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SSX Review: Insane Tricks and Deadly Descents

Carving down a snowy white mountain, the sun glistening off the tops of the many peaks in the distance, you line up for your next leap. Taking to the air, you grab your board and perform an insane trick before landing perfectly on a grind rail and busting out a handstand on your board. That’s right, SSX is back, and apart from one or two minor missteps, delivers the fun fans will remember.

 

It’s Tr-Tr-Tricky!

For those who don’t know, SSX began life on the PS2, when console gaming was at the peak of its fascination with extreme sports. Its raison d’etre was over the top tricking, with ludicrous jumps and even more ludicrous signature tricks being the highlight of each iteration. The series proper hasn’t been seen since 2003’s SSX 3, and fans have been clamouring for another installment ever since. The game drops you (literally) straight into a tutorial to show newcomers the ropes. Players can choose from multiple different control schemes, from the all new analog trick control to classic button controls which SSX veterans will be instantly comfortable with. The series’ core gameplay remains intact, and in no time at all you’ll be busting serious air, performing mid-air cartwheels on your board and making grinds the length of several football fields. In World Tour mode, you’re tasked to tackle the nine “deadly descents”, representing the nine different mountain ranges available. There is some story about Team SSX taking on former member Griff to be the first to conquer all nine, but this really is tacked on and serves no real purpose. Each range introduces you to the specific gear necessary to tackle that particular deadly descent, and after a few warm up runs, you tackle the main challenge.

It’s here where SSX almost falls apart. The deadly descents range from the fun (leaping over large gaps with a specially made wingsuit), to the mundane (extra rocks, ice and trees) all the way to infuriating (whoever thought the darkness or 02 tank descents were fun need to have their head examined). Thankfully, after several attempts, these can be bypassed, so if you get stuck you’ll have the option to skip these quite quickly. It seems to me that after the initial fan backlash when the game was subtitled “Deadly Descents”, EA may have made the decision to change up the focus, but didn’t want to remove what was already in place.

The Chase Is On

World Tour mode serves as the entree, to the main course that is Explore Mode. One for completionists, it features over 150 different runs with gold, silver and bronze scores to beat. Each run begs to be replayed multiple times to find the quickest run, or the run with the best opportunities to trick and keep your combo multiplier increasing. Central to the entire experience is RiderNet, the SSX take on Need for Speed’s Autolog system. Every action, as well as those of your friends, is recorded by RiderNet and posted to your wall, instantly creating a sense of competition amongst your comrades. Taking on your friends time is as easy as clicking on the post in RiderNet, which takes you directly to the exact run you were challenged on. It’s difficult to convey the sense of how addictive this system is, but with a group of friends consistently overtaking each other’s scores, a ten minute play session can quickly turn into a five hour marathon. Global Events are as close to traditional multiplayer that SSX offers, allowing players to set up worldwide customisable events, or smaller events amongst their own friends. While some might bemoan the lack of a true online multiplayer, RiderNet is a perfect fit for SSX, and complements the score chase nature of the game to a t.

The game is visually stunning (well, as stunning as snow can be), with each of the nine ranges displaying its own distinct visual style. Africa is full of underground slopes, Siberia is a maze of pipes turning the slopes into your own veritable rollercoaster, and my personal favourite, the Himalayas, have sections of the Great Wall that just need to be grinded. The soundtrack too, is a perfect compliment to the action, featuring on the fly remixes of various dance numbers interspersed with Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” once you build up your trick meter, in a nod to the series’ heritage.

Conclusion

While there are a few things which stop SSX from being truly great, with a group of friends and a healthy amount of competitive spirit, SSX has the potential to give you months of enjoyment. It easily blends together instant gratification with a depth and subtlety that many will still be discovering many hours after they first pop the disc in. Add to that the near endless replayability derived from RiderNet, and you have a title that 1080 back-flips the competition.

Final Score: 8/10

Note that the version reviewed was for XBox 360

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