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May 11, 2012
SSX Review for Xbox 360

By Jason Van Horn

Extreme sports have never been a sports game sub-genre that I've ever really cared about before. I've dabbled and played some demos before, but never really cared to go out and own any of them. The one exception was a previous entry in the SSX series, which I loved the absurdity of back during the days of the original Xbox. The series is back with a new installment - simply titled SSX - and it's like the developers haven't missed a beat or lost what made the previous games so fun.

One of the game's main modes is Deadly Descents, which acts as the story mode of the game. In it, you'll take on the roll of various SSX teammates as you cross the globe, taking part in challenges, and ultimately trying to not only tackle nine of the most deadly descents in the world, but also beat your rival Griff who is attempting to do the same. The story mode is very lite, but at least some effort was put into one. You race the character who you're going to be using for that mountain, win, and then use them to complete a few initial trials before heading to a new mountain, where you'll compete several more trials, though these actually pertain to what makes these descents deadly. Finally you'll go to the "deadly descent," survive it, and then move on and rinse and repeat. Otherwise the only story elements come from pre-drops on your helicopter and extreme news stories whenever a new series of mountains are opened up.

Deadly Descents is a fun mode, but one that feels more like an extended training/tutorial mode more than anything else and a way to get a feeling for these wide, open courses. The biggest draw is the "deadly descents" and their inherent challenges, which are extreme, tough, frustrating, and yet fun and fulfilling once one is completed. It starts off easily enough with the "deadly" coming in the forms of trees, gaps you need to clear by using a wingsuit to fly, and trying to land on snow rather than the rocky ground that plagues that mountain. The further you go through the game the more challenging the obstacles become, as suddenly you'll be trying to outrun an avalanche, stay in the sun for risk of freezing, and having to take a hit of oxygen to keep you from blacking out because the altitude is so high.

The controls are for the most part wonderful, as my only real complaint comes from the steering of your board, as it feels a little too sensitive and what felt like a slight adjustment on my end often led to a sharp turn off a mountain path instead. The trick controls, however, are pitch perfect as you can either use the face buttons or the right control stick to perform moves and grabs, tweak them with the right trigger, and you can spin using the left thumbstick. You can also ready a jump by holding down on the right control stick and it feels immensely satisfy to prime a trick right before a big jump and then unleash a twirling dervish of tricking delight. Doing tricks will earn you boost to help rocket down the mountain faster, but it also helps build up your "Tricky" meter, which allows you to perform wilder, crazy tricks and even give you unlimited boost for a certain amount of time once fully "tricked" out. You'll also find the new rewind feature extremely helpful, though it never feels as if you're cheating; you might rewind time back so you don't fall off that mountain or either do it so you have a second chance of landing that jump right, but when you're in rewind everyone else is moving regularly, plus as you're rewinding you're constantly losing points from your score.

The meat of SSX is unquestionably the Explore and Global Events challenges, as these are essentially the multiplayer component of the game without being direct multiplayer; it's a hard idea to initially get but easy to understand once you start playing. In Explore, you can not only race to beat the ghosts of your friends (who will appear and race with you down the mountain as if they were doing it in person and show the lines and paths they took), but race computer AI opponents that will net you gold, silver and bronze medals depending on who you can beat; so you not only have all the races of Deadly Descents to complete, but there are a ton of challenges in these modes too for you to try and perfect and medal in. Explore is more about you beating people directly on your friend list, but Global Events are challenges that everyone with the game can play. You won't see everyone racing at once, but you'll see a handful of ghost data playing alongside you on your run, so it feels like you're actually racing people even though you're not; well, you're actually racing people, just not live. It's like being able to compete against friends whenever you want as everything is stored and happens on your own time instead of having to make time to get friends together or wait in a lobby until a race starts. Since so many people are competing in the Global Events, the rewards for doing well are that much more important, as the better you do the higher up the bracket you go, and the higher you place in the bracket the more money you will earn for new equipment.

Equipment actually plays a huge part in the game, especially when it comes to doing well at Global Events or simply trying to beat your friend's best time on a race (choosing the right character too as some have higher speed than others, better boost, armor, tricking ability, etc). You can buy outfits that "mostly" only change the look of your character, but you can also buy boards that might be perfect for a race though not a trick competition (the stats on a board are Speed, Boost and Trick), gear like wingsuits and armor, and one race mods that help improve things like your speed and boost. Generally speaking the idea is always to use the best equipment for each match type, but some have restrictions on them such as not allowing you to use any equipment greater than level three.

As for the actual matches, the game has three: Race, Trick and Survival. Each match is pretty self-explanatory and easy to understand. Race = be the first down the mountain. Trick = have the most trick points before you cross the finish line. Survival = get down the mountain, take the helicopter back up, and repeat until you run out of armor and basically die from losing all your health. Survival mode is tricky, however, as it throws different obstacles at you as you make subsequent trips down the mountain. The first time going down a mountain will be as always, but if you make it through your first run, the second time down you'll often find whiteout conditions blurring your vision and making it hard to see where you are going.

Another multiplayer component is the idea of Geotags, which are hovering globes that you place in the environment using the rewind feature of the game. By buying these from the store, you're basically betting on the fact that nobody will be able to reach and touch your chip (or Geotag in this case). Geotags are worth different amounts of money depending on which one is purchased and some need to remain untouched for several days before you're able to profit from them. You can place Geotags in out of the way places where you don't think anyone would find them, but most people seem to place them off of mountains as they're rewinding from a lethal fall they took.

SSX is a spectacle when it comes to the technical side of the game, as it's both a beauty to behold and an auditory overload. On the graphical side the courses/mountain/terrain is where the soul of this game really is, as the designers found a great way to make each area unique and not have each area merely be yet another zone of white snow with different jump placements. You'll have to navigate through forests of downed trees, through the inside of a volcano, alongside icy crevices, and grind down everything from the Great Wall of China to power plants and telephone wiring. The mountains are so well-designed and with so many branching paths and routes to take that it never felt like a chore retrying anything multiple times over as no run ever felt 100% the same as there were always different jumps to try, new ways to approach an obstacle, or a different branch to take altogether. Meanwhile when it comes to the audio, you have respectable (though nothing amazing) voice acting, but the sound effects of things such as your board carving through snow or skidding on ice are fantastic, as is the game's soundtrack that runs the gamut from somewhat techno music to rap to alternative.

SSX is a game that's all about fun and having lots of it in wide variety of ways. Most of the other games I'm playing right now have deep, dark storylines or fighting combo chains that require exact timing and memorization, but SSX is that game I just love to pop into my system and lose myself in for a while. It's not hard to jump into the game, grab some air, perform some tricks, and feel satisfied and content; plus if you want to go serious and try to complete all challenges, beat the ghost times/scores of all your friends, and try to be the best in the world, you can approach the game in a hardcore manner and have a lot of fun as well. After this latest installment, I can only wait and hope it doesn't take as long for the next one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


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