Nothing quite beats the feeling of hurtling down a mountainside bolted to what is essentially a plank. The pure adrenaline and the opportunity to push your own skills exactly as far as you want is unparalleled. That is snowboarding.
In the videogame world, the SSX series has long tried to emulate this feeling, without the ever-present risk of bodily harm. Past offerings have succeeded within the limitations of the technology, giving the player the chance to risk virtual life and limb pulling off crazy stunts whilst enjoying a certain level of freedom. But this latest SSX game, which has taken advantage of all the bells and whistles of the current gen consoles, really takes that pure adrenaline feeling to a whole new level of reality. But is it really reality that we want? Or do we all just want to be infallible snowboard gods?
Having been a number of years since the last SSX game, graphical improvements would be expected. And they certainly don’t disappoint. The game looks absolutely stunning. The planet’s major mountain ranges have been inserted into the game via satellite imagery and whilst the “furniture” found along the way may well not actually exist in the real world, it is a fair assumption that the drops are accurately recreated. You may not be surprised to hear that there is a lot of white in the game, thanks to all of the snow, but the palette is surprisingly varied and, if you just stop every once in a while and look around, the scenery is simply breathtaking.
Not that you are going to have a chance to take in the scenery, as you will be throwing yourself down the 153 drops at an impressive speed. The standard race and trick events are all present, challenging the player to beat opponents, ghosts or just get massive scores from pulling trick after trick on the way down. The controls are work well, being simple enough for the player to pick up quickly, whilst offering a depth that allows the player to tweak tricks and avoid losing points through repetition.
Linking tricks together to build a combo is fairly easy as well, allowing for some very impressive scores. Filling the boost meter by pulling off tricks will eventually give players access to high scoring signature moves and a very cool “look at me, I’m snowboarding with flares” effect, whilst also providing the player with a limited boost ability which increases their speed. This boost is essential in some races, ensuring that the player pull tricks at every opportunity rather than just bombing down the mountain.
Players can earn credits to customise their snowboarders through the game, with new boards, and outfits available. But this customisation also introduces some new essential gear which is directly linked to certain race types. Things like flight suits, armour, ice axes and solar panels have been included to add a new level to the game. The flight suits allow the player to launch from a jump and then glide to the next safe part of the course. The armour basically gives the player a health bar and forces them to avoid collisions. Ice axes allow for sharper turns on ice. The solar panel essentially keeps the player warm in arctic conditions, but only works in the sunlight, meaning that every time the player heads into shade, they start to freeze. There are a few other items in the game which provide a completely different experience, but I won’t spoil the surprise for you.
These events bring that level of reality to the game, but I am not entirely sold on whether that is a good thing or not. The freedom of hurtling down a mountain in these events is hampered by sheer drops, fallen trees and shade, and they become more tense than enjoyable. But they are broken up with regular events and offer more focus to the game, so it seems to be six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Early in the development, the game was going to be called SSX: Deadly Descents, and whilst the name may have changed, the deadly descents are most definitely present. These are almost like boss levels in the game and will see the player facing off against some of the worlds most dangerous drops, usually with added hazard thrown in for fun, with the sole aim of surviving. Be it outrunning avalanches or navigating at high speed in near total darkness, the deadly descents offer yet another hike in the tension, and more than just a little frustration as they are not easy to conquer.
One thing missing from the game is a standard multiplayer mode, which is a shame. But in an effort to make up for this, the developers have included not only a snowboarding version of Autolog, but also a way for players to compete with the world.
RiderNet, as SSX’s Autolog is known, tracks your friends scores and times on tracks, and makes recommendations for the player, all in real time. It is a welcome addition, but still will only see the player chasing ghosts. Global Events are like RiderNet challenges, but on a much bigger scale, with players from all over the world entering an event which can potentially last for days. Once a time or score is set, they then wait until the event has finished to see how they finally fared against all of the other entrants, and they reap the rewards. It is a great idea and will compel the player to keep going back to the event until the time is up, to try and increase their chances of a high finish.
SSX is crammed full of content, enough to keep the most fanatical snowboarding gamer busy for hundreds of hours. Whilst the inclusion of more realistic elements, and trickier courses, certainly breaks the flow of the game, it just never stops being fun. If you have ever enjoyed a snowboarding game in the past, do yourself a favour and pick up SSX now, you won’t regret it.