skate parts but they are often obvious, and those are fine. But back to the point. Street skating is unique and near impossible to capture in a genuine way outside of the confines of a skate video.
Session, somehow, manages to capture the essence of street skateboarding and puts it into a video game. Before we get into how and why, we should look into other games that have tried (and failed) at doing this. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater never tried to be anything more than an arcade game with skateboarding as the core verb. The games I’m concerned with here are the Skate series and Skater XL. Skate really wants to be a street skating game but it fails because it approaches player interaction with street spots with a skatepark/Street League mentality. It is too easy, spots are too perfect, and combining crazy tricks together is way too simple. Laser flip back lipping a 20 stair rail should never be easy. But you can do it in Skate day in and day out. It is a skateboarding fantasy simulator, and if you want to play it as a proper street skating game, then you have to deliberately engage with the game in a way that Skate, at all times, is pushing you away from doing. You have to play it simply and poorly—simple lines, basic tricks, and only skating the marginally realistic skate spots. The game never really wants you to do this. All of the in-game missions push you to go full Red Bull, Street League mode and it is just a bummer. Skater XL closes the gap a bit between being a real street skateboarding game and an arcade game. Tricks are harder to do, and spots feel more grounded, but there is still something a bit off about it. It feels too clean. There probably sounds dumb to say, and I am likely showing off my east coast bias here, but street skateboarding shouldn’t be clean. Spots should be crusty sometimes, concrete isn’t always perfectly smooth, ledges aren't always perfectly rub-bricked and waxed, and cities are rarely clean. And still, in Skater XL, a lot of the tricks are pretty easy once you get the hang of things. It is close to being a proper street skateboarding game, but it isn’t perfect. Enter Session.
Crea-ture Studio’s Session, to me, is the first time the look, feel, and overall vibe of street skating has been properly captured in a video game. Session is an incredibly challenging and difficult game. This feels like real street skating. Some tricks are battles and the roll away after landing what you’ve been trying feels well earned. I mean, it still isn’t real skating but we’re talking about video games here. And the textures the game is wrapped in feel like street skateboarding. I’m biased because the east coast vibes are off the chart in this thing, but every street spot feels grimy, imperfect, and none of the city areas look like street spots unless you’re looking at them through the eyes of a skater, and that is important. Other games put ramps and rails in cityscapes that, even to a random person, look like obstacles meant for skateboarding. Session doesn’t have that. And that makes the game feel more creative in how the player approaches their skateboarding in it. It is the one game where no two players will skate the same spot the same way, and that perfectly mirrors one of the best aspects of street skateboarding in real life.
This game is also absurdly difficult. It mirrors skateboarding in real life through controller mapping and sheer difficulty. The easy tricks are easy to do, but more technical tricks are quite hard. And that feels true to skating. Even something as simple as a tre flip or half cab turns into an ordeal, and that, somehow, just feels so right. It is fine for skateboarding games to just be arcadey and fun, but I’ve longed for a skateboarding game that leans into the sheer difficulty and griminess of street skating, and Session is everything I could’ve wanted and more. The folks working on the game definitely bow to the altar of 1990s east coast skating, but there is also modernity to the game that makes it feel quite well-rounded. That being said, if Fred Gall were to ever appear in a video game, it should 1000% be in Session.
On top of understanding the art of doing street skateboarding, Session also really nails the community around skateboarding. And it does so in one key way, It has a downtown-based, fully rendered skate shop you can walk around in, browse hard and soft goods, and chat with the folks who work there. It is an incredibly nice touch that further solidifies that this game was made by and for skaters. I really can’t put into words how happy that small addition has made me. Yeah, it is somewhat surface level but it is really cool to know that a game like this is in the right hands.
Lastly, let’s get into how Session’s player camera further cements it as the first true street skateboarding game. The VX1000 has long been the go-to camera for capturing street skateboarding. Its imperfections and visual flaws pair well with the rugged rawness of street skating. Lately, the HVX has become the norm (paired with a fisheye lens, of course) and Session seems to have leaned into that. The low-angle, imperfect, and marginally fish-eyed player camera mimics a filmer filming the skater controlled by the player. The filmer/skater combo is incredibly important to skating and skateboarding cinema (i.e. the skate video, of which I’ve linked an example of a recent part with deliberate and incredible filmmaking that doubles down on artistry while still capturing the skaters in frame). This becomes even more noticeable when Session’s levels shift to nighttime. All of the street spots are realistically lit, and by that, I mean, most of them are quite dark. Take for example the parking deck clip above. At night, the player camera features a light source that mimics the type of light a skate filmer might attach to their camera as they film night-time lines for the skater(s) that they’re filming. It is a small touch, but it says a lot. The deliberate design and intent behind the camera in Session is incredibly important when it comes to skating because the main way we’ve consumed skateboarding up until the Instagram age has been through street skating videos shot on these imperfect cameras with imperfect lenses and lighting. There is an endearing rawness there that Session mimics honestly. This game wears its heart on its sleeve, and it is truly a love letter to the infinite power of street skateboarding. But even more than that, it is a true street skateboarding game. Play Session.
Bonus: Enjoy the best skate part in recent memory.