SSX Review: Suffering From An Identity Crisis
SSX is a game that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s trying to appeal to new fans as well as the old guard that has been a fan of the franchise since the PS2 launch title. It’s trying to be edgy but the same fun loving SSX of before. It has a major identity crisis that it needs to solve before EA even considers doing a sequel. The big question remains though, is it a good game? Short answer – yes, but the longer answer is a little more complicated.
SSX began its life as Deadly Descents, a game that EA said was going to focus on survival and the harsh reality of extreme snowboarding. Sounded like a good idea, but it was a far cry from what the SSX franchise was all about – big air and big tricks. EA seems to have taken this criticism to heart, but in the process made the game a little weaker for it.
Like I said at the start, SSX is conflicted. It wants to be the same old SSX from before, but it also wants to play around with this new idea of the Deadly Descents. That’s where the single player World Tour mode comes in. This is the first mode you’re greeted with in the game and the mode you’re going to want to play through first to unlock all the riders and mountains.
The single player campaign follows a strict progression that makes it similar to Need for Speed (more on that later) instead of the SSX games of old, especially SSX3 and it’s giant, continuous mountain. The progression is a little something like this: introductory event, a few normal events, event that introduces you to each mountain’s gimmick and then the Deadly Descent event where the gimmick reigns supreme.
The regular events are where the game is the most fun. It’s here that you either have a Race It or a Trick It event which are pretty self explanatory. These are the events that will make you remember SSX3 and its perfection of the genre.
It’s when the game gets to the Deadly Descents part that it all falls apart for the most part. You see, each mountain has a different hazard that the player has to overcome. It wouldn’t be so bad if the hazard was only contained to the final Survive It event on each mountain that has the player by themselves challenging the element on that mountain. The problem comes from the event before the Deadly Descent that has the player completing a Trick It or Race It event while having to survive.
When the player just has to deal with the Deadly Descent, the game gets interesting or frustrating depending on the event. The first few Deadly Descents have the player using a Wingsuit to glide over chasms or using ice axes to traverse frozen mountain sides. It’s these events that are fun and make you think this Deadly Descents thing isn’t so bad.
All good things must come to an end though and SSX crashes in on itself with the avalanche event that pulls the camera in front of the player for a top down view with reversed controls that bring the game’s pacing to a halt. It’s here where I began my slow descent into yelling random obscenities at my screen for what seemed like hours.
It doesn’t get much better from there however with the addition of other Deadly Descents that focus on having to maintain a steady supply of oxygen to survive down the mountain or staying out of the shadows lest you freeze to death.
Some of the later Deadly Descents were pretty fun, especially the darkness event that has you snowboarding through the volcanic caves of Kilimanjaro. The problem is the event before the Deadly Descent that uses the survival gimmick. Having to place first in a Trick It event while keeping a finger on the right button to keep supplying myself with oxygen might have been one of the most frustrating experiences of my entire gaming career.
The dual personality doesn’t just stop with the gameplay though. The presentation constantly feels at odd with itself. The campaign has a story about Team SSX facing off against its biggest rival. It introduces each mountain with a pre-rendered cutscene showing off the newest threat that faces the player. These feel like a remnant from when the game was called Deadly Descents.
The game completely turns around when it introduces each new character, however, with a motion comic that feels more like classic SSX. These motion comics show the backstory of each SSX rider and their free living lifestyle that makes them want to challenge these mountains. The experience just feels disjointed and the developers should have stuck to either one or the other.
Regardless, the single player campaign, minor annoyances aside, is a great reintroduction to SSX after all these years. There are nine mountains to conquer and the experience should last the player anywhere from six to eight hours. It could last even longer if you’re a perfectionist like myself and feel compelled to place first in every event.
The online mode is where the game wants players to be at though. The World Tour mode just sets players up for the Explore mode which has players conquering each mountain again and earning points to buy new gear. This mode can also be played offline which has players competing against the AI.
Aside from that, the online mode was inspired by the autolog system that debuted with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. This allows players to compete online on their own time. This means that your friends can save their ghost time on a particular drop and you can compete against it on your own time. This creates a much better online community as it doesn’t require everybody to be playing at the same time.
The most interesting part of the online mode, at least in my opinion, is the Geotag implementation. Players can drop Geotags on drops and other players are tasked with finding them. Players are rewarded for hiding them well because they earn more credits the longer they’re left uncollected.
Controls are crucial to any extreme sports game and SSX does not disappoint. Besides the aforementioned reversing of the controls during the avalanche section, the controls provide a super fluid experience.
The game provides two methods of control for tricks – classic and standard. I went with classic as it mimics old school SSX perfectly and I was immediately comfortable. The standard control maps tricks and jumps to the right thumbstick for an experience similar to EA’s Skate. While classic players will want to stick to classic, new players may want to try out both to see what suits them best.
The two areas of the game that I have no complaints with are the visuals and the sound design. The visuals are absolutely stunning and each mountain has its own unique design that keeps things fresh. When you complete the World Tour mode, the game displays a lot of the concept art for each area and it made me really appreciate the work that went into designing each mountain.
Whether its the plain white snow of the Rockies to the extreme jagged edges of Mt. Everest, the game’s visual style never disappoints. This is the best looking snowboarding game ever created and I have high hopes that the inevitable sequel outdoes what this game has done.
The sound is also excellent as it provides the player with an authentic snowboarding audio experience. Cutting through the snow never sounded so real. The voice acting is also admirable and never outstays its welcome. The Russian helicopter pilot who provides the player with tips is the star of the game as he is a constant source of humor. Before you get all worried, DJ Atomica is back, but only in the cutscenes as he comments on the exploits of Team SSX.
The music is by far the best soundtrack an extreme sports game has ever received with heavyweights from both the electronic and hip-hop genres. Your mileage may vary, however, as the electronic songs included are heavy on the wubs. The game does allow custom soundtracks though, so you should be good no matter what.
While it may be conflicted over what it wants to be, SSX is a great return for the franchise. While I may have my gripes, I’m more than excited to see what EA Sports has in store for the franchise down the road. If the developer can focus on the big air and big tricks while keeping the awesome mountain design from this entry intact, the next SSX could go down as the best snowboarding game ever made.