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SSX Review

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SSX is an intriguing mix of old and new that doesn't always pan out, but the absurdist snowboarding gameplay remains as thrilling as ever.

EA's latest SSX game is, at once, a nostalgia piece aimed at recapturing the attention of old franchise fans that have wandered astray, and something of a series reboot, mixing in a host of new bells and whistles and heavy drops aimed at capturing the attention of those who maybe never got into SSX back in the day, but these days are big fans of things like persistent online communities and also dubstep. It's a strange mixture of vibes that, at times, seem at odds with one another. It's as though the team behind SSX were never quite sure how far toward realistic danger nor straight-up arcade ludicrousness it ought to veer toward, relying on the old school silliness of SSX's snowboarding gameplay to carry the load as the team built a gaggle of new mechanics and concepts around it--some of which don't really gel with that classic SSX flavor. The end result is an experience that can often be tremendous fun, though sometimes almost feels accidentally so.

SSX is every bit the glorious mess the previous entries in the series were. Albeit with a few extra quirks that make it messier than usual.

First and foremost, the thing to understand about this SSX is that it controls correctly. The game presents you with a couple of different control options, including a classic style that maps the various tricks you can pull off to the face buttons of the controller, or, in a move that speaks to the great "analog sticking of everything" that video games have been all but obsessed with over the last several years, you can instead opt to swipe the right analog stick in various directions, should that suit your fancy. For my part, I stuck to the buttons, as I felt the timing and responsiveness of the rider on screen better suited my play style that way. The right stick always felt a bit too willy-nilly for my tastes, though perhaps others may see it differently.

Regardless of which style works for you, the greater point is that on the slopes, the action feels fantastic. SSX has always been about speed and the outright obliteration of the laws of physics, and this SSX takes that mantra to absurd new heights. I feel I am in no way speaking out of turn when I say that this SSX is light years faster and more intense than any of the games of yore. Go ahead, pop that copy of SSX 3 back into your PlayStation 2, and then give this one a spin. Chances are, the old game will make you feel like you just graduated from an Edsel to a Trans Am.

The bonus is that it does this while maintaining a sharp visual style and an even sharper frame rate. The game simply doesn't slow down on either the Xbox 360 nor the PlayStation 3, save for very, very minor bouts during some of the hairier races. It's nothing that's going to affect your play, however, though at times, you might actually pray for a bit of slowdown, just so you can regain your bearings.

You see, the one quirk with all that speed is that it can often lead to absolute chaos on the slopes. Of course that chaos comes part and parcel with being something called SSX, but in this version it's almost incomprehensible at times. Smart players will learn quickly that the speed boost is something to be used sparingly in key situations, and not something to be spammed constantly. That might seem at odds with the notion of winning, but it's not at odds with the idea of you surviving.

SSX is no longer just about getting through the courses in the fastest time or with the highest trick score--it's about making it out with your spine still intact. Large precipices and huge, jutting rock formations litter many of the courses, meaning you may very well kill yourself at some point during a race. And by may, I mean you will.

SSX certainly has its moments of frustration. There are certain courses that seem to have been designed with the maximum potential for controller-throwing rage in mind. This becomes especially true during the game's "deadly descents," courses that are purely about survival above all else. These courses are, of course, extremely tricky, and often involve quite a bit of accidental death. You'll have a bit of that on the less-deadly descents too, but the ones stamped as deadly practically require rote memorization of the course to survive, especially in the later stages of the game.

In order to try and keep you alive, EA added a number of equipment types for players to strap on before some of the tougher scenarios. Courses with huge gaps between boardable sections require wingsuits that can be deployed by a tap of the right bumper/R1 button. Icy courses demand ice picks that can be used to help you make sharp turns. Blizzard condition courses give you a pulse lamp that helps identify the terrain during a whiteout, and so on and so forth.

The life-saving equipment added to the SSX formula doesn't always have the intended effect.

