Published on March 7th, 2012 | by Lisa McInerney0
Game Review: SSX
The goal of SSX – EA Canada’s reimagining of the much-adored snowboarding sugar-trip – is simple: get to the bottom of the mountain either faster than your competitors, or with more trick points than your competitors.
It’s unapologetically direct. The gamer is let loose on an open world from the beginning, with no grander objective than going bigger, better, faster than on their previous run. There’s a ton of tricks, pick-ups and routes to discover, and it’s gratifying to know that for every successful run, there are five unexplored alternatives that will produce a different successful result. Its controls are a triumph, responsive enough to quickly become instinctive, so it’s a game that lends itself beautifully to the “one more go” compulsion.
The competitive aspect makes up the meat of SSX, and it’s designed to be maddeningly compulsive. The game keeps track of your friends’ times and achievements, and baits you constantly into challenging them, to secure those bragging rights and keep you king, or queen, of the mountain. There’s also a strong focus on building and maintaining an online community – gaming with added social networking – which is bound to sate ambitious gamers who are never happier than when smashing someone else’s hard-fought pinnacle.
Even if you’re a friendless wretch, the game persistently prods at you to beat your personal best. There’s no more common sight in an SSX run than despairing at your ghostly self ploughing on ahead, past luck making fun of present exertion. This is high-octane stuff, on or off the slopes.
But whether or not long-time fans will like SSX depends on whether or not they’re amenable to change. The fact that this latest instalment is a reboot won’t impact at all on new players, who will most likely be thrilled half out of their armchairs by the speed and grace of the gameplay. For veterans, SSX’s new, paradoxically po-faced approach to thrillseeking may well come as a shock to the system. They’ve even changed what SSX stands for, from Snowboard Supercross to Snowboarding, Surfing, Motocross, a modification so pointless you can’t help but fancy team EA Canada didn’t realise the term SSX had already been defined.
SSX 2012 started life as a more realistic snowboarding game. The developers used NASA geotagging data to generate mountain ranges from around the world, basically building runs on top of existing terrain. The accepted lore is that, nervous at fans’ strong loathing of the dark, gritty teaser trailer, the developers struggled to bring SSX back in line with the barmy exuberance of its predecessors. This is, at times, uncomfortably obvious; it never really succeeds. Sure, there’s a healthy number of swift peaks to bomb down, but SSX was always much more than speed and scenery. The traditional neon assault courses have been replaced by one backcountry run after another, with in-game necessities like oxygen tanks and wing-suits adding real world restrictions to what should have been a hyper-daft dreamscape to be impressively stupid in.
The characters, too, have been changed to suit SSX’s new-found cool. Zoe sounds like a sophisticated SATC-chick, a voice unsuited to her boisterous, badass former-self. Kaori is a scowling DJ. Both look strangely angular: Kaori looks like Zoe and Zoe looks like Joan Burton. Griff has aged ten years because this time ‘round, he’s the main antagonist in a very sketchy plot, a completely different person, as if SSX only had so many names to choose from and had to map over old characters like they did with NASA’s mountains. It’s potentially disappointing for old fans. If you used to play the game because you loved those silly cartoon characters, it’s best to go into the new SSX knowing that they’ve been retired.
Like I said, how much you’ll enjoy SSX depends on how amenable to change you are, whether or not you mind its being torn down and rebuilt as something grittier. It’s still a breakneck ride, only in its search for cool, it’s sacrificed a lot of its trademark flair.