Fresh tracks and beats as we head back to the mountain
There are two sides of me reviewing SSX. One that is on the PS3 every day and just loves how ridiculously impressive modern games have become (hello LBP 2, Mass Effect 3 and Red Dead) and therefore believes SSX needs to be benchmarked accordingly. And the other which rates SSX 3 as his favourite game of the last nine years and has been waiting for a series reboot since his PS3 turned up in 2006 so is just happy to have more SSX to play. I’m sure there are many other people out there in one of or both positions.
Ultimately though, regardless of which side you’re coming from it comes down to one thing – is it enjoyable to play? And the answer is a resounding yes. It’s great. It’s by no mean a perfect 10, but part of me thinks it’s not supposed to be as a sequel will no doubt be on the way at some point.
For those new to the series, at it’s core it’s extreme snowboarding and you tour around racing and pulling off ridiculously huge tricks, back flips and combos, with the focus in the trick events on maxing out on those combos for the really big scores – throwing yourself off all manner of peaks, kickers and rocks whilst grinding a few tree branches along the way.
The initial single-player game kicks off with some trick and control training and then quickly moves onto amassing your SSX team, travelling across the globe in an effort to conquer some of earth’s most extreme mountain environments, including over-the-top versions of the Alps, Himalayas and Antarctica. And those mountains sure look gorgeous – from the narrated video intro for each range through to gameplay and carving through the fresh white powder – the graphics and engine do a great job of portraying snow-packed slopes, crevasses, tree-lined runs, kickers, rails and more. You won’t find a Mercury City here which I would have liked to have seen but there’s lots of variety from Alaska, the Great Wall of China and underground ice caverns to explore. Fingers-crossed for some retro DLC later in the year.
Each mountain range has a ‘boss’ run known as a Deadly Descent – which if you’ve been following the SSX hype, struck fear into fans hearts who thought the new game was going all dark and serious on us. In reality, they make up a tiny portion of the main game and whilst they’re entertaining and innovative takes on the genre (wingsuits and ice picks anyone?), I found myself playing them through once and apart from the avalanche level, haven’t been back on them since. On the subject of the avalanche descent, that really is an exception – its brilliant fun, does a great job of building the tension of being chased by masses of body-crushing snow and is played from a reverse perspective – think Art of Flight-esque camera work.
SSX Is Better With Two
Once you’ve played through the main single-player adventure and got to grips with the game, you move onto multiplayer which is where my high expectations were pulled down a peg or two, but only slightly. You see, SSX multiplayer doesn’t allow you to compete live with friends and other players, i.e. all start a run at the same time. What EA have done isn’t a game breaker, it’s just not everything I was hoping for in online play. Instead, you do the run yourself (with the other computer-controlled characters) and then your time or score is uploaded onto the global scoreboard. When other people play on that run, they’ll see your ghost data also heading down the mountain so they can try and beat it. Likewise, you can also challenge their ghost data. You earn cash for your wins and they earn cash for you losses and RiderNet (think AutoLog) keeps track of everything. You can then use your bucks to buy new boards, clothing and other gear for your character.
RiderNet also does a great job of recommending new network friends to add to your rivals list and challenge so there is a real sense of a growing SSX community and you’re constantly updated with new times and scores for you to take on so whilst you’re not sitting in lobbies chatting live to your mates pre-race, it does feel like you are all somewhere around the mountain at the same time – albeit, you don’t always see that much of each other. There’s even a neat RiderNet app you can download for your real-life iPhone which keeps you up to date in realtime of your friends’ latest results so you can challenge them when you get back to your console. The app is a little basic, but just like Mass Effect 3, it’s pretty cool to see how developers are finding new ways to integrate other platforms and media into our games.
New online features aside, I just can’t understand why true live multiplayer wasn’t added for a game like this, it’s the perfect genre for it – flying down the slopes, throwing banter at each other, shoving your mate down a crevasse. The existing RiderNet mechanic is great and innovational but true multiplayer would have just made it – and given SSX another point in our final score.
On the tunes front, the soundtrack is awesome – you’ve got a mix of genres but they’re all good stomping beats to throw yourself down a mountain to. If you don’t like them, SSX lets you add your own tunes and weaves them into game brilliantly, remixing them on the fly. And of course, the series’ signature mix-up of Run DMC’s Tricky is featured whenever you amass enough boost to enter ‘Tricky-mode’.
The game definitely isn’t the dark, soulless adventure you saw in the announcement trailer, but at the same time, it’s not the neon, crowd-cheering, pyrotechnic-filled bonanza that SSX 3 was – it sits somewhere in between the two which keeps it fresh but I would have loved to have seen a few events included that had me racing down through the crowd-packed Snowdream with the DJ ranting in my ear.
Overall, a great reboot for the franchise and I’m sure it won’t be the last. In the meantime, this one will keep you going a long time with the constant challenges available to you and over 150 drops to conquer. If you loved the previous SSX I doubt you’ll be disappointed but you may be hungry for more.
BuzzHut Score: 8/10
Game reviewed: Sony Playstation 3 retail version