They're interesting ideas that sometimes feel like stopgap solutions instead of full-fledged mechanics. For instance, the control inherent to the wingsuit gives one the impression that no one spent much time actually using the thing during QA. It sometimes seemed to just undeploy itself at random, and sometimes just wouldn't travel in the direction I was steering my character toward. The headlamp mechanic is borderline useless, since your field of vision is entirely dependent on the position of your head, and doing tricks often leads to disorienting situations where you have no sense of where you're actually supposed to be.

And then there is the rewind mechanic, that great bastion of all things racing in video games of the last several years, the thing that makes it so that no matter how bad you suck, you can just wipe away all your failure at the press of a button. Except that isn't really the case here. In SSX, rewinding is less of a catch-all failure eraser, and more of a stiff punishment for sucking that begrudgingly allows you to carry on. When you rewind, you're fined a stiff points penalty for every millisecond of time you go backward. And to add insult to your time-reversed injury, other players on the course don't experience the same rewind. So while you're flying backward out of a ravine and back onto semi-solid ground, everyone else is just on about their business. It's an interesting idea that, in certain scenarios, renders rewinding all but useless. On the deadly descents, where point totals and times come second banana to just surviving the damn thing (primarily during the World Tour mode), they're a godsend. In any situation where you're racing other players, you might as well just hit the restart button instead.

The aforementioned issues only stand out so much because they're the bulk of what makes this experience new. It's as if at some point, an EA executive sat down the team, who had been making a perfectly good SSX sequel in the vein of its predecessors, and said something to the effect of, "Look, guys, it's great that you've captured what people loved about the old games. But we really need something new, something hip, something fresh to sell this to a modern audience." Hence, all the rewinding and upgradeable equipment and dubstep.

While those changes never feel organically blended into the framework of what we've come to know SSX as, they can be reasoned with. There's a learning curve, certainly, but there is a time when you will at the very least learn to grudgingly accept them, and manage to work with them. And honestly, I don't want to belabor these points too heavily, because in the end, they're the minority of SSX's overall experience. By and large, the majority of SSX's courses are great. They're fast, fun, full of crazy grindable/jumpable scenery, and for all intents and purposes, feel exactly how you would like SSX courses in 2012 to feel. There are lots of them too, spread across many exotic locales like Antarctica, the Himalayas, and Siberia. It's worth noting that PlayStation 3 players also get access to a bonus mountain in Japan's Mount Fuji. It's a good level with some nifty scenery, but it's not necessarily so great that it demands purchase of the PS3 version. If anything, you should make sure you get the version that coincides with the console featuring the larger friend list.

Engaging in rivalries with friends and strangers is the core tenet of what makes this SSX fly.

That's because SSX's true primary draw is in its multiplayer. To be clear, that's multiplayer largely in the asynchronous sense. SSX takes most of its multiplayer cues from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit's Autolog, the all-encompassing rivalry system that constantly updates you on how your friends are performing on various courses, all while goading you into trying to beat them. And want to beat them you will.

You'll do most of this competing in both the Explore and Global Events sections, as the World Tour mode is little more than a barren and frustrating single player mode that's more tutorial than campaign. Explore features 150 different variations on the different mountain courses (many of which do overlap), while Global Events focus on specialized events that the entire player base of SSX can simultaneously compete in. Those who perform well on the Global Events will earn a proportionate amount of credits (which you use to buy equipment, outfits, and the like) to the quality of the performance. You can also create your own Global Events and make them decidedly less global, if you just want to play with your friends.

It's these ideas that give SSX its legs, and makes it worth trudging through the initial awkwardness of its other various experiments in how to make SSX appealing to kids these days. It's the "everything to everyone" approach that sometimes threatens to derail this new SSX, but it's the solidity of the core design—the same design that's propelled this series for the better part of the last decade—that makes it absolutely worthwhile.

Alex Navarro on Google+
69 Comments
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Posted by Dany

ITS VERY COMPLICATED!!!!

Posted by WJist

I've been looking forward into putting time AGAIN into SSX. We've missed you old friend!

Posted by TheYear20XX

Super excited to get my copy today! SSX is back!

Posted by Yummylee

Completely off-topic, but will you by chance reviewing Binary Domain, Alex? x) Just comes across as the kinda game they'd throw your way.

