When SSX Deadly Descents was unveiled to gamers in 2010, a wave of disappointment flooded the internet, as many fans of the original series had their hearts shattered into tiny ice crystals when a much darker and more mature SSX was shown. Fortunately, as the saying goes “Time heals old wounds”, so with some additional development time and a few delays here and there, the Deadly Descents branding was removed and an uncorked bottle of SSX formula has been funneled into this latest sequel. So has the new title turned into a mixed bag of tricks, or has the team at EA managed to recover from a total wipeout for the franchise? Let’s strap in and take this latest SSX for a ride.
The game’s main offline focus is in its World Tour mode, which is divided into nine real-world mountain regions, from Alaska and the Alps to the Himalayas and Siberia. Each region around the world has three mountainous locations to slide down on, with the third mountain being the region’s Deadly Descent. Each Deadly Descent is a demanding mountain that you must conquer with a member of Team SSX to complete the region and unlock other locations around the world, however before you tackle the final Deadly Descent, you must first compete in the various events that span the other two mountains.
Each location around the world has its own conditions, its own required equipment to overcome those conditions, and an unlockable character who you’ll have to beat in the first event. The various equipment you’ll need for each location can be bought with your hard earned in-game currency, and each piece of survival tech must be obtained before tackling the penultimate mountain as well as the final Deadly Descent. More costly choices are also available to you, and should you wish to be more frivolous with your money you’ll be rewarded with enhanced features that will make you go faster, last longer and/or trick better. Each condition you face varies from ice and thin air to dense forests and avalanches, so it is paramount that the right equipment is used here to beat the conditions you face; be it wingsuits to cross deep caverns between runs, oxygen masks to tackle the thin air, or ice axes to help you carve your way safely down the icy glaciers.
Each event type prior to the Deadly Descent consists of Trick or Race runs. Trick events require you to not only get down the mountain in one piece, but also beat your fellow rider/s with the highest trick score. Tricks are executed by either holding down a combination of face-buttons, analogue sticks, or if you prefer, a combination of the two. First time players will be mostly mashing these controls to try to achieve a competitive score, but executing the same old tricks will result in a very low score and the dreaded Retry screen. Variety is key here, and in later events, where scores in the millions are required, you will need to chain together and execute a wide variety of moves as well as build a memory-map of the best routes down. Stringing together successful moves will boost your “Tricky” bar, which can be exchanged to boost along your character or be saved up to go “Tricky”. This is when your character can say goodbye to your bindings, as board-twirling signature moves are executed to give you even greater high scores.
Sadly though, it is in these Trick events that my issues with SSX boil to the surface. The developers have spent some considerable time in mapping real-world landscapes for the game, and as a result this has created more of an open-world feel to it. The choice of routes, jumps and pit falls can overwhelm and intimidate you at times, and because you only visit each mountain only a handful of times within the World Tour, you are not encouraged to stay on a single mountain to learn the best routes within them. Although the dense network of mountain paths may seem realistic, it not only causes frustration and mass confusion on your way down, it also sucks away all the enjoyment that the original game had so much of. In the original SSX titles each mountain had a simple layout that allowed you to concentrate more on fast lines and which move you where are going execute next, but in today’s SSX it feels like the original plan was to build a more realistic, Amped-like game, but in fear of loyal fans of the series its developers decided to backtrack and apply some arcade-style coating over the top of it, which for me has killed this particular event type.
Thankfully all these woes can be forgotten, as the Race mode picks up the dropped baton. With neither tricks or scoring required in this event type, you are left to focus on maintaining your speed and choosing the best routes down the mountain with the aim to not come last. It is very clear that SSX feels more at home with itself here, as if it is what the game was designed to be. The open-world mountains are very fitting for this mode and consistently make you question whether you took the best route down, and would a different route have been much quicker, or did you lose too much time going off that jump. Throw in the deployable wingsuit equipment and SSX becomings a very enjoyable ride all the way through to the very end. Sadly though, the previously mentioned Trick events stick their head in between these Race events, and it is at these points where I would switch off to face them another day or search for a different location around the world that would offer me more Race events.
