The Sasquatch. The Loch Ness Monster. The Abominable Snowman. Ogopogo. A decent current-gen snowboarding video game. See any similarities? There are rumors that all of these mythical creatures exist, but each of them lack the cold hard evidence to back up any claims. Well folks, you can strike that snowboarding one off the list. Electronic Arts has answered with SSX, released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I had the immense pleasure of playing through the PS3 version, so snuggle up next to the fireplace with a blanket and a nice cup of hot cocoa, and let me tell you about it!
For those unfamiliar with the name, SSX (short for Snowboard Super Cross) is a franchise that has been around since the early days of the PlayStation 2. EA Canada developed SSX in 2000 exclusively for the launch of the PS2, and since then, four other SSX titles have been released, most to favorable reviews. This time around, SSX gets the high-definition treatment, and it certainly takes advantage of all that the current-gen systems have to offer.
"With easy-to-use controls, a smooth user interface, beautiful open courses from the real world, a killer soundtrack, and a bustling and competitive community created through RiderNet, everything adds up to a load of fun."
SSX was first revealed at the Spike Video Game Awards in 2010 under the working title “SSX: Deadly Descents”, and the trailer portrayed a somewhat darker tone compared to the light-hearted fare that previous iterations have had. However, EA lightened it up a bit, and the final product is all the better for it. In SSX (now without the ‘Dark Descents’ moniker), you choose a character from a team of twelve snowboarders, all unlockable as you proceed through the “campaign”. Each character has customizable suits, boards, protective gear, and so on, and can be purchased in the in-game store using credits earned from completing races and performing certain feats. The aforementioned campaign has your SSX team battling against a snowboarding dude named Griff to see who can get the fastest times or the most points by stringing together tricks.
There are three separate game modes in SSX: World Tour (the campaign), Explore (a type of “freeplay”), and RiderNet (which I’ll get into later). There is no traditional multiplayer, either online or local.
SSX has many strengths, beginning with gameplay. The game gives players the option of mapping the controls to either the buttons or the analog stick. For the purpose of this review, I chose the analog stick configuration. Much like Fight Night 3 and 4, using the analog stick to control the tricks of your snowboard allows for full immersion into the experience, and this feature is a welcome addition to the experience. Experimenting with different flips of the analog stick and discovering new tricks is infinitely more satisfying than button mashing. The controls are very smooth, and the tutorial (administered while boarding down a simple mountainside) is very helpful.
SSX uses real-world mountains for its in-game locations. EA used real geotagging data from NASA to render mountain ranges from ten different areas of the world. This gives the game a fantastically authentic feel. Being Canadian, snowboarding down Mt. Robson (British Columbia) was especially gratifying. Other areas among the ten include the Himalayas, the Alps, and Antarctica. The courses are beautifully realized, and extremely detailed. The collision mechanic is passable, but it does leave room for improvement, as I found out when hitting a tree. I didn’t quite feel that the impact was captured accurately... not that I’ve ever hit a tree in real life, but I can certainly imagine. The sounds of the game are impressive, from the side-to-side swish of the snowboard, to the howl of the wind passing by your ears when you are gliding from peak to peak in your wingsuit. The soundtrack is a strong plus for SSX as well which includes artists such as Run DMC, The Hives, and Foster the People. The choice of music fits the game to a tee, and the soundtrack wouldn’t look out of place in a greatest-hits section in your local music shop.
The leaderboard feature is the most intriguing part of SSX. It’s called RiderNet. It’s a fully integrated online leaderboard that keeps track of virtually everything you do in SSX, and pits your scores against your friends, and in some cases the rest of the world. RiderNet also provides course recommendations based on what your friends are doing, similar to the AutoLog system used by the Need for Speed franchise in recent years. RiderNet provides an asynchronous connection to the outside world that multiplayer features normally provide. SSX could have used some sort of traditional multiplayer content, but if it would have meant less time spent on the rest of the game during development, it’s forgivable. The game’s interface is so easy to use, and with RiderNet, a couple clicks of a button will drop you right into a course that your friend raced a few minutes ago, and it even provides you with that friend’s “ghost” racer so that you have a visual basis with which to race against.
EA has had a ton of hits and a few misses over the years. Sports games tend to be their strong suit, and SSX is no exception. With easy-to-use controls, a smooth user interface, beautiful open courses from the real world, a killer soundtrack, and a bustling and competitive community created through RiderNet, everything adds up to a load of fun. Snowboarding games have historically never been on my gaming radar, but SSX has turned me into a mountain junkie. Every time I load it up, I check RiderNet to see how my friends are doing, and to see who I need to beat. It’s the same addictive feeling I got when I first started playing Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. This is one game that I won’t let go for a long time to come.
Release date : 2012-02-28
Publisher : EA Sports
Developer : EA Canada
Gameplay : Sports
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