Extreme sports titles have all but died out over the last five plus years. Gone are the days when you would hear your friends discussing their ridiculously high scores in the latest Tony Hawk title or when you could constantly try to improve your best combo on a grind rail whilst rocking out with punk bands like Blink 182 and Sum 41. While new ideas were ventured such as EA attempting to bring a more realistic feel with its Skate series and Activision trying to take Mr. Hawk in a new direction with the awful skateboarding peripheral, it simply wasn’t enough to prevent the bleak looking fate of the once thriving extreme sporting genre. But is it all over? Seems EA isn’t ready to quite call it quits and have resurrected their SSX series once more to deliver what could be the most exhilarating experience the franchise has seen yet.
SSX (previously subtitled Deadly Descent) doesn’t try to alter the formula too much from its past years focusing once again on pulling off ridiculous over the top moves over hazardous runs. You’ll jump, spin, grind, flip and perform impossible tricks like rotating your board round your neck in a ‘guillotine-like’ fashion looking cool as you do it. Sure things have been toned down; you won’t find yourself snaking your way down giant pinball table themed slopes, but it still retains just enough zaniness to keep fans pleased.
New to the series is the rewind feature that allows you to go back fifteen seconds should you fail an epic combo at the last moment or sail off the edge of a bottomless drop. Included as a means to help you out during events, the results are somewhat of a mixed bag. Trick events work fine with a small point deduction being the only forfeit for its use while survival allows you to handily erase a quick death (although limited in use). Race however feels pointless as when rewinding your boarder, all other racers continue on unaffected. Since the goal is to get to the finish first using this feature can lose you so much time it makes catching up an almost impossible task. Most of the time it’s better to simply hit the retry option.
The game’s nine regions find a good balance between real world influence and extreme sports playground so while you’ll see uninhabited caverns or skyscraper sized drops, that won’t stop several well placed bright red grind rails or fallen tree trunks to slide on from making an appearance to keep you moving. And that’s what SSX does so well. It keeps the pace going. Rarely do you find yourself slowing for a moment; you’re always moving forward almost making this feel like Burnout on snowboards, and you know what? It’s incredibly fun! Besides being visually beautiful, each region also feels and looks unique offering enough variation to stop repetition setting in. Alaska for example brings with it roller coaster style pipelines that offer brilliant combo potential while the Himalayas feature pitch black underground caverns linking together like a deadly labyrinth. To achieve this amount of variety in what are essentially large mountains of snow is nothing short of impressive.
EA Canada have even tried to cater to all with how the game controls so whether you’re new to the series or been a fan since the beginning, you’ll find a control scheme that suits you using either the analogue or buttons to perform incredible manoeuvres in the air. It feels like the development team have done a good job bringing this once fading series up to date.
SSX offers three different types of event starting off with Race It. Here it’s simply a dash to the base of the mountain as you try to stick to the fastest line searching high and low for the best shortcuts. You’ll need to find a good balance between pulling off tricks to earn boost and avoiding catching too much air which sadly can be as tough as it is frustrating. The number of times I found myself rocketing down the mountain only to see an opponent fly right on by left me both confused and irritated as I once again hit the restart option. Then there’s Trick It that will require you to change up your strategy entirely focusing this time on hitting huge ramps and linking everlasting combos through long grinds and a creative use of your environment. I had the most fun with this style of event as linking death defying leaps with landing on a rail followed by yet another launch feels ever so satisfying as you rake in the points. The final event, called Survive It is new to the series and offers perhaps the most testing challenges in the game. Here it’s you versus the elements as you brave jagged rocks, avalanches, icy terrain, pitch black caverns and more. With each Deadly Descent requiring specific gear you’ll need to pull out all the stops to avoid a new catastrophe as you juggle navigating the environments and utilizing your equipment as best you can. Moments when you’re face to face with the dangers of a rolling avalanche or the freezing temperatures of the Antarctic are truly exhilarating and really give the game that extra element of excitement and danger. Unfortunately much like the racing, surviving can be full of frustration especially in the latter half of the descents. With only three rewinds and a large number of obstacles and cliff edges to avoid it can become more of a trial and error session than a true test of skill getting to the bottom. This becomes even more apparent when you combine this with racing an opponent.
Gear, outfits and perks can be bought with all credits earned and offer your rider better abilities. Board choice for example can affect your speed, boost and tricking performance while outfits offer unique perks such as a bonus to your trick multiplier. Even the gear used to survive the game’s torturous Deadly Descents offer stats that for example may improve the durability of your wingsuit or the battery life on a headlamp. Making the right equipment choices can really help boost your scores and times and is a nice addition to the series.
EA Canada included a barebones story in the game’s World Tour mode (not that it really needed it) that sees you taking a team of snowboarders, surfers and motocross riders through a series or regions in a race against former member turned rival Griff to beat him down the planet’s nine most dangerous mountains in one piece. Bringing back familiar faces you’ll have to brave the fiercest slopes to be number one. Each setting offers a handful of racing and trick events before ending in a daredevil run down the most intimidating mountain. This formula repeats over the nine stages but it’s a good way of familiarising yourself with what the game has to offer before tackling the real meat of the game, Explore and Global Events.
Explore takes all the courses (well over 100 in all!) from each region and gives you set bronze, silver and gold requirements to topple. These can be devilishly difficult but always bring you back for more as you try to better previous attempts of your own or other gamer’s online. Along with this is a cool new addition called Geotags which allows you to plant collectables about the environment for other players to try and grab where the longer they remain uncollected the more credits you receive. It’s strangely addictive trying to find new hard to reach places in the hope the money will continue to rise.
While it’s a shame traditional multiplayer isn’t included in the game, EA have included a feature called Global Events which offers an updated series of challenges open to everyone in the world or if you want to create your own, just you and your friends. It is a modern stylish way of competing with others, but it would have been nice to also have the option to race or trick simultaneously with your pals rather than against their ghosts.
Whilst doing anything in SSX, RiderNet constantly keeps track of your overall progress. From the minute you load up the game, any new times or scores posted, attempts made to top your best or even collectibles acquired from your friends pop up, and the game sets challenges for you based on their results. Anyone who has played the last few Need for Speed games will recognize the similarities to its Autolog feature and yet again if you have anyone with the game on your friends list, it works really well to keep you updated.
Extreme sports titles have always been known to boast an adrenaline pumping soundtrack and SSX is no different. While the selection is a great blend of dubstep, drum and bass and remixed versions of indie tracks its how they are presented that really impresses. Tracks themselves pick up pace and slow with your rise and fall down the mountain. As you gain altitude from jumps, the music fades before kicking back into full volume the second your board touches base again. Using a remixed sample of Run-D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky” is also a nice throwback to the series past.
SSX is a great reboot for the series and one that caters to its fans as well as newcomers. Brutally frustrating in places but immensely intense and exciting in others, SSX is hopefully the start of a beautiful return for the extreme sports genre.