Oh dear. There are some pretty dry ways to open a videogame, and inundating players with amped-up nonsense chatter from the ever-aloof voice of youthful “cool” DJ Atomika has to rank in the upper echelons. The fictional disc jockey already felt like the antiquated aftermath of a mid-90’s board meeting when he first appeared in SSX 3, and was obviously inspired by the (real-life) DJ Stryker who made a one-off appearance in Burnout 3: Takedown. Happily, the “outlaw” dipstick’s appearance in EA’s new SSX reboot is fleeting, but it’s definitely worth noting that the character’s presence has only ever been a sign that you were playing an absolutely fantastic game. And so it goes.
That said, in comparison to its predecessors this SSX is definitely something of a slow-burner. The single-player campaign is nothing more than a wafer-thin gateway to the bountiful multiplayer suite, and it’s pure Marmite; with an emphasis on focus-shifting gimmicks and novelty tools, it somehow manages to be less focused than its fantastically sprawling online portion. The game’s nine Deadly Descent drops are likely to be particularly divisive amongst long-term fans, and some of these work far better than others. Using the new wing-suit to glide over caverns and crevices is ceaselessly gripping, but being tasked with out-running an avalanche is an initially thrilling quest that gets old very quickly indeed.
Despite the fact that – Deadly Descents and some opponent AI aside – the difficulty pitch is surprisingly mild, SSX is simply very forgiving in general. Fail an event more than three or four times on the bounce and you’ll be given the option to bypass it; frustratingly though, it simply marks the failed course as completed which is liable to drive completists around the twist. It’s also extremely generous with its currency, so although EA always give you the option of buying in-game credits with real cash, it’s hard to fathom many people taking them up on the offer. If you’re even moderately skilled you can rack up an absurd amount of credits whilst doing battle online, and this is where you’re going to be spending almost all of your time anyway.
SSX’s online modes are forward-thinking and unorthodox, and bound to be influential. EA have taken Need for Speed’s compelling Autolog feature – called RiderNet here – and have genuinely progressed it to the next level. It’s so expansive, content-rich and addictive that it would make the prospect of future DLC packs seem totally redundant, if taking part in absolutely everything wasn’t so darn inviting. Explore mode will be familiar to anyone who toyed with Autolog in NFS: Hot Pursuit or NFS: The Run – as it’s almost entirely focused on what your friends have been up to – but the Global Events mode is something that feels completely new, and represents the point at which this SSX truly takes flight.
These events – you can even create your own, incidentally – are competitions that exist only for a limited time, and everyone in the SSX community is free to take part. When an event’s deadline passes, everyone’s score is put into a pot and siphoned off into graded brackets, and you’re then rewarded accordingly with credits. If a friend beats you before the competition ends (or you’re informed that your score is no longer projected to net you a gold medal, say) you can leap straight back in for another crack at it. It’s all quite outrageously addictive, and netting yourself a gold medal (or better) in a competition that involved a sizeable credit buy-in beforehand, well, competitive online gaming really doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.
The core gameplay is still as intense and enthralling as ever, and the open-ended nature of the environments means that striving to beat a record or set a new high score never drifts into monotony: rather than slavishly following the same set path over and over again, you’ll always be tempted to experiment. A traditional, old-school SSX control scheme is available, but EA’s never-ending passion for dual thumbsticks has paid off once again, and it’s this scheme that represents the most intuitive way to play. SSX is a throwback that never feels outdated, and a reinvention with bona fine innovation on its mind. A galvanising blast of pure adrenaline.
SSX is available now for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Watch the official launch trailer for SSX below: