Like one of its riders bailing out after a mistimed Ta Da! Boardslide, SSX has taken a bit of a tumble in recent years. You’d be hard-pushed to find someone who doesn’t look back at the PS2 original or Tricky with a smile of course, their gravity-defying stunts, whacky man-made courses and larger-than-life characters establishing the series as an insanely exciting antidote to other serious snowboarders. But then came SSX 3, a fresh but flawed diversion that ollied the series off the beaten track and onto a whopping great mountain, dropping its sense of fun along the way. The misdirected Wii and PSP sequels that followed face-planted the series into an even deeper hole, forcing SSX into hibernation.
Fast forward to 2012 though, and SSX is back on the slopes. EA’s latest won’t completely reawaken your love for the series – its sense of fun has been muted somewhat, while a certain amount of skill has been taken away from tricking (it’s now more of a challenge to wipe out than it is to pull off an awesome TRICKY stunt), but it’s certainly a decent step – or should that be slide – back in the right direction.
This time around the game has been split into three core areas: World Tour, a campaign which sees Team SSX competing in race, trick and survival events across the globe; Global Events, an addictive online option that lets players compete in daily tournaments to earn credits, and Explore mode, which gives players access to every mountain range, track and event from World Tour, but with RiderNet working away in the background, tracking your times and scores, and organising challenges for you and your friends in a manner similar to NFS: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog.
World Tour is the main event, split amongst nine real-world locations across the globe that are each host to breathtaking routes overloaded with rails and jumps. It’s awesome entertainment, with a rejigged control system that makes pulling off tricks, grinding and grabbing big air the most fluid and accessible we’ve ever seen in a game of its type. The new equipment isn’t the series-killer you once thought it was, either – using the wingsuit can lead to some incredibly cool scenarios hundreds of feet above ground.
But in moving SSX out of the realms of fiction and into the real world, it’s managed to lose some of its trademark flair, creativity and uber-cool attitude. It’s still decidedly arcade – racers plough down slopes at hundreds of kilometres per hour, but the lack of pyrotechnics, big-ass snowflake-shaped multipliers and crazy course design makes a noticeable difference to the fun factor; that certain piece of magic that made the originals so totally unforgettable sadly absent here.
Those Deadly Descents origins are still here, then: for every sick trick and insane grind there’s a dark and serious snowboarder desperate to get some screen time. It’s sometimes easier to forgive than others – when you’re tricking down Mount Everest as Elise you’ll be in SSX heaven, before being harshly snapped back into reality by DJ Atomika bumbling about some silly survival event requiring body armour. It’s SSX as you know it – most of the time, at least – but a little bit more of Tricky’s energy and character certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Xbox 360 version tested. This review will also feature in an upcoming issue of 360Zine.
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