Friday, March 2, 2012

Owning the Planet One Mountain at a Time... The SSX Review

After a six year hiatus, SSX is finally back and rebooted for the current generation of consoles. It has been a long time coming for this franchise to debut on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and even before its announcement, I was wandering if we ever would see it again and now it has returned being better than ever. The extreme sports genre of gaming is also going through a drought of sorts even EA's Skate series kept things going until this release. It is actually great and refreshing to see a game like this back in the gaming world because it proves a lot of things. SSX takes snowboarding games into a whole different level on all aspects from the fast racing, the insane tricks, and in general capturing the feel of being a snowboarder in these treacherous mountains.

This new SSX is broken up into three main modes: World Tour, Explore, and Global Events. You first start up automatically in the World Tour, which is basically the "campaign" of this game. It is short, sweet, and even prepares you for the other two modes. In addition, there is actually a storyline in World Tour as you play as the various riders of team SSX to conquer the nine deadly descents spread throughout the planet before Griff, who betrayed the team for the sake of doing things his own way, gets them done. World Tour also does a good job of letting you play as all the characters so you can get accustomed to their personalities and styles. Their personalities though are summed up by comic book-y cut scenes explaining their hobby besides being in team SSX. Zoe is one of the co-founders of the team and also a motocross rider, Alex is a model and one of the new characters in this game, and so on as examples. Other franchise favorites such as Mac, Kaori, and Psymon also return in this new iteration. Difficulty wise, the World Tour is not that hard to beat, but it can get hairy near the end especially with the later deadly descents, which I will talk about more later.

The Explore mode is the main crux of SSX because it is filled with so many events (159 to be exact on the PS3 version that has Mt. Fuji exclusive). This is traditional SSX at its finest with set times and scores to get for the gold medal as well as surviving as long you can in the "Survive It" mode, which is mainly known for the deadly descents. Ghosts can also be saved for friends to beat as well if you think have a tough time or score to beat. Most events in Explore require credits to be unlocked along with gear requirements, which also be mentioned later on. Most of the goad medal scores and times are doable as long as you have the right line and maintaining your trick combo for the whole run, but one small mistake and you're just itching to restart even though there is a rewind mechanic. The rewind mechanic in SSX is nice to have, but it comes with a price as points are being subtracted from trick events, lose precious time in races, and you have a limited use of them in survival events. For trick events though, rewinding is still worth it to a certain extent to keep your long combo, but it was way better and satisfying to nail off a full pull.

EA did something different with SSX in terms of multiplayer. What I mean by different is that there is no actual head-to-head multiplayer meaning you're not seraching for matches to play against people as you would in most games out today. The best way I can describe SSX's online multiplayer is the Global Events mode. There are set events held at the various peaks with certain money and gear requirements and last for a limited time. If your time or score falls within a certain bracket (diamond, platinum, gold, silver, bronze) by the end of the event's timespan, the certain amount of money you can earn. Usually with events filled with hundreds of players, the pots get bigger to the millions and even billions. Despite the limited time these events have, they can be played as many times before they end. When it comes to the gameplay screen though, it does feel like you're playing online against others that are playing the same event with you, but you can't interact with them by knocking them down. Global Events in a nutshell have that Trackmania vibe and I believe it does work for a game like SSX, but I can see why no head-to-head multiplayer is a bummer for some people.

The big question in this SSX is does the gameplay still hold up and be as fun as its past iterations? The answer is an easy yes. Pulling off full runs of crazy uber tricks never felt so satisfying as well as barreling down a mountain with infinite boost for a short period of time. The sense of speed once you have your tricky meter at gold is amazing and feels very Burnout-ish too. You can still knock out your opposing AI competition during races, but not with your fists like in previous games. Races have become more of trying to find the best and fatest line down a course, which is a good thing adding more intensity even though you still have to pull of tricks to get that tricky meter up and running for boosting. Trick It runs are basically trying to do as many tricks as you can to rack up your combo also seen in past iterations with ubers, grinds, signature tricks, and so on. Then there are the "Survive It" events that are new to this SSX. As mentioned with the deadly descents earlier, the goal is to basically survive in a track as long as possible as your measured distance determines your medal placing. This mode is also where the gear and customization come into play as well as certain regions of the world require certain equipment to increase chances of survival. For example, an oxygen tank is required at Mount Everest, a wingsuit from most of Patagonia, etc. Speaking of the wingsuit, it is a neat addition to have in SSX where you're just temporarily flying around to go past big gaps. These survival events are also interesting that you have a health meter, so you can't bail or fall into bottomless pits, but you can equip armor to increase that, which is also useful in avalanche stages. There are control options that players are get accustomed to depending on their style. The default controls work fine as you can map tricks to the face buttons (my personal choice) or the right analog stick. For those that preferred the old school approach of past games, the classic controls are there to use as well with the tricks mapped on the triggers. I had a tough time however adjusting to spinning in the air being mapped to the d-pad, so that is why I went with the default controls. Even though most of the time you may feel like you're going on autopilot, SSX is still as fun at it was back in the last console generation. If you have that perfectionist mentality like me however, expect to press that restart button numerous of times, but it is more satisfying once you get the run that you wanted.

Graphically, SSX is a beauty to look at. The various regions throughout the world feel varied considering there are tons of mountains to transverse along with the various obstacles these locales obtain especially for the deadly descent events. Another beautiful thing is that the framerate never or rarely hitches down at any point, which is remarkable for a game like this. It is also telling that EA took their sweet time with the locales because of the topographical mapping they used to get the courses right. Sure, it is not filled with neon lights and fantasy-like environments as seen in past games, but the realistic approach to the levels here worked out well. The SSX franchise is also known for pumping out great licensed soundtracks and this new one is no exception. From rock, hip-hop, electronic, and dubstep, SSX's soundtrack is varied and of course there is the new "Its Tricky" remix that plays for a bit whenever you get your tricky meter gold, which is good too. The voice acting is also fine for the characters even though you're focused on the action at hand.

SSX is definitely worth the long wait and it is nice in general to see this franchise back again with a genre that is on a drought as of late. Hours and hours of content await you from the World Tour "campaign" to get things started, cranking out the hundreds of Explore events, and taking your skills online with the Global Events. In addition, there is the addiction of RiderNet stacking up your times and scores against your friends to make yourself keep going too. The signature and stylish feel of SSX is still intact from past games pulling off insane tricks from big jumps. Races are fast and furious at all times with an amazing sense of speed. The new survival events are a great addition as well to spice things up if you need a break from the other stuff this game contains. These deadly descent runs alone are also very intense and you just know you can not mess up once at all. Despite the lack of actual competitive multiplayer, SSX is a must get for snowboarding fans and those who loved the past games.

Score = 9/10

  • Hours and hours of content to the point it can take you months to complete everything
  • World Tour is a good campaign and warmup for what is come in Explore and Global Events
  • Interesting take on multiplayer having that Trackmania vibe
  • Great graphics with smooth/consistent framerate and soundtrack
  • Importantly, it is still SSX at its finest
  • Lack of actual competitive multiplayer is a bummer for some
  • Better have a friend list that play this game to take advantage fully of what RiderNet offers, because it can be addicting to try to beat your friends' times and scores

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