Hitting the slopes

Promise Fulfilled?

The SSX series once had so much promise. With the release of the highly acclaimed second installment, SSX Tricky, in 2001, friends and reluctant family members found themselves sucked into over-the-top multiplayer snowboard races filled with insane tricks and light-hearted characters. However, despite the widespread praise it gained, the later titles failed to live up to the billing and the series fell by the wayside after the release of SSX Blur on the Nintendo Wii in 2007. That all changed in 2010, when EA Canada announced a reboot of the series, marking the first time it would grace the current generation of consoles. Set to release in early February, the simply titled SSX seeks to reinvigorate the formula that made the series such a hit amongst both snowboarding fans and gamers, whilst taking advantage of the development of online multiplayer that means reluctant family members will no longer be dragged into the game.

The biggest feature EA Sports is highlighting in SSX is the emphasis on freedom. Using a propriety program aptly named “Mountain Man”, the game’s design team was able to quickly construct massive courses based on NASA data of real mountain ranges. This allows players to truly feel like they’re hurdling down an expansive mountain as opposed to the more linear layouts of past SSX games. The design team has also gone one step further by removing any sort of fences and guardrails. Players are encouraged to explore a given course’s layout, finding their own favorite places to do tricks off of.

The new physics engine also allows for some truly spectacular looking tricks that are still easy to learn and perform on any of the game’s 150 or so different drop points (each course has multiple drop points to choose from). When a teaser trailer for the game launched in late 2010, some people were worried that the series was going in a more realistic direction but the folks over at EA Sports quickly put those fears to bed, assuring fans that realism isn’t what made previous SSX games fun, so why focus on it now? This new SSX entry will embrace player freedom and choice while also keeping the core fundamentals of the series alive.

A Personal Touch

In addition to more expansive courses and a new physics engine, SSX walso gives players a host of online and social features to utilize, even when they’re not playing the game directly. A completely new system dubbed “RiderNet” allows players to upload their times and scores to EA’s servers even when they’re playing by themselves. These scores can then be compared to people on their friend’s list and they can even challenge ghosts of themselves or their friends to try and set new records on a given course. Thanks to RiderNet’s compatibility with the official SSX website, iPhone apps, Twitter, and Facebook, players are able to check their standing on a given course no matter where they are and are even able to queue up specific challenges or courses for when they boot the game up.

Finishing courses and completing challenges allows a player to earn XP and cash that can be used to purchase new boards and gear as they rank up. Bonus cash is also earned whenever a friend fails to beat your time/score on a certain course or challenge and since cash is earned even when you’re not playing, you might log in one day only to discover you have a whole horde of money waiting for you after a friend tried several times to beat your record and failed.

Finally, players who want to dive head-first into the online multiplayer scene can participate in both global and custom events set in a persistent tournament style mode. This mode allows players to earn additional cash and gear while also pitting them against the entirety of the SSX online community on any given course at any given time (the number of other players you actually see is much more manageable). The persistent setup means players can drop in and out at any time so if you want to take a break from all the competition and just cruise down the mountain with your friends for a bit, you can do so at your leisure.

Mountains Of Perfection

Embracing the online and social functionality that has become so popular amongst gamers while also reinvigorating the traditional nuances that made previous SSX games so popular, the new SSX is well on its way to becoming a smash hit. The new RiderNet feature allows players from all over to stay connected and keep competing for the top spot no matter where they are and EA Sports has also already confirmed they plan to introduce new courses, gear, ranks, and events through patches and DLC after the game goes live. With all this less than a month away, I think it’s safe to say that the patience SSX fans have shown is about to pay off as they have a lot to look forward to once the game hits shelves in February.