Posted by ReyGitano

Sounds exactly like what I wanted out of an SSX game. I'm disappointed to hear the wingsuit doesn't control as well as the rest of the game (I was already thinking this may be the case since it wasn't shown in the demo) but it sounds like what's important to me in an SSX game is here.

Posted by Twinsun

I really miss the personality that SSX Tricky had. This new one feels so generic to me.

Posted by coribald

I saw "Go ahead and pop SSX 3 into your PS2", so I stopped reading and obeyed.

Posted by AuthenticM

I was kinda hoping Coonce would review this game. But I guess it would have been pretty hard for him to be impartial and objective.

Posted by BonOrbitz

@coribald said:

I saw "Go ahead and pop SSX 3 into your PS2", so I stopped reading and obeyed.

And how does it hold up?

Posted by Rayeth

Edsel to a TransAm.

I love timely car jokes ;)

All that aside, it sounds like this is a great title for anyone who liked the old SSX to get back into the groove so to speak.

Posted by gla55jAw
It's worth noting that PlayStation 3 players also get access to a bonus mountain in Japan's Mount Fuji. It's a good level with some nifty scenery, but it's not necessarily so great that it demands purchase of the PS3 version. If anything, you should make sure you get the version that coincides with the console featuring the larger friend list.

Thanks for clearing this up. I've been waiting to see if the PS3 version was worth it for that mountain, even though all of my friends play on 360.

Posted by Morningstar

Glad to see this one pan out.

Posted by CountRockula

So is there a control option that allows me to use the d-pad to wind my spins and flips? I know it seems like a small thing, but I felt like I was fighting the controls all through the demo for exactly that reason. I just never felt comfortable.

Posted by LameImpala

Harrier races? So there are jets in this game?

Posted by AngeTheDude

Another sports game review from Alex!

Edited by MidianGTX

It's worth noting that PlayStation 3 players also get access to a bonus mountain in Japan's Mount Fuji. It's a good level with some nifty scenery, but it's not necessarily so great that it demands purchase of the PS3 version. If anything, you should make sure you get the version that coincides with the console featuring the larger friend list.

@gla55jAw: My approach was to go for content and create a new friends list. I've made a ton of new SSX buddies since the demo came out and now my PSN account is maxed out.

Posted by rmanthorp

I CAN'T WAIT!!

Moderator
Posted by Vorbis

I know he's not a reviewer but I'm kind of more interested in Sean Coonces opinion on this game, hopefully he can be dragged onto the Bombcast at some point to talk about it.

Posted by StarErik

Ryan played it, Coonce loved it, Alex reviewed it.

Posted by WinterSnowblind

@gla55jAw: It's probably worth pointing out that the UK 360 edition of the game also comes with Mt. Fuji. So don't expect it to be exclusive to the PS3 in North America for very long.

Posted by isomeri
It's worth noting that PlayStation 3 players also get access to a bonus mountain in Japan's Mount Fuji. It's a good level with some nifty scenery, but it's not necessarily so great that it demands purchase of the PS3 version. If anything, you should make sure you get the version that coincides with the console featuring the larger friend list.

Mt. Fuji is actually not a PS3 exclusive in Europe.

Posted by mfpantst

Hot Damn!!!!  I am so freaking excited.  Or amped, or 1080'd, or tricky'd.

Posted by JackSukeru

@ErikSchroder said:

Ryan played it, Coonce loved it, Alex reviewed it.

Jeff changed his mind about it.

Posted by Alex

@Bananashirt: Nice catch, duder. =)

Posted by gla55jAw

@MidianGTX said:

It's worth noting that PlayStation 3 players also get access to a bonus mountain in Japan's Mount Fuji. It's a good level with some nifty scenery, but it's not necessarily so great that it demands purchase of the PS3 version. If anything, you should make sure you get the version that coincides with the console featuring the larger friend list.

@gla55jAw: My approach was to go for content and create a new friends list. I've made a ton of new SSX buddies since the demo came out and now my PSN account is maxed out.

That was my original approach, but if any of my actual friends buy the game, it kinda sucks that I would miss out on trying to beat their scores.

