When you purchased your Playstation 2 at launch back in the day, it came with a disc full of uninspired demos. The exception was the first title to be released by EA's BIG studio, SSX. Easy to pick up and play, and frankly, a right hoot from the get go. A multitude of snow runs that looked as much like pinball machines as they did slopes. The characters were colourful with amusingly stereotypical "bro" catchphrases.
Fast forward to 2012 and EA's reboot of the franchise, SSX was not made by the EA BIG studio and thus the two are like chalk and cheese. The BIG version was exaggerated jumps, tricks and speed whereas this second coming of SSX is a far more realistic sim. As strange as it sounds, it bares a closer resemblance to Skate rather than the original SSX.
It is perhaps inevitable that the first criticism of the game is that it's just not as fun as it was, and it's moved too far away from the lighthearted aspect that made the franchise such a hit. SSX veterans will find the extreme increase in difficulty rather jarring and will have you needing to take breaks for the sake of your sanity as well as the well being of your loved ones/pets.
The tricks have been dialled down in terms of their cartoon nature, but when pulled off they are still spectacular at times. The key is to string combos together in order to get "Tricky" status. Once in this zone, the old helicopter and walking the dog moves break out. The physics are more sensitive than previous versions, making cutting unpredictable at times. There's also a need to nail jumps in the middle of the ramp because one slight jerk left or right and you're toast.
The courses themselves are massive, and crammed with ridges, jumps, pipes and various foliage. The detail is incredible but this does prove problematic when trying to work out exactly which direction you are supposed to be heading. Races become so difficult to win you end up following the ethereal trail of the person in front of you. Add to the fact that the courses are so long, even after several revisits it's hard to remember what comes after the next bend. There are also a disproportionately large number of events that take place at night. These aren't official courses that have floodlights and masses of people flashing torches, all you have is the spotlight from a helicopter. So again, on long, busy, largely forgettable snow runs, you are also travelling in the dark. Challenging? Very. Fun and/or fair? Not really, no.
SSX Tricky gave you the feeling that although you were on a ski slope, you were also inside an arena. This version makes the point early and often that these are real outdoor deadly descents, and most tracks have ravines that will destroy your run in one foul swoop. Whilst EA have tried to balance this by giving you the option of pressing LB and rewinding the action a few seconds to correct your line, in race format your opponents are not rewound. They just carry on, whilst you go backwards losing several seconds thus rendering the option useless. It's easier to just hit start and restart the race. I would like to have seen more straightforward "stadium" style courses that allow you to flat out race (preferably with light) without fear of the edge of the World appearing unannounced and swallowing you whole.
Customisation options now stretch beyond your suits (which all look the same) and your board to the vaguely named "gear". For your gear you can equip Armour to give you a shield, Ice Axes to help you corner on ice patches and also Wingsuits for when jumps require some assistance to clear huge ravines.
There are also courses, such as Everest, that are at extreme altitudes and require you to equip Oxygen Tanks as part of your gear. When on these runs, your screen will begin to go dark giving you the sensation of "blacking out" unless you give a quick toot on your oxygen tank. This is quite a frustrating game mode. These tracks are long enough, hard enough and at times dark enough as it is, without the unnecessary handicap of a black out effect. They also deplete so on top of furiously avoiding ravines, you also have to make sure you have enough in the tank to make it to the end.
The career mode comes in the form of the World Tour of 9 "Deadly Descents". Here you are placed as Team SSX who are locked in a battle with former member Griff who has decided to set up his own group. You travel the globe doing battle in races, trick events as well as survival runs. The survival runs require you to get to the bottom of a run having pinged off several trees and cliffs without losing all of your armour. Each location unlocks a new character for you to control, rather than allowing you to create your own likeness. This will be frustrating for some. This frustration is compounded by having to level up each new character from scratch. For example you could build up Elise to level 4 ability and equipment, but have to start again with Tane at level 1 in Alaksa.
The multiplayer aspect is hit and miss. There's no local 2-player and in fact there is no online head-to-head as such. The closest you can get is by racing the ghost of your friends' best time or score on a particular course. This is a massive letdown as this is where SSX had an opportunity to cling on to the fun aspect. However, praise must be given for the RiderNet system that allows you to compete in open events and post your best time or score. You pay a drop-in fee to enter, but then you are rewarded with prize money should your entry achieve a certain standard when that event closes. These can range from 400k prize pots to a whopping 1.3 billion. These credits can then be spent in-game for purchasing equipment. Here you can also post times in the Avalanche mode, which is a reverse camera mode that shows you racing away from the avalanche that you are leaving in your wake. This was by far the most enjoyable game mode.
The soundtrack is solid with an eclectic mix of dub step, dance and folk tracks that do a great job of setting the scene. It's a track listing that would not look out of place on your iPod playlists. In terms of the characters themselves, the "bro" banter has all but gone and some boarders are just plain mutes. And not in a "moody silent protagonist" way. Just in a "we didn't record any lines for this character" way.
When SSX is good, it's exhilarating and the environments when accompanied by the soundtrack blow you away. But there are so many annoying features that ultimately that bitter taste in the mouth is what you are left with. SSX is all grown up, but as with most parents when faced with their teenage offspring, as proud as you are, you miss the way they were.
Big thank you from the TDF team to MJ for helping out with this review
SSX is back!