Conventional wisdom states that a change is as good as a holiday. And when Electronic Arts first announced at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards that their popular snowboarder, SSX, was returning, it initially appeared that the series had been afforded the debatable benefit of both.
Gone, apparently, were the franchise’s traditional bright colours and repertoire of ridiculous tricks, replaced by a dark and gritty new look that suggested the development team had spent a lot of their downtime playing first-person-shooters. It was a risky re-imagining. One that met with such an avalanche of negative feedback it caused EA Sports to retreat and refocus. Now, their revised vision for the new SSX is almost with us and it’s looking to be the perfect combination of the series’ awesome old school arcade action and state-of-the-art online competition.
Technology has moved on somewhat since the last full-blooded SSX release, and, in contrast with the handful of different courses featured in past titles, EA have now been able to tap into NASA satellite data to help them rapidly recreate a wide range of famous mountains from different regions around the globe. This is just the start of the SSX production process however, as the development team have spent the majority of their time adjusting and downright altering these famous slopes to make them as entertaining as possible to pilot a thin plank of wood down.
SSX’s single player World Tour mode accounts for only about a third of the content in the game. Made up of race events, trick events and the all new Deadly Descents – where you must simply survive all the perils and pitfalls an apparently homicidal mountain can throw at you – while it’s generous enough with its offerings, the developers have made no secret of the fact that the see it as basically an extended tutorial to help players learn the ropes and decide whether they prefer the new trick stick control system or the classic button-based configuration.
The real meat of the revitalised SSX experience, comes in its competitive online portion, where the game’s Explore mode has been combined with RiderNet, which is basically Need for Speed’s suite of Autolog features reconfigured for a snowboarding game. Explore gives you the freedom to jet around the world, hopping out of a helicopter at any of the game’s over 150 drop points and attempting to set personal best race times, trick scores and longest survival runs. In true Autolog style, RiderNet then compares your efforts against all those of other players on your friends list, providing you with a constant feed of updates and a wall of the most tempting current challenges.
While the online additions are definitely the new SSX’s headline features, just as important (probably even more so) will be how well the game manages to resurrect the sense of unbridled fun the series has, in the past, delivered. With the hyper-realistic ability to catch monumental amounts of air, create chains of tricks which are as outrageous in their length as they are in their content and rack up massive multiplier scores, SSX is looking awesome in just about every important way. If EA can nail the trick of merging its crazy snow show with compelling online competition, SSX could turn out to be one of the coolest sports games ever.
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