Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Fans of the extreme snowboarding series SSX have had to wait a fair amount of time for a new game in the series. In fact, aside from the 2007 Nintendo Wii title (SSX Blur) which made use of motion controls, you’d have to go back to 2005 for a standard, controller based SSX game. In those years the world has changed an awful lot, generations of hardware have brought forward things that seemed like an impossibility in 2005.
With plenty of time allowed to craft a new experience, how has EA Canada’s attempt to bring SSX screaming onto the current generation fared?
STORY: From the moment you boot the game for the first time you’ll be thrown into the ultra-cool world of SSX. Playing as numerous members of team SSX, you are going up against ex team member Griff (one of the best boarders in the world) to own the planet, because he thinks himself better than all of you and has the wealth to do what he wants.
Thankfully, most of the cut-scenes are skippable and you can get right into the racing and tricking. Before every race you’ll see the SSX helicopter drop you off, then a warm-up animation of the SSX member you are using doing faux-karate chops and kicks. It was never going to be the most important storyline in videogame history, but a solid attempt has been made. There’s plenty of character on display here, but it won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
GRAPHICS: SSX is simply breathtaking. No expense has been spared when it comes to lavishing care and effort onto the visuals that you will be screaming through at breakneck speed. As the different areas are based (loosely it would seem) on real-life zones, each has a distinctly unique look and feel to it. While the character models aren’t perfect, you’ll be far too busy enjoying the vistas, mountainous peaks and gorgeously pure white snow to care.
Every time you unlock a new area you are treated to a shiny new video showing off exactly why this new deadly descent is so dangerous, but you’ll also be treated to a uniquely animated comic-book styled video when you unlock a new character too. Again, the visuals throughout SSX look marvellous.
AUDIO: Without a beast of a soundtrack in tow, it wouldn’t be an SSX title, and you can rest assured that whilst performing all manner of insane tricks and knocking other riders out of the way, your actions will be accompanied by a superb soundtrack, consisting of artists such as Run DMC and DJ Shadow, whilst mixing it up a bit with crazy rockers The Hives.
There’s plenty of voice work too, including the return of DJ Atomica, who narrates key moments in the game. Each of the three pilots in the game are voiced too, so you’ll get some cockpit chatter before you assault a new mountain.
GAMEPLAY: SSX is all about action. But not just any kind of action; over the top, incredible, life-endangering action. The mainstay of the game is the Deadly Descent mode. Here you’ll take on a variety of different courses – each loosely based on real geographic locations – culminating in a finale of sorts where you take on the “Deadly Descent”. But there’s a catch. Each mountain has a distinct problem you have to overcome. Some mountains are so high you’ll need to use an oxygen tank to survive; as you descend that mountain you will get short of breath and the screen will start to shrink, that is, until you take a breath from your tank which is (of course) limited.
Other courses will see you need to use a wing-suit, night-vision goggles, ice-picks (to help you turn on ice based areas), armour (for the “trees” mountain), solar panels…you get the picture. None of them are as fun as the wing-suit, which is a blast to play with.
The areas are split into smaller races that precede the final Deadly Descent, and they are made up of trick events and simple race events. More often than not you’ll need to take a second run at either of these event types and getting the top scores will take practice and skill. Sometimes you’ll be hitting up the range with fellow SSX members, other times you’ll be tricking against Griff but the courses are so expansive and wild you’ll always feel like you have room to breath.
Tricking is vital, as you’d expect. If you perform well enough your boost meter will fill up and you’ll go into tricky mode, which makes all the previous tricks that much more ridiculous (in a good way). Trick enough in tricky mode and you’ll go into super-tricky mode, whereby you’ll have unlimited boost and the tricks become simply jaw dropping, enabling you to do each character’s signature “uber” trick. The real skill however, revolves around keeping the combo going, and to be a serious contender for high scores, you’ll need to practice.
There’s more to SSX than simply Deadly Descent mode, and you can attack your friends ghost-times seperately in the “Explore” game mode too, which have multiple medals to collect throughout a plethora of courses. There are also Global Events too, which task you with beating set criteria on certain courses.
In terms of controls, there is a classic method (buttons to jump and trick) but the new analogue stick controls are a real joy to use. You can – as per normal for the series – charge up the jump beforehand, but now you can do this with the right stick. You can now hold down the left trigger to grind on anything that you can stick to, which makes that aspect a little easier, and there is a new rewind mode in this new incarnation of SSX too, which is an odd inclusion. In most games that feature this feature it will rewind time. In SSX however, it rewinds the rider but nobody else. So whilst you are docked points for doing so, there is a further penalty in that the racers ahead of you are still going while you are busy rewinding. In some events there is even a limit to how many times you can rewind, so you can’t become over-reliant on it. The simple answer? Don’t mess up!
MULTIPLAYER: There is no traditional multiplayer whatsoever in SSX, nor is there any split-screen local play. However, Ridernet is here to save the day. Akin to the autolog featured in Need for Speed titles, you can log in to Ridernet and compete with your friends scores, or just random users playing anywhere in the world. This is the very definition of modern multiplayer, whilst promoting the social aspects by allowing you to “favourite” certain challenges and events.. You can set rivals and take on courses, and if you’re good enough you can get a high payout from the pooled entry fee of all users competing in multiple skill brackets.
Another fascinating addition is the use of geotags. You earn these throughout your time with the game and when you are online you can equip these and hide them somewhere in the game-world. The longer your geotag remains hidden from other players, the more credits you’ll get. These geotags are graded in value; Green (lowest), Purple and Gold (highest). It’s a really smart way of adding something new and unique to the online play of SSX.
LONGEVITY: While the Deadly Descent campaign isn’t exactly taxing with its 9 mountain ranges, there’s lots of content in SSX. If you can get together a group of like minded friends to play SSX, you’ll lose hours on end trying to beat each other’s scores in the 153 courses. On top of that there are the usual accessories, suits and boards to unlock, all of which change your overall statistics. There’s yet more time to be sunk into the game though, as you level up your characters as you go along, with achievements for topping them out. In short, SSX is a real time sink, if you fall for its charms.
VERDICT: When things are going to plan and you are tricking like crazy and executing impossible manoeuvres, SSX exudes a feeling like no other videogame out there. The exultation you’ll feel when hitting the biggest jump in the world and grabbing onto a helicopter is immeasurable; pure arcade joy.
To those who have missed it, or even newcomers wanting something different from everything else out there, SSX is an essential purchase. An absolute love letter to the fans who have waited so patiently, SSX is back baby, and it’s back with a bang.