SSX ReviewChris Waldron
Throughout the history of the arts, cultural phenomena have often been defined by their antagonists. One could not imagine the inquisitive mind of Holmes without the intellectual counterbalance of Moriarty, or the paragon virtue of the Doctor without the irrepressible evil of the Daleks. In SSX (the latest in EA Sports insane snowboarding franchise) however, your greatest foe isn't an intellectual equal or a maniacal pepper-pot; your nemesis is the environment.
When you – quite literally – jump into the fray, you find yourself plummeting from a helicopter towards a wide expanse of frozen tundra. Whilst primarily supplying you with a tricks tutorial devoid of the added stimuli present when descending a mountain (boosting, grinding, dodging obstacles etc.), it also introduces your second adversary: gravity, in the starkest way possible. As you gaze across the rapidly approaching sea of white, interrupted by nothing but a smattering of mountainous icebergs, your reason for plunging into this snowy wasteland quickly becomes apparent - the same reason that has driven narrative forward for generations - the need to defeat your nemesis; the need to defeat those mountains.
Rest assured the peaks you aim to topple don't plan on failing lightly. Divided into separate groups around the world, every descent has a unique hazard you'll be tasked with avoiding. The first section, the Rockies, pits you against near-impenetrable forest; with others including: deadly-drops, avalanches, oxygen-deprivation, sub-zero temperatures and icy pathways. Every mountain-range culminates in the 'Deadly Descent', which embodies the dangers of each area and presents you with one challenge: survive.
Thankfully, with each hazard comes a unique piece of equipment to combat it. The problem with these hazards is that some are infinitely more fun to tackle than others. The wing-suit sections for example, have you effortlessly zooming down a mountain like the most extreme of flying-squirrels. Whereas, the ice-axe portion of the game, merely allows you to turn faster on sheets of slippery ice and doesn't really fit in with the off-the-wall craziness the rest of the game shamelessly exudes.
Mile-long rails will guide you through gaping chasms and blast you down precipitous slopes, leading you towards snowy ramps just waiting to launch you back into the sky from which you descended. One does not come to SSX for realism. The arcade style favors wild tricks, impossible descents and prolonged grinds that aim to weave together combos like so many threads in a snow-white blanket. Speed is crucial throughout SSX and to balance this with the insane tricks, the margin of error in landing a move is very forgiving, allowing the combos to flow like the snowflakes of a Siberian blizzard. The tricks are controlled with either the buttons or the right stick and range anywhere from simple, to fruit-loop nuts. The more tricks you land, the more your 'tricky' meter fills, once full, the tricks become crazier and worth more points, points which are vital if you want to keep your boost meter topped-up.
Despite outwardly appearing easy at first, the game quickly rockets the difficulty level a few courses in. Very often the restart option will be a necessary acquaintance, as a mistimed jump or flow-breaking crash will result in an obviously lost race. Thankfully, the game also includes a rewind function. Holding down L1 will send your boarder racing backwards through time to the point you cocked-up, allowing you another chance to keep your run speedy. Due to this, the game never really (except perhaps on a few occasions) feels frustrating, there's no waiting to get back into the action so “one last run” is a phrase you ought to get used to repeating.
SSX also throws in a few added extras to keep you coming back to tracks for some additional shredding. Players can place 'Geotags' around the map which other riders are tasked with collecting. You'll notice that a lot of the Geotags will be placed in truly insane locations, providing adequate challenge to collect them. If the Geotags you place go uncollected, you earn a nice credit bonus with which to upgrade your board, suit and equipment
The game looks gorgeous and staring from the top a slope across a snow-dappled vista provides the perfect backdrop to a high-speed blast down a treacherous hillside. Stop to take closer look, however, and a few texture issues spoil an otherwise completely beautiful game. The tracks were designed with the aid of the Aster Global Digital Elevation map technology, satellite tech used to make the mountains feel authentic. Despite this, you can feel the influence of the SSX developers all over the tracks; adding insane rails, incredible jumps, and breath-taking ravines. All of which fit in perfectly with the SSX heritage.
The soundtrack is wonderful but opinion may be divided on a few of the tracks included. Genres include dubstep, electro, hip-hop and drum and bass, all of which provide the perfect beat and intensity to inspire impressive combos and mad-cap dashes for the finish line. As you gain altitude and boost at high speed, the music fades and whizzes, creating a real illusion of speed. Anyone who's experienced a real-life snowboarding video will know that music plays a huge part, setting the stage of each trick in a choreographed explosion of gnarliness. The team over at EA Canada has done a spectacular job of imitating this feeling, seamlessly blending tricks and speed with an impeccably timed aural flair that only heightens the sensory experience.
The latest instalment of the SSX series stands testament to the arcade-style extreme sports genre championed by the likes of Tony Hawk and Shaun White. It's a perfect update for the series that feels right at home on current generation consoles. It provides a wonderful single player and multiplayer experience that's part racing, part tricking and entirely brilliant. A truly monolithic accomplishment that goes some way to shadowing the colossal mountains it presents so beautifully.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Chris Waldron is an aspiring games journalist and writer, pursuing a history degree next to the sun-drenched shores of Mid-Wales. When not playing video games he can be found under a blanket with a book or trying to remember where he left his keys.
About the Author: Chris Waldron
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