Developer: EA Canada
Release date: February 28, 2012
Barreling down Mount Everest at 150 km/h. Grinding on the Great Wall of China. Hurtling blindly over pits of lava in the belly of Kilamanjaro. Free falling for 10 seconds and hitting a rail without breaking your combo. Flying through the air like a squirrel over 1,000-foot drops. These are the moments that make SSX better than real life. I wish they were real life.
Playing the latest SSX has made me sure of one thing: some things will always be fun.
Halo, Goldeneye 007 and Street Fighter will never get old. Jumping on a trampoline, being underwater and chasing your dog around will never feel boring. SSX, it seems, belongs in this group as well. That's not to say it's the same as previous entries—in fact it's quite different. It's got new controls, new equipment, new hazards, new challenges, new ways to play together, and what these days is the holy grail for game publishers: endless new challenges.
For all that, it still feels intimately familiar for fans of old school SSX, and were it not for one glaring omission, it would be practically perfect.
DEATH RACE TRICKY
Before we get to that let's talk about what it does have. There are three types of levels: race, trick and survive. In race, you race. In trick, you try to score the most points. In survive, you simply try to make it to the end; more on that later.
You'll start at "World Tour." Each of the nine members of Team SSX—some familiar, some new—tackles one of nine regions, each with numerous peaks and intersecting runs. The final challenge of each region is a survival level that requires special equipment to overcome its unique obstacles: armor for a rocky run, a headlamp for dark tunnels, an oxygen tank for high altitudes, a wingsuit for areas with dizzying drops after every other jump, etc.
After World Tour comes "Exploration" and "Global Events." The former lets you challenge any course with any rider and any equipment, provided you've purchased the right gear with the credits you earn after every run. Here you can also challenge the ghosts of your friends' best runs, which are automatically sent to your game. It's actually quite neat. But the last option—Global Events—is where things really get interesting.
Global events are persistent, limited-time runs that let you wager an entrance fee for the change to win big—based on your performance—when the event ends. They can be as short as an hour and as long as a week. The more players buy into an event, the bigger the pool, and the larger the payout for the high-scoring brackets. The real catch is that you can be bumped down a tier at any time if someone outperforms you; in an event that lasts for a week you might log a Gold score on Monday, then check back on Friday to see you've been bumped down to bronze. Your payout will be significantly lower, and there's nothing for it but to hop back in and try do better.
That's the beauty of it. Credits are moderately useful, even if they're not exactly hard to come by. But with the way other players' scores are displayed constantly on your HUD, you'll be replaying the same challenges dozens of times just to move up another bracket. The whole thing—the constant presence of other players' ghosts, their scores always taunting you to try one more time—is reminiscent of Need for Speed Hot Pursuit's Auto Log features. Their implementation in SSX is far superior, though.
MEAT & POTATOES & AVALANCHES
SSX is constantly throwing things at you just to see what sticks. There are badges to earn on each run, 600 glowing snowflakes to collect, "Geotags" to drop in hard-to-reach places for your opponents to collect (the longer they go untouched, the more credits you get, so it's best to drop them in the middle of the air or at the bottoms of crevices just before you die), and tons more.
The soundtrack features an eclectic and appropriate mix of relevant but unobtrusive tracks. Iridescent streams of color fly off your board as you spin and tumble impossibly over 10-second free falls. It's the best kind of assault on your senses.
Yet all that would be meaningless if the core gameplay was flimsy, and thankfully, it's anything but. There's a glorious amount of friction and weight to your every action and movement. Your wingsuit ripples as you soar through the air. Nailing a grind after a lengthy fall feels like it should break your board in half. When the impact of your landing from a Super Uber trick causes the ground to literally, physically ripple outward from the point you hit it, you'll see what I mean.
The new control scheme is more than adequate. Tricks can be accomplished using the right stick or face buttons. Hold them down and you'll grab that side of the board; if you tap one way then hold another, you'll use a different hand; if you hold the right trigger you'll tweak the trick another direction. Building up a few combos nets your "Tricky" mode, where your stunts are cooler and your boost on the ground is infinite. Keep building and you'll get "Uber Tricky," which is where you can pull of each character's signature move and rack up an insane amount of points.
SSX is the boost porn that Mario Kart wishes it could be. The only thing missing is a friendly Lakitu bro to airlift you back onto the track when you fall off a cliff—although the new rewind feature helps in that regard.
The one thing dragging this game down to less than legendary status—the one thing—is the lack of conventional multiplayer. There's something about joining a lobby with your friends and starting a head-to-head race, person-to-person, no high scores or challenges or ghosts, that can't be replaced by Global Events and leaderboards. To exclude splitscreen multiplayer from an SSX game is tantamount to blasphemy as far as I'm concerned. It's like giving Sherlock a cell phone and taking away his magnifying glass.
But that ultimately can't too badly mar this lovingly crafted experience. There are endless ways to play, even without splitscreen and traditional multiplayer, and you'll never run out of challenges, badges, achievements, and scores to best and best again. In SSX, as in life, reaching the finish line is never the point. Instead, it's what you do along the way.