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SSX

Score: 88%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Sports (Extreme)

Graphics & Sound:

I really miss the "EA Big" franchises. True, several of them (most notably NBA Street and the recently released FIFA Street) have made current generation appearances. Specifically, I miss the really extreme ones like Freekstyle and Sled Storm. If you feel the same way, you can now take comfort in the fact that the original "Big" franchise is back. SSX has gone current gen with a franchise reboot that is faster, bolder, and more intense than any of its predecessors. If you have any history with this legendary snowboarding series, you're going to want to check this one out.

That this new SSX is the most realistic-looking installment in the franchise goes without saying. It has left behind the human pinball machines and snowbound metropolises in favor of actual mountains. I can't attest to the accuracy of the recreations, as I've never hurled myself off the peak of Mount Everest. However, there's a certain rawness that has certainly been lacking in the earlier, more cartoony installments. Some visual assists keep things from being too realistic. However, they warn you of potential hazards and encourage you to prepare for the next death-defying leap. Most courses strike a nice balance between absurdity and believability, but the ones that don't strike that balance intentionally go all out in one way or the other. Up close, things don't look spectacular; this isn't a problem, because you'll rarely have time to scrutinize anything. The animation work is impressive and often terrifying; boarders contort, twist, and roll their bodies in impossible ways and at impossible speeds - several hundreds of feet up. When you land one of the game's ridiculous-looking Super Ubers, you send a neat-looking shockwave down the mountain. The sense of speed is on par with Burnout, which is no small feat. All of that, and the framerate is easily able to keep up.

SSX has an incredible soundtrack that spans a handful of appropriate genres. There's techno, rock, dubstep, hip hop, and straight up pop music. From The Naked and Famous' "Young Blood" to Foster the People's "Houdini," all of the music fits the outlandish action quite well. Boarders holler in excitement (and when the time is right, fear and/or agony), and your helicopter pilot doubles as an accurate and faithful spotter. Burnout's DJ Atomika is also along for the ride for some narration work, but EA wisely limited his involvement. Run DMC's "It's Tricky" doesn't make an appearance, but Super Tricky mode features a couple of dudes going on about how tricky you're being.


Gameplay:

SSX features a barebones story that only serves as a reason for a team of near-suicidal thrillseekers to conquer the nine Deadly Descents. All you need to know is that Griff (introduced in SSX 3) pretty much thinks he's the best snowboarder alive and sets out to conquer these Deadly Descents. Franchise veteran Zoe puts Team SSX together and sets out to shut Griff's smug face.

World Tour is ostensibly the starting point. It's a globetrotting adventure that will have you going from Alaska to Patagonia to Antarctica to Africa (and several others) in search of the most extreme snowboarding opportunities, and of course, the aforementioned Deadly Descents. This mode feature three types of events: Race It, Trick It, and Survive It. Each of these lives up to its name completely.

Once you're done with World Tour, you'll probably want to simply explore the world. Good news if you do: there's a mode called Explore. This mode is coupled with the Autolog-like RiderNet, which tracks your times and scores and records ghost data. The same goes for all of your friends over Xbox Live, too. RiderNet seems to be SSX's way of avoiding an actual multiplayer component; while it's still a neat tool, it doesn't even come close to satisfying on the same level as real competition with actual people.


Difficulty:

World Tour Mode is markedly easier than Explore Mode, but that's mostly due to the fact that you're often held to different standards. That being said, World Tour definitely has its share of challenges. Some of the Deadly Descents are truly wicked, and require insane coordination and lightning reflexes. I can't tell you how many times I met my end on Mont Blanc, and I shudder to think of what kind of poem Shelley would have written had he experienced the terror of the Alps through this game.

As mentioned before, Explore Mode holds you to higher standards. If you want the Gold medal on a particular run, you're going to have to fight for it. Competitors leave trails: follow them if you want to find the right line. If you're in a tricking contest, don't be afraid to use your Rewinds. Be very afraid to use them in a standard race, though; your competitors will not rewind with you.


Game Mechanics:

SSX has always been about risk and reward. The risk of pulling off outlandish tricks is rewarded with boost, which is absolutely essential to winning race events. In trick events, your boost is what turns an ordinary jump into a stratospheric leap of faith. This system has always worked, and it works well in this new game.

If you don't like the idea of using the analog stick for tricks, SSX might scare you at first. However, the game gives you the option to use buttons instead. I personally didn't mind the new analog controls; they feel somewhat similar to the ones found in Skate. However, EA Canada gave us options, and that's the best way to go about it.

Grinding is easier and more ridiculous than it's ever been. Rails, fallen trees, and impossibly stable detritus can be used as grind rails. If you land properly on one (or hold a trigger as you board over it), you will automatically balance yourself on it regardless of how many twists and turns it takes. Double-tapping buttons results in tricks that more closely resemble breakdancing than actual grinding techniques.

Land enough tricks and build enough boost, and you'll go into Tricky Mode. Tweaking tricks while in Tricky Mode results in an Ubertrick, which takes an already-altered move and puts an insanely unrealistic twist on it. If you continue to perform well, you'll end up in Super Tricky Mode. This mode gives you unlimited boost, as well as the opportunity to pull off Super Ubers, signature moves that manage to blow regular Ubertricks out of the snow.

Each region features a specific danger that must be overcome using special gear. For example, the caverns of Africa are almost pitch black; if you want to make it through alive, you'll need a headlamp. If a mountain peak is at an altitude where the air is dangerously thin, you'll need to equip and draw from an oxygen tank to keep from blacking out. If your run takes you over gaping chasms, you may need to outfit yourself with a deployable wingsuit. If you're going over ice, you'll probably need hooks. Most of these are welcome additions that fit well with SSX's direction, but some of them are annoying. None of the cavern maps are much fun, and the idea of a trick contest in a place with such a low ceiling make me cringe.

Gear, suits, and boards can be purchased with in-game credits. These are earned by performing well, but you can also buy them with actual money. I've always found this kind of thing distasteful, but at least they're not forcing anyone to do it.

All told, SSX is a great comeback for a great series. It's not perfect, but it's got a lot going for it. If you have fond memories of the series, go pick this one up. Heck, even if you haven't played an SSX game in your life, chances are you'll still get a rush out of it.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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