It's kind of hard to pinpoint the exact moment I realised I loved SSX. It may have been the first time I had to race down the pristine yet geometrically impossible slopes of the Rockies to the relentlessly feel good tunes of The Naked and Famous. It could have been the first time I totally smashed the record on a Trick It event. Or it could have been when I found out how much fun it is to carve out your own little niche in the global online competitions. Whatever the timing of it, I realised prior to writing this that I love SSX to an almost inappropriate extent.
I may be slightly bias. The original PS2 SSX was the very first game I properly owned, as opposed to scabbing the odd afternoon or lunch break off my friends. I followed the franchise with gusto right up until SSX On Tour. The lack of a true current gen SSX has been a huge disappointment for me over the years, but luckily, patience prevailed. SSX is a delight to play, and a true successor to the pedigree it comes from.
The game can essentially be split into three self explanatory modes: Race It, Trick It and Survive It. The former play much as they always have. The latter is a new addition to the franchise that adds a very different dynamic to the game. Racing downhill at breakneck speed while attempting to avoid the myriad perils that assail you, whether they be rocks, trees or gravity itself, is exhilarating and not a little difficult. Survival Mode has drawn the most flak due to this aspect, but I find it refreshing that a mode can prove so trying in this current gaming epoch, where often you have to play on the hardest difficulty just to get a modicum of a challenge (I'm looking at you, Space Marine). It can be occasionally frustrating to pour 30 minutes into a single course, but it makes the victory so much sweeter. The soundtrack to the game has maybe a little too much offensively shite dubstep but is otherwise a perfect boarding collection. If you REALLY can't handle you're Skrillex, SSX allows you to make your own mix. In tandem with the survival mode, SSX has an avalanche (eh? eh?) of new toys. Wingsuits, armour, and headlamps are all required for certain matches, adding new mechanics to established modes. At times this can seem a bit gimmicky, but thankfully the game never gets buried in these
add ons. And besides, wingsuits are fucking cool. The multiplayer is perhaps where this game makes the biggest of its changes. Instead of traditional, lobby based races, the game allows you to set your times or scores on a level and then challenges your friends to beat them. At first, it gave me pause. The original SSX was a killer couch game that you and your buddies could sink hours into, as with any racing game. It was immediate, and it was fun. How could this new system be better. While it might not truly replace the on-the-spotness of the previous titles, it does drag SSX into the online era, and does it exceptionally well. It allows you to remain competitive with your friends while not actually being online. Logging on to find your buddy has smashed your score is all the incentive you need to drop an hour or two trying to claw it back. I speak from experience. The global aspect of the multiplayer has managed to craft a distinctive, and more importantly fun online community. Events can be bought into, or you can engage in free events too, although if you do you'll find yourself up against a Trick It score of 130,000,000, or a frankly inhuman downhill race time. This, combined with the ability to create and manage your own custom events means you can become a little or as involved with the community as you desire. EA have as usual drawn fire for their online pass scheme, with stores all the points you make online in a sort of digital vault until you're ready to pay up. With an online pass included in every new game however, this shouldn't prove too daunting unless you're dead set on getting it second-hand.
Despite all these changes, at it's heart this is still the SSX we know and love. It's still chock full of awesome moments. Tricking off a helicopter at the last minute in order to bump your score from silver to gold comes to mind. Its courses are a bit less wacky (anyone who's ever raced Tokyo Megaplex will understand) but no less thrilling and complex. Races are still frantic and tense, Trick Its are still gravity and physics defying in their awesomeness. It has been 9 years since the last properly good entry into the franchise, 2003's SSX 3. It finally feels like we're back on course, and it's never been sweeter. SSX is a truly delightful experience that reminds you how much pure fun you can have while gaming.
- Jack Whelan