Seven years after the last, there’s finally a new SSX game around. The good news? It’s awesome. The bad news? It will make you realize how much this generation of games has been lacking. SSX feels like a game straight out of the last generation with its quirky nature, large amount of in-game content and, shockingly enough, unlockable characters and costumes. But does that mean that the new SSX has captured the spirit of its predecessors and maintained the high standards they set? Yes. Absolutely, unabashedly, whole-heartedly, indubitably yes.
Firstly, SSX has a much different focus from its previous iterations. The series picks up from where On Tour left the track design (and Blur too, if you count that) on more realistic mountainous locations taken from NASA data instead of the custom tracks with crowds and panache that the series started with. The biggest change is that you can die by falling into a seemingly endless chasm. Not just off the side of the track but, more often than not, right in the middle of many of them. It doesn’t help that this is also the fastest SSX yet and so you have less time than ever to react to upcoming hazards.
The game has a distinct focus on surviving the drops as much as getting the highest score or the fastest time. You can equip Gear such as wingsuits, headlamps, ice axes, and even armor to help you not die. The final drop in each world region is called a Deadly Drop, which is not a misnomer in the slightest. Each Deadly Drop is specifically tailored towards a certain piece of Gear that are almost necessary to complete them. The tracks are hard and will keep many people stuck for a while, especially towards the end of the World Tour mode.
The game is mostly based around its robust and excellent online mode so, as a result, the World Tour mode feels like nothing more than a gigantic, involved tutorial. Each region of the world literally is one track where Zoe races against an SSX team member so you can unlock them, then you play as that new character on one Race drop, one Trick drop, another Race or Trick drop, and finally a Deadly Descent.
It’s repetitive and most of the length comes through repeating failed tracks. Each penultimate drop and Deadly Descent acts as a tutorial for a new piece of gear, most of which will never come up in the World Tour again. It’s so much of a tutorial that the game will actually let you skip the Deadly Descents if you can’t beat them so that you can proceed with the story.
For those of you who actually do wonder about the story of SSX, this game is a reboot of sorts. Zoe, Mac and Tane create a superstar snowboarding team, because why the hell not? But one of the members, Griff Simmons, suddenly dropped out for no real reason other than because he’s a dick. Now, team SSX is competing with him to conquer all the Deadly Descents before he does. I’m not kidding, his motives are literally because he’s a jerk. He says it himself.
Stylistically, the game is less ridiculous than before. As this is the first SSX game to not carry the EA BIG label (and no game has in five years), it’s unclear whether the game is actually made by the same team as before. EA Canada is still the actual company that made the game, as they have all the previous iterations.
Somewhere in there, though, the ridiculous stylings of the series have taken a muted turn. Combined with the new survival mechanics, it makes the game seem much more serious and sincere than it actually is. It’s a little disappointing but quickly forgotten once you pull your first Super Tricky.
The real meat of the game is the online mode, thanks to the implementation of RiderNet with features like Geotagging, player ghosts, and Global Events. The Global Events mode lets you participate in runs with up to 100,000 other people where you get credits based on your performance, depending on what tier you end up in and how big the buy-in is. For example, I entered a Trick run with a 250,000 credit buy-in. I placed Gold (the median level) and got an expected payout of around 820,000 credits. I ended up finishing in Silver with a payout of 800,000.
But if you’ve ever looked at a Leaderboard, you’ll know there are always glitchers who fill up the top scores with ridiculous figures that are pretty much impossible to achieve. This, unfortunately, happens in SSX as well, but the stakes are much higher here since these glitched high scores lower the payout for all the people who play fair. This sort of thing needs to be actively regulated if such a model is to see long term success.
There is also an Explore mode which offers a more traditional mode of competition. Here, you race for the fastest time or compete for the highest score against friends online and earn medals against preset times and scores. The ghost system handily shows you what and how the Bronze, Silver and Gold medalist runs attained their time or score.
It should be understood that the game does not feature directly competitive multiplayer at all—it is asynchronous. Instead of racing a stranger while ascribing him a sexual orientation, you instead face off against their best time and a ghost of their run, along with two other strangers who cannot immediately receive tales of your supposed adventures with their mother.
Ordinarily this would be cause for disdain, but it works perfectly for a game like SSX. The game is unforgivingly difficult in certain drops and rewinds are often not enough, especially when the game is so heavily reliant on inertia. It’s not uncommon to rewind to a time when you think you can correct your path but then end up doing the exact same thing all over again.
In terms of extra content past the base game, there are literally dozens of outfits and costumes for each character, along with even more Gear and Boards. Outside of general aesthetics, some costumes offer bonus perks to stats and each of the Boards and Gear offer differing stats that you can pick and choose from in order to suit your character and run. On top of that, each item has its own level to further differentiate just how effective it is. Of course, higher is not always better since some Global Events limit the level you can use. It’s shameful to say that this is exceptional, really, but it just makes SSX seem that much better than other games. Take a note, Capcom.
If the game does have any faults, it’s the complete lack of explanation in some areas despite having a full manual and hand-holding tutorial. It’s hard to tell what the Store is for or why it’s even there when going through the World Tour mode, especially when it only offers you four items for sale at a time. The game never really tells you that using Rewind during races only puts you back and not the other riders. It doesn’t mention if doing one trick builds more points than doing multiple or if flips are worth more than spins. They’re all minor details until you actually tackle the meat of the game with the thousands of other players and every little detail is crucial.
Some of the new Gear is also just plain not fun and more than a few feel shoveled into the game. The ice axes, pulse goggles, headlamps and oxygen masks are all present to solve problems that really did not need to be in the game. Ice, darkness, whiteouts and low oxygen levels may be a realistic challenge, but they’re completely out of place in an arcade snowboarding game. Thankfully, there’s much less use of these in the online modes and, hopefully, they never get more importance ever again. That said, the other Gear like wingsuits and armor add good new dimensions to the game to help balance it out.
SSX is pure, unadulterated fun and has more than enough content to keep even the most lifeless of us going for a long time. It’s a crazy snowboard game where you do tricks and race, and SSX does it very well. If there’s any word of caution, it’s that you should definitely hold back if you do not have online capabilities. The World Tour mode is short, the Explore mode will only take you so far, and RiderNet is pretty much crucial to it all. In the end, the game is SSX through and through. Longtime fans of the games of yore will definitely love this entry and newcomers with a penchant for games like the old Tony Hawk titles will appreciate it as well.
SSX was released on February 28th, 2012 for Xbox 360 and PS3. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.