By coonce 55 Comments
I recently came back from 2 hour hands-on event at EA Redwood Shores where I was lucky enough to spend some time with the new SSX. For those interested, I'd like to share some early impressions of one my most highly anticipated games of 2012.
I love snowboarding. I love the SSX franchise. I've played every game in the franchise with the exception of Blur and the NGage game they released. IMHO, the crown jewel in the franchise is SSX3. They took what they learned from Tricky and merged it with the feeling of being a part of a living mountain community.
Personally, I felt that SSX On Tour was a departure from what made SSX3 so great. The control scheme wasn't great, the frame rate suffered (on the PS2 at least), and the tracks and mountain weren't all that interesting. It had a very disjointed feel and it seemed like a different team had gotten their hands on it and tried to make a game they thought would be edgier and more punk (and thus more marketable?). This comes across in the HUD/Menu Design/Box Art/Music/UberTricks and needless to say, I was disappointed.
It has taken almost 7 years for EA to reboot and rethink the direction of the SSX franchise.... and I have been eating up every trailer, image and interview Todd Batty and team have been leaking. That said, I was ecstatic when Ryan invited me to head out with him and Vinny to get my hands on their latest build. Below are some initial thoughts and reactions from my brief experience (~2 hours) with the game.
Control and Feel
There were two control schemes implemented in the build I played: 'Classic' and 'New'. I've been playing a fair amount of SSX3/Tricky on the PS2 lately, so I almost immediately switched to the 'Classic' controls. While there are a few new gameplay mechanics to contend with (launching your wingsuit, using the rewind feature, etc.), the controls should feel right at home to any SSX vet.
Having said that, the 'feel' of the controls is much less precise than previous games. It could have been that I was playing with a leveled down character or boards that didn't carve as well as gear you get later in the game, but the turning felt very touchy (like you almost had to feather your way around turns) and boosting seemed to knock me off my line in some cases. Conor Dougan, the producer who was showing us the game didn't seem to have any issues with it. So I assume this is something a player would get used to given some time with the game.
In our interview, Conor intimated that they were trying to make the game act and respond like it was 'Burnout on snow' -- and the gameplay definitely reflects this. In SSX3 and Tricky, you could press back on the analog stick and come to a complete stop on the mountain. This game by contrast, feels like it is relentlessly propelling you down each run. It is a constant sensory overload of motion blur and HUD elements as you boost your way to the next feature. It's this constant feeling of teetering on the edge of control that adds an element of tension to the gameplay -- and makes the lines that Conor was attempting in the quicklook seem that much more impressive. I'm still a fan of the control and precision provided in SSX3, but can understand the modernization of the gameplay in this regard. Special notes are broken out below:
- Rails: First of all, you cannot fall off of a rail. Once you lock on to one, there isn't a balance mechanic and you can trick/spin to your hearts content. The jury is still out on this - on one hand, it seems a bit cheap. However, given the faster, bulldozing gameplay, it actually makes sense. Also to note, rails seem to have a little gravity to them -- meaning they seem easier to lock on to if you're coming off a huge air and are in even the remote vicinity of a rail.
- Combos: Full disclosure: I've never been into building huge combos. My ideal run in SSX3 is starting at Peak 3 and linking a super clean run to the bottom of the mountain - if a few combos happen in the process, so be it. This game feels a more like Tony Hawk - you are linking jumps to rails to berm hits back to jumps and it is just insane! Conor explains the combo system in more detail in the quicklook (at about 16:20).
- Tricks: The tricks look great. The Ubers are supremely animated and those familiar with the series will find them very natural to perform. One thing to note is that the animation for the Ubers seems to finish up mid-animation just before you land (even if you didn't have enough time to pull the trick) to keep you from bailing. This mechanic seems like an attempt to keep your character on their feet to keep the momentum of the game rolling at a high clip.
