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[Review] SSX

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Extreme sports games died in the mid-2000s. They were a relic of last generation's ideals, a fleeting memory of joy that developers could not capture again. Then SSX rose from the dead in the most spectacular fashion, like Lazarus busting at 1080 nosegrab. For the fifth canon installment in the SSX series (the Wii's SSX Blur does not count, apparently), EA Canada went all out in every aspect, bringing back familiar faces for their most epic adventure yet. Not that SSX needed a riveting story to get you into the idea of snowboarding around the world, but the plot revolves around team SSX trying to conquer the nine Deadly Descents (the most dangerous mountains in the world). Problem is, one of their former team members, Griff, claims he's going to do it first. Oh hell no. So it's a race to beat the douchey prettyboy to the mountains.



Whether you're carving through broken sections of the Great Wall of China, or leaping off of nuclear reactors, SSX never fails to excite. Every mountain range exudes an awesomely unique vibe, playing off the region's features. It takes skill and well-timed jumps to dodge the broken aircraft and steep, deadly cliffs of Patagonia. Grinding along Alaska's pipelines turns to normal snowboarding track into a rollercoaster. Every area in SSX provides an amazing, exhilarating ride. Even the "love it or hate it", like the dark mazes of Africa or the icy deathtraps in Siberia, are breathtaking trips. The core of SSX has, since Tricky at least, been about pulling incredible, over the top tricks, and this SSX has that in abundance. Both the stick and button controls work extremely well, allowing you to pull off dozens of tricks in a row with complete ease. The real skill comes in keeping that combo up, an absolutely crucial strategy for getting those high scores (which generally lie in the 15-20 million point range). For the SSX enthusiasts, the classic controls are available too, though they seem more like favor to fans than something you'd like to play with for some of the more difficult tracks. Hitting the same tracks in a Race event, instead of a trick run, can change your entire strategy of the course, forcing you to find the fastest lines instead of the biggest air. And every course features multiple branching paths, hidden tunnels, and dangerous canyons, requiring expert precision to get those best scores. And sometimes just to survive.


SSX's newest component, the Survive It courses, test your ability to not eat it and die. Each of the nine mountain ranges feature Deadly Descent, a mountain that is dangerous that you need special gear to even ride it. It's here where things like the wingsuit come into play. While the other featured gear is nowhere near as exciting as the wingsuit (oh sweet, I get a headlamp ?!), all of the current Survive It events try to kill you in the most exciting ways possible. Giant avalanches try and swallow you up, freezing cold temperatures and lack of oxygen will suck the life from you, jagged rocks and trees threaten to crush your bones. So yeah, no sweat. Throughout the entire game, RiderNet keeps track of your progress. Anyone who has played the last few Need for Speed games will recognize RiderNet as an Autolog-inspired online resource. From the second you load up SSX, RiderNet alerts you about what your friends are doing. Any scores posted or collectibles acquired pop up, and the game sets challenges for you based on your friend's scores.

Multiplayer in SSX comes in the form of Global Events, a constantly updating series of challenges open to everyone in the world (or just you and your buds). EA has challenges going all the time, and you can just drop in and try and post a high score or fast time. As you're racing along a course, other players doing the same show up alongside you in a crazy simultaneous event. For some, the lack of traditional multiplayer is a problem, but with the custom events that let you invite only your friends, you can get near that experience. Plus the Global Events and RiderNet combine to open up multiplayer in a much broader and more modern way that allows you to play SSX at your own speed and on your schedule, while still maintaining that competitive edge with your friends.

What's a snowboarding game without a soundtrack, right? SSX goes hard with a lot of drum and bass from The Qemists. Skrillex provides the obligatory dubstep madness. Noisia's uptempo electronica is rad. Bands like Foster the People and The Naked and Famous represent the whiteboy rock contingent. And it's all accented by a Pretty Lights remix of Run-DMC's "It's Tricky" whenever you get your combo up. But what really makes the soundtrack so cool is that SSX auto remixes the songs as you race, and this works when you load your own music into the game as well.

It's the risk-versus-reward element of tricking that makes it so exciting. When you catch big air, you want to trick as long as you can to maximize your boost (and your points, if it's a trick event), but if you hold it for just an instant too long, you wipe out when you hit the ground, and all your tricking was for naught. Do you do simple ground tricks to maintain your combo and keep building up your multiplier score? Or do you play it safe and stop tricking to cash in the combo with your current multiplier? It's a balance you need to get to the best times and highest scores, and it's so rewarding to stick the landing after pulling off an especially risky trick combination. The thrill of such moments is enhanced by the great sound design.

The eclectic soundtrack includes shimmering pop, funky R & B, and electronic pulsating, and when you leap from a mountain to catch big air, the music fades, as if it emanates from the surface down below. When you hit the ground, it kicks back in at full strength. If you've tricked enough to fill up your boost meter, the music gets remixed into Run-DMC's "It's Tricky," which reprises its significant role from SSX Tricky in this game. Being in the "tricky" state also means you have unlimited boost while it lasts, and you can do ubertricks, which are worth more points. Score enough points in this mode and you get access to even wilder super ubertricks. The relationship between the game's adapting music and your actions gives your landings a satisfying sonic impact that complements the physical one.

