When the reveal trailer was released for SSX (or the game previously known as SSX: Deadly Descents), everyone had feared the worst. What happened to the glistening, bright white snow and the ridiculous tricks?
Have they been replaced with a dark, moody atmosphere and armoured boarders trying to dodge machine gun fire. Imagine my intense feeling of relief when I played a demo of the game and realised that the series is not, in fact, going the way of Call of Duty
Far from it. While EAís return to the piste doesnít exactly channel the absurd presentation of Tricky
, its style is pretty close to SSX 3
. Characters and courses are somewhat realistic, but thereís a serious arcade edge to the gameplay, with a liberal bending of the laws of physics allowing for the big air and ubertricks that you remember during the PS2 era.
The major change in how you play SSX
this time around comes from the design of the stages themselves. Rather than set tracks with the odd optional pathway, youíre now given huge open-mountain courses with which you can create your own track for the fastest time and highest trick score. I was able to play a Trick challenge on early track Mt. Silverthrone, and ended up having several goes just to see what would happen if I went left at a certain point instead of right.
As a result of the huge open space you have ahead of you, the camera is positioned much further away than you would be used to from past SSX
games. I was told that it was a decision made to allow players to better scope the course and plan where they would like to go, but I noticed that there is an option to change the camera zoom so you can toggle for a close up just as youíre tricking out. Nice.
Playing the game was just like putting on a comfy glove - you can carve around the snow with the left stick, jump with the A button and perform tricks using a combination of face button presses and flicks of the right stick. The first instinct is to launch yourself into the air and then twizzle the right stick like a madman, but a few plays later and you start to understand what kinds of tricks are being pulled and whether you have the time to pull off another before you land.
Land a trick (or five), and your boost meter gets replenished slightly. During a race itís best to expend this at crucial moments to stay ahead, but in a Trick course youíre going to want to save it up. Build the bar Ďto da maxí and youíll enter good olí Tricky mode where regular moves will be upgraded to extreme-looking ubertricks, giving you an insane amount of bonus points.
In fact, the only gripe that I would have with the game at this early stage would be the grinding, and by extension some of the collision detection thatís associated with it. The idea is that you use the left trigger to grind along pipes and similar surfaces - whether youíre about to land a jump or on the ground lining yourself up, the effect of latching onto said edge is meant to be the same.
Unfortunately, itís quite difficult to determine when to jump in order to land on a grind surface - both air and ground-based - and Iím not sure the collision hotspot surrounding the character is liberal enough to make attempting a grind fun. Many times I tried to hop and land on a grind rail, only to miss and hit a wall despite the fact that my board was virtual inches away from the surface. The good news is that EA has acknowledged that the grinding could be better and have committed to fixing it, so hopefully it takes this into account because grinding is just not fun to do right now.
EA reps also gave me some more detail as to how exactly SSXís
multiplayer modes would work. The first chunk of it is called Explore, and is effectively a fancy way of time-attacking and beating the best scores and times of your rivals and friends. An Autolog-style system called RiderNet automatically recommends friends and rivals for you to play against in case you want a fresh challenge. As you take part in Explore matches, your opponentsí recorded best will be presented as a ghost. So itís your standard time trial really.
Thereís also Global Events, which confused me a little bit when it was announced at Gamescom so I prodded EA further about this. These are perpetual online challenges that can be entered as many times as you like within a certain time limit. Races, Tricks and Survival challenges can last for a day, a week or a month depending on EAís mood - although players can also create their own Global Events and customise the duration, the game type and who can take part in it (friends, rivals, everyone).
The difference between Global Events and Explore matches is that in the former youíll be racing against live players in real time instead of ghosts. There are no lobbies for matchmaking - you just pick a stage and start racing. Itís this which EA says allows for 100,000 players racing online at any given time, although itís trying to push that cap even further.
There will be a limit to the number of people on a single stage at any given time, though. Canít imagine 100,000 players crammed on a mountain, somehow. Although that would be quite fun, actually. Races, as a result of this setup, are currently set in a time attack style - thereís no starting grid that all players kick off from, you start when you load up the stage and the next player does the same. EA says that it is exploring the possibility of sticking to that or staging traditional races too.
Ultimately, it looks like EA is serving the SSX
fans properly with this modernising update. Thereís still a way to go before it hits that golden gameplay standard that weíre all used to from the series, but I came away excited about the fact that weíll be taking to the piste in an extraordinarily Tricky fashion once again in January. Watch out for this one.