SSX [Review] – A whole lotta snowboating
On first appearances, this isn’t the SSX we’ve come to love. Fireworks don’t sweep across the sky, DJ Atomica takes a secondary role and your insane combo statistics don’t obscure the screen. A deep-voiced commentator doesn’t even bellow ‘MONSTER TRICK’ every time you avoid snapping your ankles. How can this be? Are EA insane!? No, they’re not. Instead of giving series aficionados a sense of nostalgia, SSX looks to the future, without ever losing the sense of fun that has – int the past – made it such a special series.
Like EA’s Fight Night Champion, the decision has been made to include a simple narrative. This slowly introduces you to all the new things the game has to offer. Taking control of Team SSX, a mixture of old and new faces attempt to conquer the ‘9 Deadly Descents’ quicker than anybody else.
The problem is, former SSX member Griff has other ideas. With a flick of his hair and a cheesy quip, he decides he’ll be the first to accomplish such a feat. While not exactly gripping, the narrative introduces the basics extremely well and prepares you for each of the game’s most lethal peaks.
Any serious SSX player will know that each mountain has always had its own personality. EA have taken this idea and expanded upon it massively. The Deadly Descents are the most challenging and hazardous mountain ranges in the world. Thrillingly, each has it’s own killer element, something you’ll have to be equipped to fight against. The solid ice of Siberia is combated via two ice picks, the destructive shards of the Rockies force you to wear armour, and the sheer drops of Patagonia are overcome with a wingsuit.
The latter is the game’s best accessory, turning your speedy run down the mountain into a game of precision and momentum. Whilst hanging in the air, it’s pivotal that you pick your landing spot quickly. Wait too long, and you’ll glide through a glacier and straight into oblivion. Even high altitude becomes a problem, forcing you to wear an oxygen mask in fear of blacking out. Each piece of equipment broadens the game’s horizons, forcing forward-thinking and strategy.
Such accessories may seem like a gimmick, but they work in tandem with each course brilliantly. Mountains are distinct, sweeping playgrounds crammed with hidden tunnels, short-cuts and butt-clenching jumps. From the industrial piping of Alaska, to the ancient ruins in the Himalayas, all have their own landmarks.
As such, each objective becomes uniquely poised. Different event types call for a tactical rethink. In races, it’s always best to carve your route thoroughly, opting for maximum speed. Some events place an emphasis on scoring the most points, so the high road is often most preferable, allowing for more time in the air. Both of these modes are excellent examples of classic SSX, but as we’ve already established, this game is all about the future.
Thankfully, nostalgia is easily overcome with the inclusion of ‘Survive It’ mode. Forget over-the-top tricks and breakneck speed, the onus is on staying alive. This challenging objective appears after you’ve completed a few rounds on each Deadly Descent, and provides the perfect opportunity to show you’ve conquered the use of new gear.
To increase the tension, survival odds are calculated based on the choice and quality of your equipment. Forgot to strap a headlamp on when traversing through the suffocating caves of Kilimanjaro? Your chances of survival echo the hopelessness of travelling up a mountain with Chris Moyles strapped to your back. To put it bluntly, you might as well fling yourself off the edge for a sweet release.
Every survival task is challenging, so the inclusion of a rewind feature is definitely welcome. It’s likely you’ll restart each event a number of times after a significant fall, so the ability to go back in time on the minor mishaps makes everything feel a little bit easier. This should typically be used if you splatter into the ground during a lengthy combination, as time and your opponents continue to roll. As a lifeline, being able to rework a manoeuvre provides a sense of justice that leads the game away from frustration. Mess things up too many times, and your ability to rewind soon dies out. If this happens, you probably deserve it anyway.
Alongside the challenge of the Deadly Descents, multiplayer does well to take inspiration from the AutoLog system used in the last few Need for Speed titles. RiderNet allows you to see exactly how well you’re friends are doing, and go for a better score. If you’ve tried the demo, you’ll already know how gripping this can become.
Through the ‘Global Events’ section, the world can be challenged at any moment. Various tasks are posted by EA, and it’s up to you to accumulate the fastest run or best haul of points, whilst simultaneously watching other riders do the same around you. It would have been great to see traditional races and best trick competitions included, as SSX shies away from traditional multiplayer. With a simple update, this could easily be fixed.
As with most EA games, this title has an exceptionally high standard of presentation. Graphics are absolutely gorgeous. The subtle colour palette allows each mountain to feel unique, without ever feeling alien. If there’s one gripe to be had, the soundtrack never comes close to matching that of previous games (namely SSX 3). Of course it’s fun to plunge down hill with Skrillex or Run DMC (who sing a remix of “It’s Tricky” when your combo metre goes off the chart), but the rest of the tunes on offer fail to inspire. EA’s Artwerk label has been put into overdrive, with many bands from Fifa 12 providing songs once more.
The world is a little brighter now SSX has returned. Instead of playing on former glory, there’s a real emphasis on ensuring the series feels as though it has evolved. New accessories, cleverly designed mountain ranges and an addictive multiplayer mode make this an attractive investment.
Besides, who doesn’t want to hand-plant off the side of a helicopter in the middle of a limb-crushing avalanche? Moments like this ensure the franchise quickly makes up for lost time.