It’s been a long time coming; the last SSX game was SSX: Blur for the Wii, and before that SSX: On Tour, for the last generation of consoles. So it’s been a quiet half decade for fans of good ridiculous trick-based snowboarding, even if you took on the fantastic yet insane Amped 3 in the meantime. The time out definitely shows, too, as there’s almost three versions that were probably each in development at some point: The regular SSX with crazy long and winding rails and physics-defying tricks, the ‘edgy’ SSX with extreme conditions to go with the attitudes, and of course the ‘social’ SSX, which has been a trend for EA games, particularly the racers, of late.
SSX stands for Surfing, Snowboarding, and… well, the X is taken from MotoX I guess, which is something that I never knew had been bugging me all along. It is a snowboarding game though, without the other two (it’s meant to do with the disciplines of the participants, I gather) so there’s good reason not to advertise it. The story goes to set up “Team SSX” as a bunch of Mountain Dew chugging extreme sports personalities getting together to conquer the ‘deadly descents’ around the globe. One of the members, Griff, splits off from the group to do it alone, for what seems to be solely about creating an arbitrary antagonist. It all works well enough in context though. The introduction of each character is told through comic panels, which serve their purpose but are a little bland compared to the CG cutscenes used to introduce a new location and the threats they pose. Speaking of the threats, these are a significant addition running throughout SSX, going as far as to have levels themed after particular threats.
The word ‘deadly’ isn’t just for effect when they say “Deadly Descents”. It starts out bland enough, drawing attention to the trees in the first level, for which body armour is recommended equipment to avoid anything nasty. They soon get a little more exotic and pervasive, with avalanches, oxygen supply, extreme cold, and more, each giving you cause to make tracks in the snow that are not just quick, but safe.
Despite the threat of death or hospitalisation, SSX is still a game about catching big air and pulling some insane looking tricks. The right stick, as is the fashion in EA Sports games now, can be used to perform the tricks, and it uses a system whereby the direction you initially push the stick determines the hand (left, right, or both) and where you flick it to from there determines the trick. If that’s too complex, the face buttons still work fine, but it seems that more combinations are available via the stick. Right trigger, just as I personally remembered it, still tweaks the move you’re currently performing. Performing tricks fills up your boost meter (shown on screen by the word “TRICKY”), which can be used to give yourself a little acceleration. Filling up the meter triggers that one clip from that Run DMC song to play and makes the boost meter infinite for a limited time. If you’ve played an SSX game before, this probably sounds familiar.
Carving a path down a mountain, pulling tricks, managing a boost meter and avoiding obstacles sounds like a bit of a tall order when there’s the possibility you might die, and it is. So there’s a rewind option.available at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, using it penalises your score, and it has no effect on your competitors, who will board on by (even in single player!). Furthermore, you can only use it a limited number of times per race. This felt a little bit harsh in the end; by all means, penalise my score, or let it be limited use, or let it not affect my opponents, but all three? When you’re going downhill at speed on a waxed board, it’s easy to feel like falling off the level was determined long, long, long before the part where you started falling.
The social side of things comes in via RiderNet, which is SSX’s equivalent of AutoLog. It provides all the updates and information about your friends run times and progress, encouraging you into a bit of one-upmanship rivalry. There’s also Geotags, which initially are just like the snowflakes from previous SSX games which were worth points, but earning them allows you to place them in levels for your friends to find, and you get notifications to let you know what levels your friends have hidden GeoTags in, so you can go hunting for them to earn some in game currency outside of the main story mode. It’s as robust as AutoLog from my experience, which is a very good thing.
The Bottom Line
SSX is a worthy addition to the franchise, with the Deadly Descents bringing a fresh approach to a genre that’s usually as chilled as the environments they take place in. Fans of the traditional, careless free-riding down mountains might be less interested in a race against death, but there’s enough of what they’re after to satisfy them, too.