Luckily, if you fail to score highly in Trick events, after a number of retries the game allows you to skip it. Considering my button mashing tricks, and the inability to earn high enough scores at times, I was happily using this option quite often. The decision to skip a trick event is a very welcome feature in SSX, as it keeps the game’s pace flowing along nicely, however in later levels that option never comes up and you are forced to learn enough Tricks and routes to at least earn third place and be able to continue your World Tour.
The final Survival event in each location pits you against the mountain and its harsh conditions. The most interesting was the Avalanche Deadly Descent in Alaska, which had the game’s camera flipped towards you, looking up the mountain, whilst you escape the falling avalanche that tumbles behind you. It felt a little Indiana Jones-esk, but it was good fun while it lasted, as it was sad to see that this mode only appeared once in the Tour.
Once you have exhausted all nine locations and over twenty-seven mountains there is little else to dip back into from the World Tour mode other than improving your times in Race runs or high scores in Trick runs. Unless you are going for the achievements or trophies, all of that time and effort is best spent in the game’s online modes - Explore and Global Events.
The Explore mode allows you to connect online to the game’s Autolog feature, titled RiderNet. This connects you to your online chums where you can challenge them to beat your best times in Race events or your highest scores in Trick events. Rival 'ghosts' show you the fastest competitors during an event, which spans all the locations that you haved faced in the World Tour.
In the Global Events mode you get to compete in some high-stakes challenges around the world. Each Global Event is a timed set of challenges that you can make your mark in and hope you don’t get beaten before the event’s time runs out. This mode allows you to take part in your own time and lay down a competitive and hopefully unbeatable performance. A prediction of earnings is given to you once you’ve completed the event, and when the time expires you will be awarded with your bounty based on how we’ll you have performed against all the other competitors that have taken part in the same event. Custom events can also be created, where you can pick your own drops, set the rules, the time limit and decide on the winning bounty. Friends can also setup events over RiderNet and other gamers can find new rivals outside their own circle of online buddies too.
Both Explore and Global Events are a welcome feature to SSX, however it is lacking the all important online mode that most of us really wanted; where you can hang out and just mess around with a group of online friends on any virtual mountain. These more passive online modes may create more online activity, but without being able to play in real-time online together, it feels a little disjointed, distant and overall, a bit soulless.
Graphically, with today’s hardware advancements SSX looks pretty stunning compared to its predecessors and stands high and mighty over its current competition. Unlike most boarding titles, you actually do feel like your rider is carving through the snow, however like most of them (excluding Nintendo’s 1080), the game features mostly the same shallow snow depth, no matter where you go. With that said though, SSX continues to never take itself too seriously, which is no more reassured than with its insane trick moves and the ability to grind off nearby flying helicopters. The sound stage is well catered also, featuring an up-to-date soundtrack that includes the likes of Example, Camo & Krooked, DJ Shadow, Nero and Skrillex. Each track dynamically interacts with your on-screen actions - fading out when flying in the air and jumping back in once your board hits the snow - and is an added touch that compliments the overall feel and pace of the game.
So let’s wrap this up. It felt to me that a lot has been done in SSX to try to make the game appear part of the old franchise, but it feels more like a slither of ice on top of a game that was never really meant to play like the old SSX titles. After completing the 9 Deadly Descents I doubt I can see myself revisiting them again, and although it’s online modes may offer some additional longevity, it doesn’t offer the kind of depth that I was hoping for. With that said though, this latest SSX manages to pull the right moves for a title in this genre, the best yet in fact. Sadly though it isn’t too long before you get a bit tired of playing through a game that didn’t need to be as deep or complex, where the old SSX formula didn’t entirely make its way fully into the game. Let’s hope SSX fans get to ride in much better conditions next season.
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