“Defy Reality. Own the planet” is the tag-line for this latest installment of the SSX snowboarding series, 5 years on from the previous release. And defy reality it does. Fans of realism beware – “extreme” is an understatement here. Physics? Pfft. Airtime as never before imagined is the norm, as is ridiculous tricks that seem like they should be a lot harder to achieve.
But this isn’t your typical extreme sports game. For starters there is a story – a basic one. Griff, who used to be part of the SSX team has gone all Jekyll and Hyde on us and turned evil. In an act of pure jerkiness he’s decided to ace the 9 deadliest runs in the world, leaving the rest of the team to try and out manoeuvre him to take out the glory of, well – being better than Griff.
One of the coolest things about this game (besides the snow. Oh, lame. Sorry.) is the location of these runs. Each course is modelled from satellite imaging of mountains from around the world. From Siberia to Patagonia, the Rockies and New Zealand famous Mountains from all over the globe are the setting for these courses. There are challenges in each new area you have to complete before you can take on the dreaded deadly descent. The real challenge here lies in actually completing the runs – full of trees, rocks, and falls to an icy death. These courses can be frustratingly difficult, and personally I’d prefer the challenge to be in landing the tricks, not making it down the mountain. But I suppose that is why it’s called a deadly descent! If you do find yourself plummeting down a bottomless hole (and trust me, you will) there is the option of using the new rewind button feature, but you’re better off restarting your run because you’ll lose both time and points.
The mountains are enormous with twists and turns and numerous paths you can take, so as well as being visually interesting the replay value is pretty high. Boarding at night is an experience in itself – especially when you are flipping with a headlamp on – but the lighting is very cool. Graphically the detail isn’t as great as I’d hoped, but you barely notice details anyway when you are hurtling down a ravine in the dark.
As far as gameplay goes I was happy to see the option of using “old-school” controls, although the new of using the analogue stick works just as well, if a little imprecise. It is simple to twist, turn and trick your character in a myriad of ridiculous stunts. In many ways a little too simple. When you achieve millions of points in a run they kind of lose their worth. It’s almost harder to not land a trick then it is to land it. There are grind rails along the runs that are literally impossible to fall off – there is no balancing mechanism to be concerned about.
Puling off as many tricks as you can is the aim here, as it will increase your overall speed and it also means you will bust into Tricky mode, increasing your score, the craziness of the stunts and you’ll also get to listen to Run DMC’s Tricky out loud, instead of just in your head. Speaking of music, there is a diverse soundtrack with everything from Skrillex to The Hives. My favourite option though is the ability to download your own play list, so you can trick along to your personal faves.
There are some new gadgets you’ll need to complete these runs – a wingsuit to glide across canyons, ice axes help with turns on slick surfaces and solar packs stop you from freezing to death. You can also purchase additional boards and outfits with your hard earned prize credits. If you are too impatient to build up credits by racing there is the option of buying them with real money. Yep, the richer you are, the cooler gear you will have. Art imitates life. And here I was thinking gaming was about escapism.
The online racing modes are explore mode and global events. In explore mode you choose which course you’d like to compete on and off you go. The global events are constantly and you compete for credits to use in game. Some of the courses cost credits to play, with a few even being considered quite pricey. Of course there is again the option of using your “real money” to compete in these events.
A glaring omission is any attempt at a offline multiplayer. It has been reserved for online only – and it’s set up in an interesting way. As well as competing against other characters in game, there is RiderNet – an online system where the best times of everyone playing online are posted and instead of racing real time, you are competing with the “ghost” of your opponent. In some ways the fun of racing is lost (I’ve been known to force my opponents of the course in order to win and I can’t do that here) but in another way it’s kind of cool. If they had a good run you can see exactly how they did it. Plus you never have to wait for an opponent.
If you enjoyed the previous SSX titles you should get a kick out of this one. If you are after realism – this isn’t the game for you. But for ludicrously impossible tricks and terrains, it’s a lot of fun. You don’t need to commit a lot of time to it to enjoy it, and these is a ton of content to explore.
An excerpt of this review was published in the April 2012 edition of CORE Magazine.