Cool as ice or taking the piste?
It’s been a pretty dark time for those who like their adrenaline blended with a thick clump of pixels. My fictional sporting days ended last gen, when one of my favourite videogame series’ of all time took a nosedive into obscurity and all traces went cold. Now, a refreshed franchise clamours up the highest point in the world, and screams a message through the clouds as loud as Megatron crying through a million megaphones of meganess; ‘SSX is back, and it’s bigger than ever’…but does it deliver? Originally quipped as SSX: Deadly Descents, the game has ditched its bizarrely dark macabre tone from those original trailers but retained the perilous features promised. The original cast and new additions have made it their quest to scour the world looking to conquer it’s highest peaks and most demanding obstacles. It’s easier said than done, though, as mother nature seems to have other plans. The games ‘Boss’ mountains are littered with crevices, trees, rocks, lava and even more, and feel more like tests of luck than they do of skill. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Even if everything in the game is trying to kill you, it doesn’t stop a brewing of Stockholm Syndrome with the peaks. Each conventional slope looks like a battleground for man-made structures and mother nature, and nature has clearly won over. Gone are the bright lights and modern overhauls of previous SSX, mountains now have an overwhelmingly natural feel to them, looking plain yet remarkably beautiful and designed for the daring tick opportunist in mind. They’re such a breath of fresh air from the games more serious roots, and feel like labyrinths of speed and advanced trickery that truly understand what SSX was, and should be all about. The world tour introduces you to the games new elements…as well as forcing backstories behind the characters upon you that are just as awkward as the trademark mountains. The real meat is the ‘Explore’ mode, offering up hundreds of events, from typical race fare to score hoarding trick events. If you’re a massive completionest or SSX veteran , you’ll be engrossed in this for hours in a bid to get every difficult gold medal on offer.
The emphasis in survival in some cases really does hamper the SSX ideal of simply blitzing a mountain
Controls felt bewildering for me at first, seemingly attempting to compensate to those sporting sluts who have revelled in other boarding titles in this hiatus from the cold. Alternating grabs with the right analogue stick and face buttons feels perplexing, juggling directives of how to make a left hand plant on the back of the board. Thankfully, SSX also includes a classic control scheme to cater for the oldies, a system that not only feels familiar to me, but much simpler arcade affair. I found it ridiculously difficult to destroy my trick combos, however, as bumping into trees would usually end up with me simply bouncing back onto the track with nothing but a slap on the wrist. Pulling off mind-bending twists still feels extremely fun, but at times the game feels patronisingly lenient with collision detection, occasionally not acknowledging crashes or getting characters sandwiched in between rocks with little hope of salvation. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen a lot…but does become a issue in those aforementioned Deadly Descents, potential gameplay booby traps in themselves. Thanks to the popularity of Need For Speed’s ‘Autolog’ system, SSX utilises its own variation with ‘Ridernet’, a network allowing you to compare mini-achievements, ghosts and medal records with friends…soon to be rivals. The system works perfectly, merging online play as you explore the mountain with ‘Geotags’, providing bragging rights for the community to flirt with…and for you to steal. Should a rival reach a particularly precarious spot, they can place one of these markers on that pesky hard to reach place. Claim it for yourself though, and they’ll earn some XP for how long it was there for and you’ll get some in-game cash. Finally you’re able to feel the sheer ecstasy a dog gets when urinating on another one’s patch…and it feels gratifying. Combine these with constant rival ghost data, and you’ll be aiming more to bust records than to score medals on your lonesome. The unconventional online elements extend to its competitive modes. Rather than offer a standard way to compete with other head-to-head, a list of online events are displayed to be undertaken at any time, each with certain criteria and rules governing them. Should you be confident in one of these trials, you can chuck some credits in to a pot and attempt at a high score. It feels more dynamic, being allowed to jump in to defeat rivals and strangers at any time rather than wait around in lobbies like you’re pottering about in a doctor’s surgery, and I love it. At the same time, however, I’m still not sure why there is no option to conventionally duel with others over the net, and it’s sure to bother some…as did my next gripe. The blistering and brilliant online multi-player begs the question; Why no split-screen? As you carve your way down summits alone, you don’t want any boring bugger to interrupt you, but others moan and whimper when they learn they can’t take me on head to head. Even I felt like I became recently bereaved when I found out I couldn’t tackle the slopes with pals, and with such a well-made online component, it seems weird that you can’t bring that very same fun to another special someone. I don’t care about gambling fake money, to this day I bet my friends piles of Maoams that I can beat them. I want that experience to return. The blistering speed, obnoxious tricks and deadly close-calls are all backed up by a brilliant soundtrack. Though the tunes on offer constantly veer out of my ageing and un-hip comfort zone, all perfectly fit SSX’s death-defying presence. Be it charming pop or pulsating dubstep , each fits with smooth snow carving perfectly, muffling as you launch into clouds and remixing as you grind impressively long rails. It makes you realise just how music can add to the experience, and you’ll soon find yourself creating your very own SSX in-game playlist to personalise your descents. It isn’t a perfectly smooth ride to the bottom, and some elements of the newest features feel rather shoe-horned in. Each peak requires a certain piece of equipment in order for your character to survive it, and whereas some have rather inconsequential effects that might as well have been added automatically, others get in the way of gameplay. Passive equipment always offered up the best perks, simply because it doesn’t feel like it’s intruding too much. Speeding down the heights of Everest forces you to activate your oxygen mask due to the thin air, and attempting to do so whilst pulling off your masterful skills mucks up the games flow just as much as throwing spaghetti in your face would. It’s annoying that these occasionally bumbling lifelines are necessities in the games most awkwardly designed falls. When I handed the controller over to friends new to the franchise however, things didn’
t go so well, and it was at this point I realised that I approached this game with a stupid amount of experience on older iterations, to the point where I saw stiffys in my dreams for years (…that…came out wrong). My partner loved drifting down the simpler slopes with their gorgeous charms, but when attempting to conquer the crevice filled deadlier plummets, just found the game unbelievably frustrating. The emphasis in survival in some cases really does hamper the SSX ideal of simply blitzing a mountain for the sheer fun of it, marring trick performance and pretty much chucking walls straight at the player. One particular deadly descent took advantage of the games usually fast and smooth physics and launched me around like a pinball fired from a pistol, obviously decimating health. Another simply coated the screen in white like I was escaping Silent Hill in the most ‘radical’ way possible, making each jump a potential gamble into oblivion. It’s a shame, as the vast openness of some mountains looked and played like wonderful slippery playgrounds, but more dangerous fare usually offered up a one way ticket to ‘Plummetville’. When SSX ditched its Deadly Descents sub-title, a collective sigh of relief echoed through countries. It’s a shame they haven’t completely been kicked off the peaks. When you’re tackling opponents on the more conventional slopes, nostalgia sweeps straight of the screen and deep into your senses, providing a fast paced and beautiful snowboarding game, and I lapped up every single millisecond. Chuck in the cluttered Deadly Descents however, and you realise that the simple gameplay and complicated track design simply don’t go hand in hand. When it focuses on its roots, it’s the Fonz, an entity that shines out cool with little to no effort. When it chucks in tracks that strongly emphasise bone crushing danger, it becomes Tom Green, constantly fighting for attention but getting nothing but frustration. SSX is certainly a good return to form, but one that’s going to require a second shot to make it a truly great one for fans and newcomers alike.
The Bad: NO COUCH MULTI-PLAYER, Deadly Descents don’t blend well with the core gameplay SSX is known for, Some slightly dodgy collision detection at times