Satellite surveys of the real-world mountain regions in SSX were used in forming the terrain, but clearly the hands of humankind have molded these environments to make them not only traversable but also conducive to high speeds and big trick opportunities. The end results are exceptional; numerous viable routes and intertwining pathways make the environments feel organic, which makes you feel like you're pioneering your own way down these slopes. Your helicopter pilot surveys the terrain from overhead and sometimes provides warnings about upcoming hazards or suggestions about which route to take, not entirely unlike a co-driver in a rally racing game informing you of upcoming turns. These tips can be quite helpful - particularly until you've done a lot of time to learn its ins and outs for yourself - but if you find the pilot's chatter distracting, you can always turn it off.



A few deadly descents require you to make active use of new equipment; the coolest example is Patagonia's Fitz Roy, where you need to use a wingsuit to glide through the windy air and over some chasms. Some of the deadly descents work better than others; the freezing cold of the shadows on Antarctica's Mount Slaughter is a thrilling threat to avoid, while the constant encroachment of the tunnel vision brought on by oxygen deprivation on Mt. Everest is more of an annoyance. But on the whole, these challenging runs are a great way to close your time in each region in the World Tour, and they're a great place for multiplayer competition as well. The World Tour is a good way to familiarize yourself with the environments and mechanics of SSX, but the action really heats up in the robust multiplayer modes. The Explore mode lets you aim for medal targets and compete against times and scores set by friends on any of the dozens of runs around the game's globe. The performances of your friends here show up as ghosts, and the ghosts leave glowing trails in their wakes, which look cool and are quite useful. If a rival of your charts a particular speedy and efficient path through a run, for instance, you can see the route he or she took.

Deadly descent events here challenge you and your friends to see who can travel the farthest; When you make it to the bottom of a run, you're sent right back up to the top via helicopter to continue racking up distance. The other multiplayer option is Global Events, which are competitions that have set time limits; They might last for a day or a week, and tens of thousands of players can compete in them. Depending on how your performance stacks up against other entrants, you're placed in a bracket - diamond, gold, platinum, and so on - and the higher your bracket, the more credits you earn when the event comes to a close. SSX constantly keeps you updated on pertinent happenings in both the Explore and Global Events modes, informing you when a friend shatters your time in a certain race or when your performance no longer qualifies for a certain bracket. And it makes it easy to jump right back to one of those events to try to improve your performance.




Additionally, if you're in Explore or Global Events, you can plant geotags in any spot you can reach, and they can be collected by other players. You want to make these as difficult to nab as possible, because the longer a geotag you plant goes uncollected, the more credits you earn. You might be inspired to approach to completely differently than you would in the hopes of planting a geotag in a hard-to-reach spot or grabbing one you can see but can not figure out how to collect. With so many runs to conquer and so many ways to compete, it can be hard to walk away from SSX. Still, the absence of a traditional simultaneous multiplayer mode is conspicuous. You can create a global event that's limited to just friends or friends of friends, but there's no option to create an event that places you and your friends at the starting line simultaneously. You might see your friends on the slopes in a global event, but without a coordinated start, it does not matter who actually crosses the finish line first; it matters who takes the least time to get there.

You can always create a party and chat with friends as you hang out on the slopes, but it's still disappointing that the game does not have a built-in option for simultaneous social competition. What do you do with the credits you earn for performing well across the game's various modes? Well, lots of things in the game cost credits. New gear for your characters - better boards or outfits that provide perks like a bonus to your trick multiplier - costs credits. Accessing many runs in Explore mode costs credits. Entering many global events costs credits. And it's conceivable that you might end up in a situation where you have to choose between doing some events you do not want to earn credits, or just shelling out current money to acquire them. Yes, you can purchase them with cash. You're never forced to spend money, but the game may tempt you at times with a sweet new snowboard or other alluring item, and the monetization of credits makes the whole thing feel a bit tawdry.

But when you're actually on the slopes, the action is so good that you can lose yourself in the moment, joyously tricking and speeding your way down some of the most majestic mountains in the world. Whether you want to relax and carve some sweet powder in the Rockies or you prefer to grueling a struggle against the terrain and the elements, SSX have you covered. It improves on its storied predecessors in every way, with outstanding tracks, intuitive controls, amazing visuals, a diverse assortment of challenges, and fantastic multiplayer options that may have you competing with your friends or the world for a long time to come.




The Verdict

SSX is the video game this generation has been missing. The feeble attempts of other, lesser snowboarding games to capture the adrenaline fueled excitement of SSX don & # Array; t compare at all. This is what happens when you don & # Array; t just put the game out every year, but spend your time crafting it, creating the ultimate experience. SSX redefines snowboarding games, raises the bar for the genre, then backflips over it.










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