Electronic Arts' definitive snowboarding series is poised to make a return. If you can't wait to hit the slopes again, you should check out this new trailer and a batch of screens, along with some hands-on impressions of SSX.
SSX was one of the games EA was showcasing at an event in Las Vegas earlier this week, and I spent some time playing the latest build. While it still feels a bit rough around the edges, the team at EA seems to have a good handle on the basics; launching off ramps, doing a series of improbable tricks, and blasting down a mountain at high speeds are just as thrilling as ever.
One of the problems with snowboarding games in general is that the environments tend to be the same. The individual courses may be different, but you're pretty much always just barreling down snow-covered slopes. SSX injects a little more variety into the surroundings by adding some fantastical elements to the different courses. For instance, I did a run down a Siberian mountain, and part-way down, I encountered an abandoned nuclear power plant with cables rising up from the snow. Trappings like these aren't completely over the top, but they help give the different areas their own identities.
Electronic Arts is also hyping up the idea that the level design will embrace more of an open-world approach, with less linear courses and more opportunities to explore. In my demo, I came across several places where the path branched, but the term "open-world" seems like a stretch. Instead of invisible walls, you hit tall mountainsides, so your travel is still restricted…but it still offers more freedom than previous SSX entries.
Two of the areas I played, the Himalayas (an extended version of the track seen at E3) and Siberia were trick-focused events. The third was a look at a survival-focused run in Patagonia. This new style of track isn't about winning or getting a high score; it's just about getting to the end. The mountain here is full of wide gaps and chasms, making it impossible to just cruise through. Instead, I use the wingsuit, which sends your character gliding through the air flying squirrel-style. This course is one of nine of the so-called "Deadly Descents" that gave the game its original working title, and it is a cool method to break up the monotony of trick- and race-based runs.
The core concept behind SSX remains entertaining, but I had some trouble with some of the controls. For instance, I had a lot of difficulty getting grinding to work; it seemed overly finicky, initiating only when I approached a rail head-on with no angle. I also didn't think the wingsuit controls were very tight, though an EA rep assured me that the Patagonia level was still early in development, and the mechanics were still being tuned. Even so, I didn't get too frustrated when I wiped out since this demo featured an unlimited time-rewinding power. This will appear in the final game as well, but you won't have an infinite supply of the ability like I did for this demo.
I enjoyed my time with SSX, but I also walked away from the demo thankful that EA still has a few months of fine-tuning before the game's January release.