SSX Review (Sort of. More of a witter, really.)

When I first played the demo of SSX last month, I knew that I’d be adding it to my personal library of games come pay day. The incredible speed, style and luscious graphics were very difficult to ignore. So, after playing the game for around five hours, do I regret buying it?

I was quite daunted at first, once I’d cleared the tutorial ‘drop’. (Note: Drop is the term used for a section of mountain a player will play on. The SSX equivalent of a racetrack.) As it quickly became apparent that I’d need to develop quicker reflexes in order to be any good at the game. The obstacles in your way, even in the early drops can be pretty frustrating if you haven’t worked out the controls. Once you’ve mastered them, the game becomes a lot more satisfying to play as opposed to clunking through levels, smashing into trees and the occasional downed airplane.

It’s very easy to keep your finger perpetually pulling back on the boost trigger, which isn’t a clever idea at all. For starters, you can’t turn as effectively while boosting, and you’re going to need to be able to manoeuvre through the drops before even considering tricks or boosts.  Another thing is that unless you are continually tricking down a slope, you don’t get an awful lot of boost. So you need to use it wisely. Like a racing game, it’s going to do no good boosting as you’re about to take a corner, because you’ll, like, totally wipe out. Dude.

You also need to get out of the habit of holding down the jump button for ages to prepare for massive spins. You can’t turn very well while crouched, as holding down the jump button and turning will prepare your character for a very quick spin, instead of turning the board.

The problem is, with the breakneck speed of the game and how many obstacles there are to overcome, it can be difficult to get to grips with initially. I’ve been playing for five hours and my fingers still want to boost through a level, jumping at any given opportunity. Resisting that urge and planning your route through a level is rewarding and satisfying. SSX gives you the potential to pull off some really crazy tricks, and charge through a level without breaking a sweat. Providing you can put the time in to get comfortable with the setup.

The levels themselves are mostly cleverly designed, and offer multiple routes down. And when I say multiple routes, I mean loads. On one mountain, you can grind a pipe that takes you past a thick tangle of trees and posts, but doing this will set back what tricks you can perform. The other route would be to hit all the ramps and risk wiping out on the scenery. Or you could just flip over that part of the course and hurtle down a vertical drop to get to the finish. Your strategy will vary depending on what kind of event you’re playing. There are some really difficult courses as well, with lots of hazards and death drops as opposed to the clean lines and ramps older SSX gamers might be used to. This can be frustrating and I wish that there were more accessible drops for a nice, fun ride.

There are three events to choose from; race, survival and tricks. Race and tricks are self explanatory, but survival is something entirely new in the SSX franchise, and isn’t always to its benefit. Pitting you against natural obstacles and dangers, each survival drop has a characteristic of either ice, avalanche, trees, oxygen or whiteout. To combat these levels, you will need to spend the points accrued in previous races on new gear. Disappointingly, this doesn’t include the level of customisation offered in SSX 3. Clothes models stay the same but have different skins, which seems lazy considering customising your character almost a staple of modern gaming now, and it was a very cool feature of SSX 3.

The gear available to buy is split into armour – when you’re expecting to bounce off trees for most of the level, ice axes – for effective turning on ice, pulse goggles – for vision where there is whiteout and an oxygen tank for really high drops like Everest. There are additional items like wingsuits (there are some levels with bottomless pits to cross) and headlamps (there are some levels with pitch-black tunnels).

The problem is, aside from the wingsuit, these new options aren’t much fun to play. I didn’t like having to press a button to take a breath from my oxygen tank in the middle of a tricky few jumps. I liked the idea of the reverse camera and escaping from an avalanche, but it’s difficult to tell exactly what’s coming ahead and how high your jumps need to be to avoid obstacles.

The graphics aren’t anything special, they’re not ugly by any means, but nothing really stands out. I’d probably appreciate the engine more if there were replays that I could take time in appreciating. As you’ll be moving so fast and trying to pay attention to lots of things at once, the graphics are easily missed.

The soundtrack is probably the weirdest selection of songs I’ve (never) heard. There are a couple of fast paced drum and bass tracks that work well with the game, but a lot of them are ambient or just irritating modern ‘grime’ tracks. Thankfully, SSX gives you the option to use your own music mixed into the game instead of playing it through the media blade. This is quite an impressive feature, with the music fading out as you get huge air and slamming back in as you land. It also gets mixed in with the remixed Run DMC track ‘It’s Tricky’ when you activate tricky mode.

A lot has been made of the absence of any ‘real’ multiplayer mode. SSX tries to innovate with a system that allows you to play against your friends even if they’re offline. I think it works well. I like being able to compete in global events without having to listen to smack talk from people who are a lot better than me at the game. You vie to get the highest trick score or clear time possible, and the game puts you in a bracket depending on the scores of other participants. Anyone within that bracket gets a share of the SSX gold, which you can use to buy more gear or unlock new characters or drops. This is all upated via the RiderNet system, an information hub that you can bring up at any time. It’s inspired by the awesome Autolog system from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, so you challenge your friends at any event, any time.

Closing Comments

I like this game a lot, and even though I’d like split-screen like the older titles in the series, I’m not sure I’d be missing a whole lot. Download the demo, if you’re not interested by the end of it, then this game isn’t for you.

I don’t know how to rate games accurately, so I’ll just say:

Awesome, and well worthy of your time.

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