previews\ Sep 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Shredding the Slopes on SSX


Even though it doesn’t fit in the “routine” EA Sports game plan, there’s no question that there should be a place for SSX. When the PlayStation 2 came out eleven years ago, EA Sports Big’s premiere snowboarding game was one of the instant favorites for the system. Since then, the brand has continued to snowball fans into a frenzy with each continuous release – up until the uncontrollable SSX Blur, anyway. Come this January, the game will see a reboot like no other on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, introducing gamers to a new, wide-open experience that will leave those earlier releases in the dust. We recently got a chance to stop by EA’s booth at the Penny Arcade Expo to give it a look.

Like the previous games, SSX relies heavily on arcade-style thrills. You’re an extreme snowboarder, hitting the drifts with the kind of reckless abandon usually reserved for Shaun White, doing flips, spins, and other tricks. Combining these tricks together gives you additional boost, which lets you speed up towards ramps, off cliffs, or other stunt possibilities. Earn enough boost and you’ll enter Tricky mode. Now, rather than being all crazy arcade-style like in SSX Tricky (with Run DMC remixes playing in the background), it’s a simplified but awesome opportunity to go wild on your stunts.

When it comes to retail in a few months, SSX will come with a number of modes and features. Among them is a new mode where you cover dangerous terrain across several treacherous mountains, darkly lit and filled with all kinds of peril. This was the original concept when SSX was first introduced, known as Deadly Descents, but EA has since lightened up and made it just a part of the overall snowboarding experience. Also included will be RiderNet, an online service where you can compete with others in real time, complete with leaderboards to see who dominates each side of the mountains you’re snowboarding on. Think of it as the same thing as AutoLog for Need For Speed, but obviously with snowboarders replacing the high speed cars.

We didn’t get to try either of these features out during our hands-on time with the game, unfortunately, but we did get a feel for the loose, arcade-style controls that will be included – and it’s vintage SSX all the way. We went on a sixty-second stunt run that resulted in some truly phenomenal things, such as a four time flip with three board grabs, only to land perfectly – and we mean PERFECTLY – in the powder. What’s more, you can also rail grind with the simple press of a button, rather than trying to keep your balance on it by luck. The greatest part is that it all performs effortlessly, without any strain on trying to get things right. You can still crash, but that’s something on your part due to mis-timing on the landing. Once you hit a few slopes and perform stunts, you’ll feel it all coming together in just the right tone.

As for the look of the game, it’s unreal. Like previous games, SSX has plenty of slopes to go on, with a number of mountains to play around. The game moves at a refreshing frame rate, even when you’re going up against other boarders. It runs around 30-60 frames per second – not bad considering it’s still in a development phase. The mountain that we were on looked unbelievable, with a number of routes to take and plenty of cool, little effects, like the powder that gathers behind you after a landing. The snowboarders look like they’re having just as much fun as we are, and the camera angle is ideal, so you can see everything that’s happening on-screen.

As for the sound, an “extreme” soundtrack is constantly in play, keeping the aural part of the game fast yet enjoyable. The full track list hasn’t been revealed yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see some Fatboy Slim in there again – and maybe even some old-school stuff. The other sound effects are somewhat muted, but still noticeable, like when your board hits the powder after a jump.

SSX is looking to be the equivalent of other great snowboarding games, but with its additional features, it’s bound to surpass them as well. Look for us to hit the mountain in style when the game hits the shelves this January.

Thanks to EA (and Alain Quinto) for the hands-on opp!

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