- Rewind: Rewind is a new feature implemented this go around. Instead of being able to tap the 'select or back' button to reset your character in the middle of the run if you get into trouble, you can now pres and hold the rewind button to get yourself out of sticky situations. There are of course penalties for using the rewind feature but its a great new addition that will save that massive combo you've been so diligently building or that huge gap jump you mistimed.
- Butters: Butters haven't been removed completely, but they have been neutered. You used to be able to pull the right analog stick in almost any direction to start a butter and move it around its axis to go from say a tail butter to a nose butter. It appears that you can now only tail press or nose press. Not a huge deal, but it doesn't look quite as cool having Mac butter 540 on a fat rail.
- Jumping: It seems like ollies carry much further and are much higher in this game than they have been in the past. It also seems like you are jumping off of everything! Whereas in SSX3, you needed about a second to absorb a landing when sticking a huge air, this game seems like you are bounding from jump to jump almost like a trampoline. I'd venture to say that about 40% of the game is spent in the air.
There are an overwhelming number of tracks in this game -- and that fact gives me a warm feeling inside. There are 9 regions, ~3 mountains per region, and multiple runs and drop points per mountain. There is definite variety between each region as they each have their own look and feel that shines through in the track design. It should be more than enough to keep even the most diehard player satisfied for months to come. Keep your fingers crossed for dlc regions.
I should also mention that each track I played seem to funnel you down the mountain. Hard. I never came across an open expanse of terrain such as 'Happiness' (from SSX3) and I didn't come across any alternate routes in any of the courses I tried.
Also worth noting are the the 'Survive It' tracks. Each region has its own survival run and they are as fun as they are challenging. Each run has a unique survival mechanic you must navigate as well as equip special gear before you attempt it. These survival mechanics range from massive crevasses you have to use your wing suit to clear to a near blind white out scenario in which you have to use pulse goggles to make your way down. Each scenario is distinct and fits well with its own specific region.
The sound in the new SSX is amazing. This was probably my favorite part of the entire experience. If you like dubstep, you'll be in hog heaven. If not, don't sweat it, there are plenty of catchy breakbeats to ride to -- we're told you can even upload your own tracks which are remixed on the fly (we didn't have the time to experience that). For a more detailed look at the sound design, check out this video.
- Sound Design: The team at EA Canada has done it again. They took the already stellar sound design found in previous games and upped the ante. As with SSX3 and On Tour, the music drops out when you hit huge jumps and slams back down (to the beat) when you land those fatties. The music also remixes and rewinds when you hit rails and this all meshes with the gameplay so seamlessly that you hardly know its there -- you just know that you're rocking out and laying waste to the mountain!
- Soundtrack: Again, if you like dubstep - you're stoked. The rest of us can rock to some of the other high quality break beats assembled for this game.
- Voice Acting: I didn't quite catch any individual character voices, but there is some great voice work done by your Russian helicopter pilot sherpa. This thick ruski voice guides you down each run and provides some clever one-liners as you make your way down the mountain. Alas, DJ Atomika was nowhere to be found.
The team has done quite a bit of work on the multiplayer aspect of the game and it shows in spades. They ripped a fair amount of features from Need For Speed HP (such as the wall, challenges, etc) and added a handful of unique mechanics on top of it. The most notable of these RiderNet, yet the most interesting to me was the geotagging system, which allows users to hide (earned) geotags on any run. These tags sit and earn in-game credits until they are picked up by another rider. Conor described them as 'User Generated Collectables' and that shit is pretty f*cking brilliant.
There are so many components to the multiplayer that you're better off watching the first few minutes of the quicklook to hear Conor contextualize it.
So where does this leave us. If you're a fan of the series I believe its a must have game. We've been waiting almost 8 years for a proper sequel to SSX3 and while this might not be what you were expecting, its a fantastic package and the multiplayer challenges provides more than enough incentive for you to dive deep and get really good at the game.
As for me, my pre-order should be arriving late February, so I better find a solution for my red ringed 360 ASAP!
See you duders on the slopes :)
And check out the quicklook if you are still on the fence.