Snowboarding has been fairly ignored by the gaming world of late, since big kids like Amped, 1080 and those weird looking Snowboard Kids ruled the slopes. Enter EA Canada’s reboot of the SSX series, aptly titled SSX (you see what they did there), ready to spray snow in your face and have you running to brush the dust off your board.
For fans of the series, SSX presents a plot focusing on getting the old team back together in order to beat former member Griff and foil his quest to conquer all nine Deadly Descents (the world’s most dangerous mountains). It’s the definition of pure filler, but helps break up the gameplay all the same and keeps your sights set on your goal. The occasionally flashy, sport-show styled cut scene will comment on the battle’s progress, but apart from that, there is never anything that will have you dying to slam your boarded enemy’s face into the ground.
SSX games have never really been about the story though. These games are all about the snowboarding and thankfully this latest iteration remains ‘radical’ as ever. Controlling your racer is as tight and precise as it should be, especially as later stages transform into winding death trap labyrinths.
Stick control is a nice addition, but personally, doing quarter circles just lacks the immediacy that standard button schemes allow. For long time players there is even an old school layout, reminiscent of the previous games; so if you’re the type of person that breaks down at the slightest thought of change, consider yourself covered.
The game’s levels are neatly broken down into mountain ranges (including anything from Alaska to New Zealand), covered mainly by one critical member of the SSX posse. Each destination is introduced via impressive mini cut scenes designed to bring you up to speed with the key features of the next few slopes and a heads up for what’s in store with the Deadly Descent. Conversely, each unlocked character is introduced through quick comic book styled panels that detail how they landed themselves into team SSX. With no actual voice work in these sequences though, the whole comic shtick just feels at odds with the rest of game’s modern, digital visual design.
While you still have to take part in your standard race and trick based events within each region, it’s the Deadly Descents themselves (brought about through the brand new ‘Survive It’ challenges) that provide SSX’s main excitement. Tasked with the goal of merely surviving, your pulse will be racing as you navigate the ravenous slopes at incredible speeds, praying you live long enough to make it to the bottom. These events are will also grant you the most time to play with your brand spanking new toys. The wing suit, for instance, will have you gliding over dangerous gaps, an oxygen tank will help keep you breathing at high altitudes and a headlamp will illuminate dark caverns.
Most spectacular of all is the avalanche sequence that completely inverts your viewpoint and perspective into a top down view, allowing you to keep track of and outrun an impending avalanche, designed to swallow you whole. These events are truly exhilarating, so it is disappointing that there are only 9 of them to go through.
Another new introduction to the series is the rewind function, permitting you to retry that fatal mistake that ruins your Tricky run or save you from going headfirst into that ever appealing pointy boulder. Rewind functionality might sound like a cop out, but it’s provided with a dastardly twist. In races for example, rewind is mostly unlimited, but will only affect you when used; meaning everyone else will continue along their merry way. Similarly in trick events, rewinding will decreases your total score and the Deadly Descents only allow few chances to pull a mulligan. It opens up a range of strategic options, as you continue to assess what your most viable option for each event is. Do you take the hit and keep riding, or are you prepared to be overtaken in favour of saving that precious combo.
With an incredible amount of content to take in, there is a lot to grasp within SSX, bound to leave relative newcomers to the series with undoubtedly steep and daunting learning. Sure, it’s easy to get in amongst the racing, but to actually develop the skill to be able to build up combos or a score high enough to raise eyebrows takes a great deal of patience, time and a willingness to hit the restart button over and over again. The learning curve is perhaps SSX’s greatest criticism, often causing great moments of frustration as you nail a perfect run only to have it ruined by an unexpected drop you can never truly recover from. It’s to EA Canada’s credit though, that it never culminates in rage quit agony; instead becoming an addiction you must satisfy, as you attempt to fulfill your desire to become a wizard of the snow.
As with most EA sports titles, SSX’s soundtrack will surely keep you bopping along to the likes of Foster the People, The Naked and Famous and The Qemists. For all you wub wub lovers, there’s even some Skrillex. A neat little addition is the auto remixing that occurs on the fly. Hit some serious air for instance and your track will fade out, or utilize rewind and the game will automatically mix it into the tune.
A lack of traditional multiplayer is bound to disappoint many, but the introduction of Global Events is a fresh approach that should be applauded. Like a leader board on steroids, these Global Events will have you competing in a series of continuously updated challenges open to your competitive friends or the entire world. There is often a game credit fee to enter, but it comes with the allure of a great reward, fostering the same addictive nature that was present in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog system. No, you can’t indulge in some classic split screen action with your friend, but what is on offer is likely to keep you satisfied for a much longer period and takes online multiplayer in sports games in an intriguingly new direction.
SSX is without question the new king of console snowboarding. Fans of the franchise are bound to love every second of it, but for newcomers it might just seem a bit ‘Tricky’ (yes, we went there) to start off with. It’s well designed, great to look at and addition of the Survive It events are a great change of pace which are hopefully expanded upon with the next inevitable outing. There’s no question about it though – SSX is back baby!
- Reviewed On
- Xbox 360