@WinterSnowblind said:

@gla55jAw: It's probably worth pointing out that the UK 360 edition of the game also comes with Mt. Fuji. So don't expect it to be exclusive to the PS3 in North America for very long.

I wasn't aware of that. It might just be some timed exclusive until they tend to roll out some DLC, hopefully.

Posted by onan

I thought Ryan or Jeff were reviewing it, based on the coverage and time poured into pre-release play? Oh well.

Posted by SeanFoster

They let Alex review a good game?!

Posted by Dany

@onan said:

I thought Ryan or Jeff were reviewing it, based on the coverage and time poured into pre-release play? Oh well.

Based from the quick look it seems Ryan really enjoyed it, would have probably have had the same opinion.

Posted by mbkish

@seanfoster said:

They let Alex review a good game?!

IT'S A MIRACLE!

Posted by tomr711

Looks FRESH

Posted by dragonzord

@onan said:

I thought Ryan or Jeff were reviewing it, based on the coverage and time poured into pre-release play? Oh well.

Alex works for two sites and still manages to put out the most reviews or close to it.

Posted by PulledaBrad

Ryan, Coonce and Vinny do the quicklook EX.

Ryan and Coonce do the "home" quicklook.

Alex does the review.

Wat?

Posted by slowbird

I do not approve of you bashing the Edsel. The Edsel was a fine car that unfairly got a bad rap!

Otherwise, good job Alex.

Posted by flanker22

@PulledaBrad said:

Ryan, Coonce and Vinny do the quicklook EX.

Ryan and Coonce do the "home" quicklook.

Alex does the review.

Wat?

i guess alex wants to feel like he actually works there :P

Posted by Bourbon_Warrior

So no online multiplayer? Really suprised it got 4 stars.

Posted by Klobbershank

Oh man. Historically, I've always been a PC gamer, guilty of brief, seedy affairs with friends' consoles, and I don't even go near sports-based games, but DAMN if I didn't clock in over 250 hours on the happy exception that was the SSX series -- yes, all three -- on my little brother's PS2 (and I was the sap who bought them). The sensation of pure, unadulterated speed and adrenaline procured by those games was unbelievable, each better than the last. So, is this the release that gets me to buy a PS3? Sadly, probably. And I couldn't be more excited. Seriously, and this comes with the caveat that I have yet to play this one: if you're the type of person that would never dream of buying a snowboarding game: give this one a whirl, take two Valium, and call me in the morning.

Posted by Wraxend

@CountRockula: You can change the control setting in the demo back to the classic style.

Posted by OriginalYellow

Very well written review, Alex. Leaps and bounds above all the others I've read.

Edited by Masha2932

'It's as if at some point, an EA executive sat down the team, who had been making a perfectly good SSX sequel in the vein of its predecessors, and said something to the effect of, "Look, guys, it's great that you've captured what people loved about the old games. But we really need something new, something hip, something fresh to sell this to a modern audience." Hence, all the rewinding and upgradeable equipment and dubstep.'

I get that executives are all supposedly evil and are to blame for a number of poor mechanic choices in games, but from the interviews the creative director has given it seems like these choices were made by the team itself. So the 'evil' executive might not be to blame this time. Corporate managers may meddle in the development process most times, but sometimes devs just make poor choices.

Posted by clank543

I've been playing it for the last 3 or 4 hours. The world tour mode is, well....... let's just say you should do the tutorial, exit the world tour mode, and NEVER TOUCH IT AGAIN!!!!!!!!! They're lame attempt at a story and awkward deadly descents really have no place in this game, and after the second set of descents, it just gets incredibly frustrating. However, the explore mode is basically a quasi single and multi player snowboard racing extravaganza with over 150 events and an incredible amount of content. I've run into a couple pretty tough gold medals that I have yet to get. Overall, I would say the same thing with 4 stars so far, but I still just love the hell out of how the game controls and the trick system is one of the best ever made. If you liked SSX3, get this game NOW.

Posted by mosdl

@coribald said:

I saw "Go ahead and pop SSX 3 into your PS2", so I stopped reading and obeyed.

SSX HD Collection anyone?

