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SSX hands-on impressions: It’s simply funtastic!

by on August 26, 2011
 

At first, when the game was originally announced at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards, I was partially skeptical and honestly did not know what to expect. I’m sure many of you have felt the same way in anticipation of a new SSX title. Over time new information was released, along with some gameplay footage, and I began to slowly understand the direction and approach this game has taken. Now that I saw more from the game and had a chance to actually play it last Friday at GamesCom, I’m pretty confident that the sweet folks at EA really know what they’re doing and I have no doubt SSX will be a hit. Even if you hate snow, or winter in general, you will still love this game…

 

What makes SSX instantly stand out are its rich features. For starters – if you thought the Earth’s “globe”‘, which was seen earlier in numerous videos, was just some kind of shiny placeholder, you thought wrong. That is basically your main menu interface through which you can instantly and comfortably navigate yourself. You pick the type of event you want to compete in, you pick the location through the globe, which basically is a huge and flexible three-dimensional map of the games world, and you’re done. In the advanced menu you can of course also choose different types of gear – depending on your funds, the terrain you will be riding, the event itself and the time of day. Not sure wheter I can mention the details just yet, but for the time being think ‘helmet’, ‘terrain’, ‘light’ and ‘dark’. There are also different types of gear than just helmets and there even is a helmet that can… Nah, I won’t spoil it for you guys. I know it’s not much, but I don’t want to give it away since finding out by yourself will be alot more fun! Just trust me when I say you’ll love it and that gear itself plays an important role throughout the game. In some titles it’s implemented purely as a visual and entertaining factor you can goof around with to impress your friends. In SSX it’s pretty vital.

 

Another thing that is vital, to most players now-a-days, are loading times. Nobody likes to wait. Everyone wants to play everything instantly, since that  has become the new trend – to always be in a hurry, and therefore when a game takes more time than average to load we often become furious, confused or upset. Well, I can happily announce that SSX is one of those few games that load in an instant. Want a number? 10! It takes roughly under ten seconds for the game to load and considering how much data it consists of, that is pretty impressive! And we’re not even fully in Beta… This alone proves how dedicated the team behind SSX truly is and it’s small details like these that will make a difference.In terms of characters… I’m sure everyone will get to pick their favourites. I personally will go with Elise, Moby and Zoe. Not that I would have anything against any potential newcomers, but I think these three simply stand out and are not only classics, but fan favourites as well. It’s good to have them in the house. Mentioning that every character is unique is something you’ve probably figured out by now – not just from their different and shiny colourful outfits. They are simply personalities. The story won’t be anything groundbreaking, but it will serve well as a baseline for you to advance in this frozen and snowy world without having to think too hard what’s going on in the game and letting you focus on the real deal – riding itself.

 

The visual quality of the game won’t surprise you, but it will be a pleasure to look at the game nonetheless. The textures seem pretty detailed both from afar and up close and snow itself does indeed feel and act like snow. Occasionally though I had a feeling that the sense of speed wasn’t as intense and fast as I expected it to be. Maybe it’s just me and I’m trained from playing loads of Sonic and Need for Speed, so don’t take my word for it. I do like the fact though that you can ride basically anything in the world that you’ll encounter on your way down. This gives level designers alot of freedom and since SSX is not a simulator I see no problem. The developers took raw terrain data directly from NASA and managed to cleverly implement it into the game to not only stay true to the mountain surroundings we so much admire (there’s plenty from the entire world), but make it also more fun and less boring too. The downside to it is you practically can’t fall off your board. Instead, if you fall or take the wrong path, you can use a special feature that will rewind the clock a few seconds back, giving you enough time to correct your mistake. It works pretty much the same way like in Dirt 2. One button and voila! I personally think it looks pretty cool and it can be useful, on the other hand I’m afraid some players might take advantage of it more than is healthy. We’ll have to see. But either way, kudos to the team for at least trying to implement something different than what other games are doing and not sticking to the same old.

 

The HUD is pretty simple and I have ranted about it earlier several times, but it works. I would welcome though if some info bars and stats were more highlighted so I could bluntly see my progress and results, instead of needing to focus my eyes constantly on something else than riding and what’s infront of me. Different colours, bold fonts… be my guest. The camera is adjustable. That is a plus.  As for framerate – the game was fluid most of the time, no hiccups whatsoever. I’m not entirely sure if I was looking at 60fps or just 30fps, probably somewhere in between would be my guess, but there wasn’t any slowdown and that’s what matters most. I’ve played on the Xbox 360, by the way, which for me as a PS3 user was a bit hard to get used to, but I managed after a minute or two just fine.

Now, if you’re reading this article, Imma let you finish, but SSX has one of the best online features of all time. Jokes aside, I’m serious. RiderNet. Ring any bells? If you thought Skynet was smart, wait till you see this. Inspired by Autolog from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, RiderNet will allow you to recommend drops and friends, show you what your friends are doing or what drops their ghosts are dominating and even pick the optimal Global Events for your level. Global Events are where the fun’s at. You compete against real people in events that can last for how long you please, with literally thousands of players active. If there won’t be any server lag, and we have been promised and shown there won’t be, this will be like a fantasy SSX MMO game – only real. If you have less time on your hands, you can try the Explore mode, which focuses around your opponents/friends ghosts that you try to beat. The clever thing about this is that once a ghost is recorded and uploaded to the servers it remains there forever. If you want to beat someone at a particular track and they’re not home playing, but in work, you can play against their ghost at any given time. It’s pretty easy, since the ghost’s tale is pretty long, and simple too. When you see the online features yourself, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. They are simple for the average user to access, but at the same time have the strong complexity of a MMO.

 

I know there’s much more to the game than that, but overall I’m pretty impressed by what I’ve played and seen and I honestly can’t wait till the game comes out in January (for PS3 and Xbox 360). There aren’t many winter-themed games on the market right now and frankly, SSX has chosen the right time for a grand comeback. It’s fun to play on all fronts, it has swag, it has style and if you understand the concept and premise of the game and put aside minor issues some players might have, I think you will be pleased. It’s the ‘Mortal Kombat’ of SSX. And we all know that the newest fighting game in the series did extremely well. So… what are you waiting for? Get some gear and stand by. It’s coming…

P.S. If a portable version for the PS Vita comes out, it will be interesting to see how multiplayer will work – both offline and online. Not to mention the controls. Hm…

 

Personal thanks to Todd Batty, Creative Director, who was very kind and walked us through the game step by step. I also want to thank Connor, Duke and Craig. Appreciated guys!

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