When EA originally unveiled this SSX reboot under the title SSX: Deadly Descents, many long-time series fans scoffed at the dark look of the new game. SSX used to be about doing crazy, unrealistic stunts and defying gravity in absurd ways. Why did this reveal trailer feature grimacing snowboarders jumping out of helicopters in a scene that looked straight out of Call of Duty?
Perhaps sensing the negative buzz, EA changed the name and refocused the game’s marketing on the more familiar parts of SSX. Unfortunately, the gameplay additions remained, and they drag down what is an otherwise welcome revival.
The main problem in SSX is a new mode called “survive it.” These courses require special equipment, such as armor for staying alive in rough terrain, oxygen tanks for surviving in thin atmosphere, and pulse goggles for seeing your way through whiteouts.
Each piece of equipment comes with its own complications. For example, using oxygen requires occasionally tapping a button to make your character breathe. The longer you go without breathing, the more the screen whites out until eventually your character passes out and you lose the event. Especially cold mountains in Antarctica force you to equip solar panels that need to be recharged by staying away from shaded areas. Spend too long out of the sun and you freeze to death.
No matter which add-on you’re stuck with, all of the “survive it” challenges share a common trait: They aren’t very fun. The SSX series has always empowered players to pull off superhuman tricks while spinning around in the air at light speed. Suddenly finding yourself in realism-based, trial-and-error situations where you’re constantly dying and restarting doesn’t capture the classic SSX feel at all. The limited rewind ability fails to ease the frustration much.
These annoying events are especially unfortunate given how fun the old-school SSX tracks feel. Race and trick runs successfully capture the exhilaration I felt when I first loaded SSX Tricky into my PS2. Every run in the game is based off of a real mountain, but the level designers have wisely populated the courses with crazy pipes to grind and strange debris to trick off of.
When you first begin SSX, the game forces you into World Tour mode, but don’t stick around in this lame single-player portion any longer than you have to. World Tour allows you to unlock new characters, but even the standbys from previous games have been robbed of their personalities. The only serious reward for playing through World Tour is a series of laughably bad motion comics. The real meat of the game is in Explore mode.
Explore mode is overflowing with content – over 150 drops in all – but it’s disappointing how many of these I didn’t want to touch because of the survival element. Even if you ignore any specifically designated “survive it” runs, many of the courses are designed with survival in mind, which means they’re peppered with bottomless pits and other health hazards. Make a single bad jump or don’t time the use of your wingsuit right, and you’re stuck reloading and starting from the beginning (or rewinding and incurring serious penalties). I want to feel like an insane snowboarding legend when I play SSX, not like I’m trying to memorize a difficult platforming level.
Despite its many problems, I’m still tempted to recommend that long-time SSX fans check out this relaunch. The tracks that click with the old formula are fantastic, and they’re supported by one of the most impressive and robust online challenge systems ever. Inspired by Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog, SSX’s Ridernet constantly updates with new score and time challenges from friends, recommends which events you’re closest to beating someone in, and even earns you in-game credits while offline for every time a friend fails to beat your records. This asynchronous online system has the potential to make SSX a game that sucks fanatics in for a long time, and it would make it a must-buy if it didn’t have so many bad tracks.
As someone who’s waited years for a new SSX game, the frustration I discovered in EA Sports’ latest snowboarder stings. Between the strong online infrastructure and the excellent controls, the foundation is here for the SSX reboot the franchise deserves. I can only hope that this team gets another chance to go for the gold and cuts out all of the unnecessary realistic flourishes next time.
Playing well with others
In addition to the regular asynchronous multiplayer mode, SSX features a mode called Global Events. Events run 24/7 and can have up to 100,000 people competing at the same time (though you’ll only ever see four others). Players can do an event over and over until the timer runs out, tweaking runs to get the highest score possible and improve their position and the amount of money they take home at the end. Keep in mind that you won’t collect any credits won in Global Events unless you have an online pass, which is packed in with new copies of the game.