+ Unbelievably satisfying snowboarding
+ Deep and varied trick and riding system
+ Enough tracks to keep you coming back for months
+ Online events that will make you play 'just one more time'
- Questionable voice acting from pilots
- Characters and world lack SSX's exotic personality
- Complete lack of local multiplayer
Straight out of the gate let's make one thing clear. Is SSX identical to its previous incarnations? Hell no. But is it thrilling, and insane, and completely addictive? Hell yes. A lot has changed in the world of SSX, mostly for the better. Don't get me wrong, I loved the previous SSX titles, grew up with them, and still occasionally play them, though EA Canada have taken everything that's come before and made it faster, more thrilling, and without a doubt more spectacular.
You'll start the SSX World Tour by being thrown out of a helicopter at 7,500 metres, and that sets the tone for the entire game. Gone are the days of narrow snowboard cross tracks, and neon lit billboards. You're given nine, massive real world mountain ranges, with 153 drop points to board upon and a thinly woven narrative to take you across the globe. Whilst World Tour mode might be your introduction to the new 'Team SSX' this isn't the core focus of the game, more an extended training mode, to guide you as you experience the wonders that SSX has to offer.
Explore and Global events are the true substance of SSX. Explore mode allows you to race, trick and survive the mountain. The first two will be common ground to returning fans; simply racing against other riders and placing a high score, whilst survival is exactly what it says; nature is out to get you in a big way, and you have to brave the elements, in a hope to reach the checkered page in one piece.
This is where the new gear system becomes a massive factor. In order to better adapt to the conditions and events, you're given random loot to purchase. These range from the standard affair of boards and suits - some with perks - to other pieces of additional equipment and mods. Sure some of these have limited uses; for example the solar panel equipped body pack is only useful in the coldest depths of the Antarctic, but using the wingsuit always feels awesome.
That is what really defines the experience of SSX, it's awesome, and (without wishing to draw on video game cliche) epic. The trick system is still the central node of an amazingly satisfying SSX experience, it's simple; tricks earn you boast and boast equals speed. You start off a run 'just' pulling off grabs with sextuple spins and flips but at the end - presuming you can ride without bailing and keep your flow - you'll be pulling off tricks that separate you from your board and allow it to spin around you as if you have your own gravitational pull. It's nigh on impossible not to feel godlike whilst you're pulling off Über tricks - even if you're not placing first and earning scores in the millions - the tricks will still bring a cheeky smile to your face.
On top of the instant gratification you'll get from insane tricks and beating the game's AI, in Explore and World tour modes there's also the addiction of Global Events. In essence these provide an arena for you to gamble credits (which are used to buy gear) against other players worldwide, with the payout being dependent on your time, score or number of meters survived. You place a drop cost to enter an event (though some are free, but pay out less) and you'll receive a percentage of the overall number of credits 'bet' on that event, based on which scoring bracket you finish in. Not only does it encourage you to get better, but will have you replaying events over and over. It's a hook which will grab you for hours, and makes even replaying the same drop unbelievably exciting, as your payout bounces between loss and profit.
For all the positives found in SSX, there are a few areas which are strangely lacking. For one the complete lack of local multiplayer, whilst you can compete against ghosts, EA Canada have completely left out what for me was the most gripping element of previous SSX titles. Being able to open up a few beers, and be shocked at the times and scores that the people next to me on the couch where placing, was what gave pervious SSX games longevity, and will be sadly missed.
The characters and world have also taken a hit, though both are elegantly designed, they're sparse on personality and lack the flair and exoticism seen previously. It almost feels as though the series has grown up, and left their quirks behind. Whilst characters still spout one liners, and have a back story, they just don't have such exuberance, which to a point dilutes the feeling of what made SSX unique.
Talking about one liners. Your helicopter pilots, are, well, eccentric, but in the same way that your creepy uncle is, making them grinding, rather than funny or engaging. Whilst they may not affect the overall experience in any measurable way and can be turned off, their punditry is more than a little irritating.
In essence, SSX is everything you could ever want, or need from a hyperrealistic snowboarding game. The core riding experience is exciting ,regardless of whether you're a newcomer, or this is your sixth outing, and the Explore and Global events will keep you coming back for months. Sure the characters and tracks may not have the wackiness of previous SSX games, but the gameplay, which is more intense than ever more than carries the slack. SSX may not be what's expected for fans who are caught up on the ideal that SSX should never change, though for anyone new to the series, or who values gameplay over a few minor personality tweaks. you'll almost undoubtably love pretty much everything SSX has to offer.