Once a year, ever since the age of eight-years-old until I was starting college at 22 I took a trip to Vail, Colorado for a week to go skiing with my family. I never did any crazy jumps, but I did ski down plenty of “Black Diamond” and “Double Black Diamond” runs in all of my years. I thought about trying Snowboarding at one point, but it just never happened. So, I have always had this love for Snowboarding games because I know what it is like to be out there on the slopes. However, it also lets me live out a fantasy of what it would have been like if I had chosen to Snowboard instead. SSX is no doubt “King” when it comes to Snowboarding Video Games and it does not surprise me, EA decided to bring the game to life in HD for the first time. This SSX reboot brings back a lot of what the fans loved about the series, including a unique way to do multi-player. However, there are also a few things the game could have done without, and actually takes away from the experience.
SSX takes a small turn to realism in the 2012 version, with there “Descents” that at some points can drive players into an unforeseen zone of madness. I cannot blame EA for trying to reach out to the masses that prefer something a bit more simulation based but the “Deadly Descents” and the armor and wingsuits needed for them, seem to add difficulty just to have it. I can understand why fans became outraged at the original title of the game, SSX: Deadly Descents. The descents and most of the “survive” runs are more annoying than some new awesome attraction that is supposed to expand SSX into a bigger gaming arena. If a player does not hit the ramp correctly, the wingsuit is no match for the 65 foot drop where you will surely die. I don´t know who decided making boarders wear oxygen masks that gives them tunnel vision was a good idea, and solar panels? Really? Some of the equipment is actually worth having such as: Armor, Ice Claws, and the Avalanche level. The best thing is, this is only one small portion of the game.
Most of the game is still the trick filled, snow boosting, and terrific racing that fans of the series remember. The SSX squad is back for another run, but this time they are trying to get through the nine “Deadly Descents” before former SSX man “Griff.” The World Tour Mode serves as a wonderful guide to the world of SSX. As players go through real world mountains, racing and tricking their way to the final boss “the Deadly Descent” of that certain area. The Descents serve the same purpose as a “boss” and I guess the annoying part fits the name. The Tour Mode does have a nice chunk of six to eight hours of play time for those that like a purpose to their single-player experience. The race and trick runs give players nice practice in that areas element of danger before going on to the “Descent” and then doing it all over again in the next area.
I could have done without the comic book introductions to the boarders and the random in-game store though. If the boarders were not mostly these people that used to “do this” or “live another life when not boarding” it might matter. Mostly, these are just facial swaps that go along with the next area a player visits. The store is actually more confusing during the World Tour portion because most of the stuff seems useless. The reason is because by the time players may be done with the current mountain, they are switched to another mountain and another character. So, players may not need to upgrade their gear at all during the entire World Tour. However, it does work wonders during the “Explore Mode,” where players are given the freedom to choose any character they like before each run. In “Explore Mode” leveling up feels more organic and so does the whole game for that matter.
The “Explore Mode” really allows a player to see why fans grew to love the SSX series. Players can experience all 153 drops in the game, without order or restriction. However, players are required to medal on each run in the first area of each mountain range, before they can proceed to the other two. Players also have the choice of using earned credits to unlock drops as well, in case players feel like only playing certain drops. Players that may not be as good at the game as others, also have the ability to purchase credits with real world money. Whether players want to unlock drops or buy a glowing suit, it is nice EA gave players that option. (Obviously, I think it goes without saying that I am sure EA loves making extra money this way too.) Each drop has a “Race It” and a “Trick It” run that gives the mode a little more length as well.
Once player’s medal on a run, their score is recorded and posted on Ridernet for all rivals or friends to try and beat. Ridernet is SSX´s version of “Need For Speed´s” autolog system. When a friend beats that score, it lets you know, so that you will try to beat their score. This can make checking Ridernet updates very addicting. When players repeat a run a ghost will appear along with the other riders that represents your “best score” so you are always kept abreast of what score you need to achieve this go around. This is certainly EA´s freedom mode, and probably will be the place where players learn to appreciate other things added to the game too.
The mountain ranges are graphically impressive and the game never slows down, no matter how much tricking and turbo racing is happening on the screen. This game in general is a seamless experience, which is just fine because this format introduces new players into the SSX universe, and is showcased the best while playing this mode. When doing the Super Uber tricks the screen lights up with vibrant yellow colors and we get a wonderful remix of “Its Tricky” by RUN-DMC. EA did a great job of filling each range with plenty of things to grind on and jump from. It makes each mountain stand out and brings to life what otherwise would be just a bunch of snow. Another nice thing is “Geotags,” which are these spheres that can be purchased or earned by a player, and then placed anywhere on a drop. Players can make them easy to grab by placing them above a grind pole or make it difficult and put the geotags at the lowest depths of a deathly fall. The neat thing about Geotags is that the longer they stay out in the world the more credits a player gains for them. Once, your Geotag is discovered you stop earning credits, but you can have as many out there as you choose. The coolest feature added to the game has to be the use of custom soundtracks. For each type of drop (race it, trick it, or survive it, this is excluded during the “Deadly Descents” another reason to not like them,) players can make a playlist, which plays during the entire run. The reason it is a cool feature is because these custom playlists are integrated into the game itself. When doing a long grinding trick you may hear the track skip a few times or if you decide to do a huge trick in the air the song will warp sometimes. This may not matter to a lot of people, but personally I found it made doing a drop even more engaging. I like dubstep as much as the next person, but it does get old after a while, so this inclusion allows players to feel like their music is part of the game too.
The last major thing in SSX is the new take on multi-player called “Global Events.” SSX uses Ridernet to the extreme here, by branching it out into almost tournament-style gameplay. Some events are setup by EA, but most of them are made by players. Players have the ability to choose who can participate in the run and what rules the run will follow as well. If you want to open up the run to everybody in the SSX universe, you can, or if you are just making this event to play with friends that can be accomplished also. Players set a pre-determined amount of time for the event, and players can compete as many times as they want. If someone beats your score, Ridernet will let you know so that you can go compete again. The player with the best time or most points wins the credits for the event. This is also where the “Online Pass” kicks in too. I will explain the reason for this in just a second, but the “OnlinePass” only restricts players from receiving credits they earn in the “Global Events Mode.” The credits are still tracked by the game, but are not deposited into your credit bank until the pass is entered.
The reason the “Online Pass” does not restrict actual multi-player is because there is no traditional multi-player per se. Players cannot play split-screen with friends online or off-line. The best they can do is setup a Global Event and invite their friends only, but even then it just feels like grasping at straws. I understand they wanted everyone to use Ridernet and participate in Global Events, I just do not understand why multi-player had to suffer because of it. It would be nice to be able to just pick a drop, invite a friend, and then start the run. However, I guess EA wanted multi-player where you are essentially besting yourself. I really hope this does not become the norm for other EA Sports games.
Overall though, SSX is a great game at heart. EA did fine with this reboot and made plenty of enhancements to build upon as the series goes forward. They returned the series to its roots, while trying to inject a little bit of modern mechanics into it as well. While some of the new things did not work (* cough, Deadly Descents, cough *) most of the new additions did. Hopefully, next time they do bring back regular multi-player into the fold. Regardless, SSX is a lot of fun and is still king of the slopes in my view.