Posted by Mark Reece
Slip slidin' away
During its prolonged tutorial — which sees players leaping out of a plane before plummeting towards terra firma until all of the required actions have been performed — SSX is picture perfect. A seemingly endless and expertly crafted snowy mountain expanse stretches off into the horizon, the lighting is stunning to behold and the tricks are easily performed and look suitably flashy and over the top. Unfortunately these opening minutes are the very pinnacle of what SSX has to offer and, rather ironically, proceedings generally go downhill from that point on.
SSX is EA’s latest stab at the extreme sports genre, weaving it into a story involving the titular snowboarding team attempting to beat former member Griff Simmons to the nine deadly descents — the most dangerous, life-threatening mountain ranges in the world — for fame, glory and big money. It’s unnecessary of course; the admittedly well-drawn intermittent comic-book style cut scenes are full of stereotypical colloquialisms in the vein of “gnarly” and “bodacious”, and you'll love them or hate them.
As far as the actual snowboarding goes, SSX boasts a pleasingly brisk pace, with a palpable sense of speed as you execute tricks — either by performing movements on the right analogue stick or mashing buttons — to fill up a boost meter, used to send you hurtling downhill at gut-wrenching speeds. These extreme velocities clash with SSX’s over-sensitive steering, making guiding your boarder down all but the smoothest slopes a frustrating and unpredictable endeavour. Once the mountains become more treacherous, loaded with obstacles and deadly game-ending pitfalls, not falling to your doom or colliding with a tree proves to be especially challenging, but for all the wrong reasons.
There are crutches to aid players, allowing you to rewind time should you make a particularly disastrous mistake. Even this has its drawbacks, however — while the rewind feature can mean the difference between success and failure in the trick- or score-based events, doing so is cataclysmically counter-productive in the straight-up races, as rewinding time has zero effect on your AI opponents. This leads to scenes in which you’ll be reversing your untimely death or collision, sliding back up from whence you came while the opposition continues its — oft-inhumanly perfect and flawless — descent, with the gap between you and them ever widening.
It’s an impractical system, to be sure. Your only hope of attaining victory over the discouragingly infallible AI comes from trial and error: you’ll either attempt a run so many times that the law of averages will take pity on you, or you can choose an automatic pass — complete with XP and cash — before being thrust back into the course selection screen with your tail between your legs, your victory hollow. After all, if constant failure results in being given a free pass rather than spurring players on to improve or endure, then what exactly is the point of playing at all?
As you progress through the story mode, every so often you have to tackle one of the nine deadly descents, with each one of these milestone events showcasing a gimmick; basically, equipping special items bought with your career earnings. You’ll perhaps be required to equip armour due to a high density of trees, or the course may contain a wealth of enormous gorges, your success depending on donning a wingsuit. The problem is that these perilous slopes hurl obstacles and cheap deaths at the player so mercilessly playing them becomes nothing more than a burden.
These blunders are a crying shame, because when SSX isn’t hindering players’ ability to careen downhill, it shows signs of being a genuinely fantastic representation of snowboarding, albeit a flamboyant one. Embarking on trick runs and attempting to tally up a ludicrously high score by sussing out the best routes to take is, steering permitting, brilliant fun.
Additionally, SSX’s online component is certainly comprehensive and provides ample incentive to invest many hours in it. Traditional lobbies and matchmaking systems are ditched in favour of a more random and evolving online landscape in which events will constantly pop up. To compete in these you’ll need to wager a specified amount of in-game currency and, depending on where you finish in the event, you’ll earn a share of the total amount placed down by players, who appear as ghostly apparitions rather than physical competitors. You can also earn further funds by placing geo-tags, collectibles which can be placed around the game world, their value increasing the longer they lie undiscovered by other players.
While encouraging players to chase after high scores or leaderboard positions is laudable, the absence of more conventional head-to-head competition in SSX — complete with player-on-player collisions and other opportunities for unsavoury online mayhem — is a little baffling. Granted, it’s nice not to have anonymous opponents ramming you off a cliff every ten seconds, but an option to engage in physical play with friends would have been greatly appreciated.
Decent and functional — though by no means ground-breaking — visuals envelop SSX, while the amount of enjoyment you glean out of its soundtrack will depend solely on your personal tastes; suffice to say that whether or not you take pleasure in the kind of music EA has consistently pumped out within all of its sports and racing titles, the licensed tunes on offer suit the pace and vibe of SSX perfectly.
Despite its slip-ups — most of which could have been easily avoided or fixed — to say that SSX is a bad game would disregard its attempts to provide a thrilling, fast-paced snowboarding experience. If you’re prepared to stick to its well-crafted online modes and endure its over-sensitive handling the fun just about outweighs the moments of frustration brought about by questionable course design and the poorly implemented rewind mechanic.