I’ll make this quick so I can get back to pulling off gnarly tricks down some of the most dangerous descents the world has ever seen… SSX is good. You should play it. What’s that? You want to know how good? Oh, alright then I’ll explain…
Whilst the franchise has stepped away from the outlandish and unrealistic in some respects, notably the use of giant pinball machines are thankfully absent from 2012’s instalment, the locales on offer meant the game has steered clear of realms of snowboarding simulator to keep its feet firmly bound (get it? Like Snowboard bindings!?… Oh, never mind) in the absurd. Focussing on nine ‘deadly descents’ developers EA Canada have chosen some of the world’s most famous mountains for you to trick, race and ultimately survive as you play through the game.
The three game modes provide a wealth of variation throughout the game. If you head along the World Tour route (which is what I’d advise initially if you want to unlock characters and equipment quickly) the narrative does a good job of switching between these three gameplay styles to keep you interested.
Another thing SSX does extremely well is in terms of visuals. The level of detail from each rock and tree present a feast for the eyes. This is especially impressive considering the subject matter (snow) and how easily this could have descended into a white wash of boring graphical displays. Coloured flares strewn all over the mountain serve to both guide you towards an effective ‘line’ as well as provide a bit of strategy. By riding over a flare you fill a tiny portion of your boost bar, which can be used to help you gain bigger air (and thus more opportunity to trick) or race to the finish line faster.
Tricking is probably the most important part of SSX. Thus, the controls are centred on the trick system, and rightly so. Tricks gain you boost which either gets you to the finish faster or allows you to get bigger air and thus more impressive tricks. It’s that simple. Using either the right analogue stick or the face buttons (or a combination of the two), switching between tricks and tweaking them couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve gained a little experience with the system you’ll be throwing down some truly incredible acrobatics with ease. The controls are also fairly intuitive, so much so that you may even find yourself pulling off some pretty impressive grinds without seeing the tutorials.
Taking cues from the Need for Speed franchise, SSX employs a version of the autolog recommends feature. This expertly deploys information on how your friends are performing in their game, as well as throwing up challenges for you to take on, adding much needed longevity to the game well after the World Tour mode has been finished.
And so we come to SSX’s failings. I guess it couldn’t all be sweetness and roses could it? As I’ve mentioned before the online multiplayer employs the standards set out in the Need for Speed franchise to offer asynchronous play between friends. However, it seems this has come at the expense of any kind of simultaneous play.
That being said, whilst you don’t have the option of setting off at the same time as your friends to race, their best times will be represented in game by a ghost, which handily demonstrates the line they’ve taken, and for those with a keen eye, the tricks they performed.
Monetising games over and above that of the box price is something of a bug bear for me and arguably an issue that the games industry as a whole has yet to nail down. The ethics of online passes and DLC pricing are discussion points for another article, however where SSX has nailed in-game monetisation on the one hand, in my eyes it’s failed it on the other. The online pass is there, yes, but none of the game is closed off to you if you don’t have one. Instead, your online scoreboards will remain blank until you pay for one or input the code contained in the box if you bought your copy new. This is a triumph of compromise. Obviously EA would rather you didn’t buy SSX second hand, however they won’t deny you content if you do. Well done EA.
So what have they done wrong? Well, in a word; micro transactions. And I use the phrase lightly, because the price point they’ve introduced makes it seem more like macro transactions. Allow me to explain… Completing levels earns you credits that can be spent on new gear and characters. You can use your Microsoft Moon Points or Sony Entertainment Network dollar pound cash moneys to buy these credits. Admittedly, this is something I would never do; if I want something in game I’ll put in the time to earn the credits. However, those gamers with extreme demands on their time will be hit with a hefty price tag simply to cut corners.
Finally I’d like to highlight the lengths to which the developers are servicing gamers. Every week they will be introducing new challenges, with a prize pot (in the form of credits) available to the top performers. This constant introduction of new content is a stroke of genius, and will keep you coming back time and again.
Also, and I nearly forgot this bit so I’m shoehorning it in at the end (it’s my review and I’ll do what I want) – if your friends attempt to beat your best time on a particular track and fails, you earn credits! How good is that!? I really must stop wittering on now and get back to the slopes. Here’s a handy round up of the most salient points from above…
Graphics: 5/5 A joy to behold. What could have been generic with a limited palette has become vibrant and colourful using a few nifty tricks.
Sound: 4/5 The drum n’ bass / dubstep score switches with a wealth of modern hits to compliment the gameplay perfectly. Yes I know dubstep is everywhere in games at the moment, but it works here I promise.
Gameplay: 4.5/5 Varied yet tightly reigned in controls to give you a staggering repertoire of moves at the touch of a button or the flick of a stick. The mountains are wonderfully realistic whilst retaining that crucial element of fun. A
Longevity: 4/5 With World Tour mode coupled with the frequent one-upmanship of challenges from your friends on top of weekly challenges set by the developers, there really is a lot of replayability here.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
SSX is the game we didn’t know we needed until it was here. Beautifully realised, the fun just keeps coming even if some minor gripes in the form of in-game monetisation and a lack of traditional multiplayer, stop this from being perfect. An instant classic worthy of the SSX moniker.