March 5, 2012
The story tells the gnarly tale of Team SSX; an extreme sports team dealing with Snowboarding, Surfing and Motocross (SSX) tackling the world’s most dangerous and deadly descents. All’s well until one member – Griff, decides to bail and conquer the feats on his own, leaving your team in the dust. It is up to you to best Griff’s best tricks and times over the course of 9 regions with over 150 drop events! SSX will take you to famous mountainous regions like the Himalayas, Alaska, Siberia, the Rockies, and even all the way down to Antarctica.
Each region sports a certain deadly attribute association. Antarctica, for example, has parts of the map where the sun doesn’t reach, requiring you to equip a solar panelled backpack to recover your health as temperatures plummet in the shadowed areas. Patagonia has incredibly steep chasms, ushering the important use of one of SSX’s newest mechanics – the wing suit. Holding R1 allows you to spread your wings and soar through the airs for short spurts. Well placed uses can inch you ahead of the competition, while even the slightest missteps can have you hurling to your doom. Each race grants you the ability to rewind time should you make a mistake.
There are a wide variety of characters to choose from, most of which will be familiar to fans of the series, including my personal favourite, Psymon. All characters can be levelled up and fitted with different equipment – rare Jackets have different perks associated with them, while the boards all have different balancing for Boost, Speed, and Durability.
The story is quite uninteresting, and is essentially one giant tutorial that helps you become comfortable with the controls, and eases your way into the meat of the game – the online component. Explore is the heart of SSX’s online, allowing players to chase your friend’s records through asynchronous friend vs. friend competition. I like using fancy words, but basically this just means that it’s not your traditional online where you are actually facing people in real time; you are competing against their records and Ghosts. Your own Ghost earns credits every time a friend races against them. A reward system is placed for setting tough records to beat. The second online mode is called Global Events, which are real time competition against the best riders in the world with no lobbies, or scheduling. If you want to play with a friend all you simply have to do is create an event then invite them. Unfortunately, there is no local multiplayer mode, leaving party moments akin to the days of passing the controller around and taking turns.
Everything is woven together via RiderNet – which helps players navigate the world and points them to friends, allows players to easily chase their friends’ records and keeps players up to date with a chronological activity feed or personal and friendly accomplishments. There is also a new innovative mechanic called the GeoTag. These are user-created collectibles you will find scattered throughout the mountains of SSX by other players. Here’s the kicker: collecting someone’s GeoTag earns you credits, and the longer your GeoTag stays on the mountain uncollected, the more credits you will earn. As a whole, the online provides good multiplayer fun, while still giving a refreshing feel to the idea of participating globally. GeoTags can prove to be a lasting experience, with the potential to create an endless amount of objectives.
Gameplay is broken into three pillars: Race It, Trick It, and Survive It. Race It has you beating the best times for each course, Trick It tests your ability to have the highest chained combos, the craziest tricks and the cleanest runs, and Survive It serves as the boss levels, where you simply have to survive each region’s defining danger as mentioned earlier. Successful combos and tricks are awarded with a boost meter, which can either speed you ahead, or can be accumulated to unleash SSX’s staple gimmick – the Uber and Super Uber tricks. These crazy tricks have you doing wonderfully choreographed tricks that are borderline insane when seen in motion, but make you look unbelievably cool for pulling off. Gameplay is simple enough to ease newcomers into the game, and also provides a deeper level of tinkering for veterans who will be achieving trick scores well over 20 million.
The default controls are inspired by Skate’s flick it mechanics – everything is neatly mapped to the right analog stick, and tricks can be tweaked with the R2 paddle. Everything feels tight and works spectacularly. If you’re a long-time fan EA was generous enough to offer classic control schemes mapped to the buttons. A great addition for veterans, however I got by with their new default control scheme, and the very start of the game gives you a great tutorial that will help hone your tricking and carving skills in no time.
Now while the core of SSX is beautifully crafted, enabling players to ease themselves into the experience with simple control mechanics and level designs that complement said mechanics, it all comes to an abrupt halt with what is supposed to be the theme of the game: surviving the nine deadly descents. These stages act as boss battles, where you'll find darkness and bottomless pits aplenty. It's no easy task, missing a jump and falling to your doom means restarting the stage from the beginning, that or rewind time and suffer the pains of credit and time penalties. It's not fun. It's especially excruciating after several attempts.
Visually, the game is breathtaking, offering some incredibly volumetric mountain passes based on satellite imagery, but with some added design liberty of course. Some may think it could be repetitive to just snowboard down mountains over and over again, but this is absolutely not the case. Each region is distinct enough to feel entirely different from the next one. Everything moves incredibly fluidly, with no noticeable dips in frame rate. There will be several occasions where you find yourself trapped between terrain and some obstacle, leaving your character popping in and out as though suffering from a seizure. It's easily remedied by rewinding time, but then again that involves penalties. And nobody likes penalties because of a glitch.
There are 37 licensed tracks in this game, all of which are fitting with the SSX universe. Songs are expertly muffled when you are soaring in the air, only to kick back into full force once you’ve landed your tricks. Dubstep gets incorporated into the mix throughout regular tracks, but is especially prominent when you activate Tricky mode, which unleashes your Uber and Super Uber trick. You will hear familiar bands such as Foster the People, Skrillex, The Hives, and The Naked and Famous, and EA also incorporates some upcoming artists. Overall, it is an incredible soundtrack that definitely shows that a considerable amount of care went into selectively choosing each individual track and how they fit into the overall attitude of the game.
SSX is quite simply a great game. Addicting gameplay, great design, gorgeous visuals, a racing soundtrack, and more importantly a solid online infrastructure makes for quite the extreme snowboarding experience. It does however have its shortcomings. The deadly descents are almost a nuisance and takes the fun out of the experience. Generally speaking, most of the Survive It drops don't stand up to the ones that fall under Race It and Trick It. All in all, SSX is still a very enjoyable experience and fans shouldn't pass on what it has to offer.
SSX was reviewed on the Xbox 360. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.