Edited by iAmJohn

@Masha2932 said:

'It's as if at some point, an EA executive sat down the team, who had been making a perfectly good SSX sequel in the vein of its predecessors, and said something to the effect of, "Look, guys, it's great that you've captured what people loved about the old games. But we really need something new, something hip, something fresh to sell this to a modern audience." Hence, all the rewinding and upgradeable equipment and dubstep.'

I get that executives are all supposedly evil and are to blame for a number of poor mechanic choices in games, but from the interviews the creative director has given it seems like these choices were made by the team itself. So the 'evil' executive might not be to blame this time. Corporate managers may meddle in the development process most times, but sometimes devs just make poor choices.

All the talk I've heard about this game (and granted, this is from when it was announced as Deadly Descents and looked way more bro than it ended up being) suggested that a lot of these decisions were actually mandates from EA because EA Sports had spent years shutting down every other SSX in development out of a lack of faith in the franchise. This was allegedly the third SSX project to be in development since Blur came out in early 2007; allegedly, the other two were scrapped for hewing too close to that classic SSX style that EA was convinced no one wanted.

TL;DR: Yeah, I really buy that all these poor, stupid decisions were theirs and not their corporate overlords being shitty.

Posted by JimmyPancakes

@clank543 said:

I've been playing it for the last 3 or 4 hours. The world tour mode is, well....... let's just say you should do the tutorial, exit the world tour mode, and NEVER TOUCH IT AGAIN!!!!!!!!! They're lame attempt at a story and awkward deadly descents really have no place in this game, and after the second set of descents, it just gets incredibly frustrating. However, the explore mode is basically a quasi single and multi player snowboard racing extravaganza with over 150 events and an incredible amount of content. I've run into a couple pretty tough gold medals that I have yet to get. Overall, I would say the same thing with 4 stars so far, but I still just love the hell out of how the game controls and the trick system is one of the best ever made. If you liked SSX3, get this game NOW.

I am about to sit down with my controller and am going to take your advice. Will all the courses open up for me?

Posted by D_Justice91

4 out of 5 stars?! This is an outrage! SSX is a 5 stars out of fucking 5 stars game. It feel SO RIGHT. It feels new enough and wild enough to cater to new audiences, but it also retains a lot of easter eggs for old fans (especially the stuff Eddie says! He's fucking hilarious). ITS PERFECT! SHITTING FUCK GOOD GOBBLE DAMPING FRUITING DUMP SOUP BUY THIS GAME MEEOOOWWWWW!

Posted by MasturbatingestBear

@D_Justice91 said:

4 out of 5 stars?! This is an outrage! SSX is a 5 stars out of fucking 5 stars game. It feel SO RIGHT. It feels new enough and wild enough to cater to new audiences, but it also retains a lot of easter eggs for old fans (especially the stuff Eddie says! He's fucking hilarious). ITS PERFECT! SHITTING FUCK GOOD GOBBLE DAMPING FRUITING DUMP SOUP BUY THIS GAME MEEOOOWWWWW!

That's only funny when the review is being argued in the comments... Even then, your approach to it is awful.

Posted by Palaeomerus

So, simple fun arcadey downhill race and trick gameplay is lumped in with absurdism now? Really? I think Alex has been reviewing movies too much. If he was a wine taster he'd be calling SSX a dry spicy little red number with delightfully subtle hints of mingled orange zest and carmelized tumeric.

Posted by samcotts

@Bourbon_Warrior said:

So no online multiplayer? Really suprised it got 4 stars.

There most definitely is, it's the biggest and best part of the game, it's just not multiplayer in a traditional sense. Explore is all leaderboard focused, and Global Events are very similar to Trackmania races.

Posted by Homeslice

As far as I'm concerned, Alex writes the best reviews on any Whiskey sites. Really glad to see him review a game I find very intriguing.

Posted by BBQBram

Didn't expect the new "mechanics" to be that busted and/or trivial, but that doesn't really matter. As long as the game's core gameplay and online infrastructure are satisfying, it's all good. Good review!

Posted by Alex

@Palaeomerus: Okay, that made me laugh.

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