It’s been five years since the last SSX game appeared on consoles, as it left its snowboard buried in an avalanche of extreme sports games that almost killed the genre. Fast forward a few years, and EA is attempting to bring back the once-popular franchise for a whole new market of players.
But can SSX once again drift its way into the hearts of gamers, or does it slip and slide on some yellow snow?
If you’re looking for a comprehensive story mode filled with intriguing characters and unpredictable plot twists set against a snowboarding backdrop, then walk away right now, as this is one area that SSX skimps on.
With a light exposition that details the woes of Team SSX,a group of up and coming extreme sports athletes who are facing financial difficulties for their tour, due to one of their wealthier members defecting to form his own team, leaving them with nothing more than a 540 flip the bird gesture in the process.
Team SSX is in serious need of cash, so they decide to live-stream their forays down the nine deadliest mountains in the world, because everybody on the internet is willing to spend money watching snowboarders do their thing. Of course, they’re going to have some competition in the process, so they will need to pull off the raddest of moves in order to win.
It’s around five hours of light exposition with meagre frills, but that’s not exactly where the heart of SSX lies. Multiplayer is where the action truly heats up, as SSX presents a comprehensive online mode that pushes players to constantly explore and improve upon their previous runs, a fact that is amplified by constant updates showing where and what your friends have as of late.
SSX features a reworked version of the auto-log from that other EA franchise, Need for Speed. Friends can leave ghosts for you to race against, hide markers in areas that you can collect and set records that challenge you to beat them, earning in-game credits and of course, bragging rights.
In terms of controls, the latest SSX does indeed carry the blood of previous generations in its gnarly veins. Tricks can pulled from either the face buttons or analogue sticks, or even a combination of both, while landing moves will power up various meters dealing with boosts and special tricks.
It’s all part of the lead-up to combos however, where players will really try to score. Pulling off chains of ludicrous moves while flying off a cliff is handled intelligently but still theatrically, while several assists are in play that attempt to make transitions between moves a more seamless affair.
Once you’ve performed enough tricks, you’ll enter “Tricky” mode, a limited time of super high-score gathering combos that increases your final tally, and perform well enough in that segment and you’ll go even further into the mode, pulling off character-specific techniques that would break your spine if attempted in real life.
It’s pulled off with solid precision however, with your on-screen character easily feeling at home on the slippery snow, with weight shifting and reacting accordingly to the terrain beneath you, giving the game a certain sense of realism, albeit one that is partnered with trick-performing launches into the air where gravity has been weakened enough to give players just enough hang-time to perform.
The terrain itself is fascinating, and while not every level is well-designed, with numerous obstacles presenting cheap barriers instead of an equal addition to a run, it does sometimes become frustrating.
Nevertheless, these environments are pretty much fully interactive, with everything from the trees and abandoned railways tracks offering something to perform tricks on, or you could even catch the ultimate air and perform a few moves off of a nearby filming chopper.
When it comes to difficulty, SSX doesn’t exactly take a snowboard to very limits of the genre, presenting players with an extremely gentle learning curve in the story mode that slowly curves throughout the campaign, softly presenting challenges to players.
Some of these challenges may be more annoying than testing, such as the pulse goggle missions that limit your field of view, making these modes feel rather pointless. There are still some great ideas at play here, but I won’t spoil these specific “boss” scenarios for players.
A rewind scenario can be employed for poor choices of judgement during a run, although continuously making use of it can incur some penalties towards points, while once-off uses of mods allow riders to alter their approach to the slippery mountains with a quick boost or enhancement.
Players can also level up their unlockable characters from constant use, earning and purchasing new gear for the slopes that can give gameplay a neat twist, such as the wingsuit which helps open up new sections on a run when properly utilised.
SSX may be a title that swops realism for a slightly more cartoonish look, but it’s an advantage for the game, as it never ever slows down the game at hand, no matter how intense the action gets.
There are a few CGI films scattered in between stages that spread a little more info on your environment and snowboarder at the time, but they make no real difference, and despite some impressive graphical designs, they’re pretty much standard fare.
Activating a boost helps emphasise just how fast your snowboarder is really travelling as the world warps around them, while the environment looks fleetingly beautiful and magnificent. The soundtrack also earns some points here, as the licensed tracks set a great beat that matches the atmosphere at hand, from the punk-rock infused guitar riffs of through to the catchy rhymes of legendary rappers Run DMC.
And yet, despite all these positive points in play, SSX still somehow feels like it lacks a soul, feeling at times like a leftover piece of nineties nostalgia with it’s emphasis on tubular language and certain departments being creatively empty.
That’s not to say that SSX is a bad game, but the more multiplayer-focused rebirth has lost some of its charm, and considering its lineage and pedigree, it did have a lot to live up to. It’s an SSX for a new generation of gamers, people who prefer to get their kicks online
A lot of work has gone into creating a control scheme that will appeal to new and old gamers, with moves, combos and special tricks being easily performed, once they’ve been learnt of course.
The control scheme works, characters move authentically when on the ground and are impossibly fluid when in the sky, but level design does sometimes falter with a few poor choices and bad ideas, but for the most part, SSX plays in an absolutely sublime manner.
Design and Presentation: 8/10
SSX isn’t going to win any awards for visuals of the year, but then again, that’s not what it’s aiming for. Action is fast and furious, levels are long and constantly fluid while the movements you input for your onscreen avatar never falls apart, especially when you’re at max speed.
It’s silky smooth play with a larger scale at the expense of realistic visuals, but then again, it suits this title perfectly.
Single-player is not where the strengths of SSX lie, as the content available will be extinguished within a few hours. No, this is a game for those of you with an internet connection, as SSX truly does emphasise online play.
The multiplayer encourages exploration and risky behaviour, with bragging rights at play, but it’s dampened by the lack of any actual play with friends, as racing against a ghost is nowhere near as satisfying as leaving actual snow in physical pals mouth.
Global events may be the ultimate salvation here, as the events at hand span many hours when utilised properly, but until then, SSX may just be a little too repetitive when trying to beat your friends and their high scores.
SSX represents a new direction for the dormant franchise, one with a slick presentation that tries a little too hard to appeal to both old and new fans alike, losing some of its charm and personality in the process.
It’s by no means a terrible game, and what it does get right, it does with aplomb, but it still feels like its soul has been ripped out in order to create a far more accessible title. The fun of yesteryear has been left to freeze outside, but fans on persistent online scores and tracking with friends will get a blast out of SSX.
Last Updated: March 23, 2012