SSX Review (Xbox 360)
The SSX series was, at one time, one of the most popular alternative/extreme sports series around. Each game ultimately reviewed quite well, but the linear runs became quite old hat after awhile, and ultimately made the series irrelevant.
Last year, EA decided to relaunch the SSX series -- reimagined for next-gen consoles with bigger drops with infinite replay value (or so they had visioned).
Rarely do relaunches go as well as SSX has, since not only is the series back in a big way, but it's one of the best games in the past several years in our genre.
Zoe, armored up and ready to rock and roll down another drop.
Within SSX, you are given three distinct ways to play: race it, trick it, and survive it.
Race It mode is built to try to give players a sense of speed down a mountain akin to a auto racing game. With the crazy amounts of paths down each mountain, you are given quite a lot of replayability by this mode alone. I can say that trying to cut off seconds by adjusting your board by just mere inches is no less gratifying than fine-tuning a car in a simulation racer in order to shave milliseconds off of your time.
Trick It is my personal favorite, as you simply run down a mountain to pull the highest trick score you possibly can. The crazy amount of creative freedom you possess within 'Trick It' is amazingly refreshing. It's as if developers created the world and said, "Go have fun with this."
The game 'boss battles' so to speak exist within Survive It. You are pitted against the mountain itself in a way where you basically feel accomplished by just reaching the bottom. The crux of the mode exists with you basically trying to reach the bottom of a difficult map -- and then you go to the top and do it again and again until you finally don't make it.
Within this flow of the gameplay is a brand new 3D Physics engine which allows players to ride and trick off of everything within the open mountain drops. You have infinite variety within each map, with a few 'ideal' routes to take down the mountain.
Some expressed concern about the potential lack of gameplay variety within the game, but I feel each provides the right balance given the number of overall drops. Personally, I can play a map on Trick It several times in a row and not feel bored with it at all. I think it's because the game basically gives you complete creative freedom on your run, basically allowing you to decide the experience you want to have.
Amazing and simple. Perhaps something other games in our genre would be wise to learn.
Oh the freedom soaring through the air gives a person, even digitally.
The new control scheme, at least in my opinion, is close to perfect. You have the option to carve in the snow with the left analog stick, while controlling your grabs with the right analog stick or your buttons. I found the classic controls restricting; please don't restrict yourself to that line of thinking and use the new controls. Trust me.
The tricks system includes the classic boost design, which basically entails the more tricks you land the more boost you have. There is a combo system which rewards you for stringing together tricks, eventually building up to Tricky then Super Tricky -- which basically means you can pull off even more extreme tricks.
Oh, and Run DMC's 'It's Tricky' will play in Super Tricky. It's hard to get that song out of your head with so much positive associated with it.
Your helicopter buddy will be either a help, an afterthought or even sometimes quite annoying. However, it's a feature which I believe adds more to the game than even at its worst takes away.
The gameplay, while great, does have some minor problems. You can get stuck in some spots of maps, forcing you to rewind. Also, you are basically forced onto grinds sometimes -- even when you aren't quite grinding. Ditto for the helicopter tricks, as sometimes those feel forced by the game.
I also kind of wished there was more on each character, and perhaps the game built around them a bit more.
There was some complaining about the game's ease ... but I found this to be completely off-base for a couple of reasons -- only the very best players will be able to put together monster combos and it enables less skilled players to feel as if they are better than they are. There's nothing wrong with that -- until you see someone double your best all-time Trick It score, then you feel sort of small.
However, all of these are relatively minor complaints compared to the rest of the game. The fluidity of the game, the balance you see, and ultimately the feeling that you are in complete control of your destiny within the game are things which every game designer should take note of.
The nuclear plant in Siberia is just one of many unique locations throughout the game.
The Maps, or Drops
SSX doesn't confine you to a single mountain or to a bunch of tracks. Instead, you are given the option of nine mountain ranges across the world which basically have unique traits to each of them which affects the Survive It mode directly, and the rest in an indirect manner.
