To this day, the original SSX is easily considered one of the best launch titles for Sony’s PlayStation 2. The series was introduced during the golden age of extreme sports videogames where a snowboard, skateboard and BMX title could survive alongside shooters, fighters and adventure games in perfect harmony. Things have changed. Tony Hawk has beaten a dead horse and gamers are so far removed from SSX, most of them have never even heard of the series. EA is changing that with a fantastic reboot that captures the spirit of the originals, but adds enough modern sensibilities to make it relevant in today’s shooter-heavy market.
If you are new to the series, SSX really defines the word ’extreme’. The series has always been focused on making huge jumps and pulling off incredibly outlandish tricks. That mentality hasn’t changed with the simply named fifth game in the series, nor has the enjoyment. For veterans, this new SSX will feel like a comfortable pair of shoes you forgot you had. As soon as your hands hit the controller, everything comes back. You will be spring-loading tricks and pulling off Tricky combos in no time flat. EA Canada has tossed in analog stick controls for those used to games like Skate, but I really preferred the classic style having been such a huge fan of the originals.
Any way you decide to go will work fantastically, though. One of the best things about SSX is that it plays so well, almost anyone can look like a pro. Shredding down the side of these massive mountains is breathtaking, and pulling off huge air is not an issue whether this is your first time, or your 50th.
Another trademark of the series is its riders and tracks. SSX delivers on both fronts by bringing back favorites such as Zoe and Kaori, as well as a host of rollercoaster rides in the form of tracks. You will be faced with massive mountainsides, including the Great Wall and plenty of others, littered with items such as trees, pipelines and debris. They all feel unique, sporting some awesome places to perform tricks. Each trip down a course is exhilarating, capturing that arcade feel but keeping you in control. The game compensates just enough to keep it from feeling frustrating when you slam into walls, but open enough to let you pull off some awesome tricks. The landings feel a little more forgiving than they used to, but I didn’t mind.
There are a few different modes to try out. The obvious ones are, of course, race and trick runs. Each one will have you switching boards and gear, but both are fairly straightforward. The new event, Survive It, lives up to its name, forcing you to purchase new gear to even tackle the courses. You will have to survive an entire run that is deemed extremely dangerous, whether you are weaving through trees, pitch-black areas or, my personal favorite, using the wing suit to soar above the clouds. This mode is intense and fun, even when the more frustrating runs have you gripping the controller with acrimony.
Of course, what EA game is complete now without some sort of tracking system to keep tabs on your friends? RiderNet is just that, and works just like every EA online system before it. You can check what scores your friends have, look at a list of daily challenges and even throw down the snow gauntlet for friends to pick up and beat your times and scores. It is the ultimate metagame, and SSX does it just as well as any other in the stable of franchises.
Online mode is handled a little bit different than traditional games in that you can logon at any time, post your run, and simply upload it like a ghost. This keeps the online more like an open challenge that can be run at your leisure. You can set up challenges or take on scheduled ones from EA. You can even close things off to only you and your friends. The options are nearly endless, but the traditional online lobby and straight up competition is nearly gone. For someone like me, this is perfect, but I get the feeling lots of others will find issue with it.
Visually, the game is fantastic. Watching as your rider carves through the powder, or seeing the explosions on specific sections looks great. Each course has its own identity, and each mountain even more so. The game is a visual showcase that looks fantastic all around. Rider animations are smooth, and little touches are sprinkled all over the place. The soundtrack is what you would expect from this type of game; lots of electronic music mixed in with heavier rock for a heart-pounding soundtrack. The effects are good, and character voices work, but the soundtrack remains the star of the audio department.
SSX is a fantastic reboot of an awesome series. If you have fond memories, they have not been tarnished by this newest entry. After Tricky, the series went downhill, and it has been a long time since it was relevant. I promise that EA Canada has done an amazing job of restoring what made the original so much fun, and the highlight of the original PS2 launch lineup. If you are still hesitant on the extreme game genre, I recommend giving the demo a run. I almost guarantee you it will change your mind. I couldn’t have asked for a better return to the series.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.