The nine regions include the Rockies, Patagonia, Siberia, Alaska, Himalayas, Antarctica, Alps, Africa and New Zealand. Each region does feel distinctly different, and they will play to players strengths and weaknesses.
Personally, I'm much looser on my board control, so Patagonia killed me with their shear drops while a place with big grinds like Alaska really played to my strengths in Trick It.
The game is built entirely around an online system which allows you to continually compete with humans.
A Game Built Around Flexible Online Gaming
The SSX developers have said that their online features were inspired by the Autolog from Need for Speed. The concept of which is that you can compete with your friends on your own schedules in a manner that you are still competing with each other but not entirely directly.
The explore mode is the main mode of SSX. You can basically choose from 150 drops where you can then compete with your friends top scores. On your drops, you can see your friends 'ghost' which shows their run alongside the gold, silver and bronze runs ran by the AI.
This level of competition at all times of SSX gives you something to constantly strive for, and I can only imagine what the possibilities would be if we saw games like Madden and NBA 2K embrace this type of social gaming.
Explore mode can be played offline as well, but that would be a huge waste of SSX's potential so don't do that you gaming hermit you.
The other mode exists within the Global Events, which are basically real-time deadline driven events where you try to best everyone else in the world to try to best their scores, times, or survive it lengths.
This of course can be quite daunting since you will be competing against thousands of riders, so you can create custom events where you and your friends can descend the mountain at the same time. You can run up to 500 players down a mountain simultaneously, which is incredibly impressive.
Another social aspect of the game are the geotags. They are user created collectibles which you will find scattered throughout the drops which were dropped by other players. This is a type of game within a game I totally dig, as you can hunt geotags for a credit bonus, or you can hide geotags for a credit bonus.
The longer your geotag remains undiscovered, the more credits it ultimately earns for you.
Consequently, you want to earn credits to buy newer and cooler stuff for your riders. You also unlock everything within the game via the credits. This means that you have to earn credits in order to unlock the full game. You earn credits by basically riding, completing tasks, finding geotags, and winning online events.
Typically these types of schemes really bug me, but it seemed like I never had much problem affording just about anything.
But in case you have a credit crunch, you can buy credits with actual money to unlock more and more within the game -- if you feel you really want to.
Taking down the slopes, one Super Tricky Trick at a time.
For the Loner -- World Tour Mode
The single player World Tour mode allows you to ride through all nine regions with all nine riders of team SSX as they (you) attempt to conquer the nine deadly descents.
If this sounds like an Indiana Jones movie or a badly acted Nicholas Cage movie, you might be close to correct.
While I played through the mode, and it took me about four to five hours to complete, I didn't find much replay value here. The story was alright, but really you could see it as more of an extended tutorial for the rest of the game, which is centered around the online modes.
SSX is the prime example of what happens when you think through your game design and you actually relaunch a series with a gameplay plan which isn't based off of anything except your own imagination. The game throws the conventions of extreme sports games out of the window, balances out the gameplay and ultimately succeeds at every level.
The only reason you will not enjoy this game is if you aren't into the online aspects of the game or if you simply cannot stand games which bend the laws of physics in the name of a good time. For me, I see neither of those complaints standing all that well against a game which simply is so well crafted that it's impossible not to give it high marks.
SSX redefines the extreme sports gaming genre, and makes you rethink what is still possible in this generation of games, and it's an early candidate for our Game of the Year.
Graphics: Purdyful. There isn't much more you can say about them. There aren't many problems, the lighting is perfect and the characters look good.
Audio: The soundtrack features some big time artists and some you haven't heard of most likely. But between that and the environment sounds -- you'll find little to hate.
Learning Curve: You will pick up the game within a couple of runs. You will master the game only after hours of practice. Masterful design.
Controls: Classic SSX players need to forget how they used to play and embrace the new controls, if they do that, they will find a well thought out control scheme which enables players rather than limits them.
Lasting Appeal: If you dig the game, and have friends that do as well, you can play this game for a VERY long time. Given the social nature of the game, hermit gamers will inevitably have to come out of their cocoons in order to enjoy it, but that's for the best for everyone.
Score: 9.5 (All-Time Classic)