I'm given a helicopter ride all the way up to where the oxygen level is dangerously low, and the icey winds rage freely at ridiculous velocities. This is where I want to be and on the way down I going to nail some of the craziest stunts ever seen as there is a pesky opposing team to put in its place.
That's right there is a story in SSX and I might as well get that part out of the way first. The hip, young riders of Team SSX have decided to master the nine most dangerous mountain ranges this planet has to offer before the opposing team. There is a mole in your team, and there are riders whose personality and history is presented comic book style, and your constantly fed information on how the other team is doing over radio. And... you won't care at all. In the middle of a 35 trick combination, as you're flying across a ravine, you're not really thinking about what the other team is doing. It's all about surviving and raking in the points.
The singleplayer offers two modes, World Tour and Explore. Simply put it lets you tackle the mountains along predetermined routes or freely explore them yourself. There are three main ways of taking on the slopes, Trick It, Race It and Survive It. The first sees me using my thumbs to come up with combos and try and vary it as much as possible for the highest possible score. I'm twisting, turning, somersaulting, and grinding on rails that for some reason where put up on Mount Everest.
The trick portion of the game is probably as far from real snowboarding as you can get as my rider does his best Yoda impression (you know, the Yoda from that horrible duel in the horrible movie in that horrible trilogy we all want to forget). Even if the analogue sticks are used to a large degree it doesn't feel much different from the button hammering with did with the old SSX ten years ago, or the Tony Hawk series for that matter, but it is still entertaining to keep your combos going and watch the points rack up.
Tricking has a tendency to become something of an autopilot experience as the risk of ending up on your butt is minimal. As long as you finish your tricks before you hit the ground you don't have worry about planting your face in the icey slope, and there is no longer any balancing required for grinding on rails. If you still manage to fall you can always rewind with the push of a button, however there is a point penalty for doing this so it should only be used as a last resort.
The idea is that the crazy tricks and the forgiving nature of the game will make for a visually very pleasing experience. And this is also reflected in the speed in which you're racing down the hills, and despite the breakneck speed we can still turn freely and instantly at any point. The smallest touch on the stick result in a sharp turn, and even if I know this is necessary it still doesn't feel ideal. But then all of a sudden I nail a monstrous jump, put my hands on a helicopter in a slow motion moment and I forget all my reservations.
In between races you can page through somewhat crowded shop menus to buy new gear for the next challenge. Some boards are fast, while others are easier to perform tricks on. A somewhat creepy "survival odds" rating calculates our chances of survival based on the gear, but you can always pick the easy way out and hit "optimize" for your best possible combination.
On certain courses your survival rating hits zero unless you buy special equipment. This introduces us to innovative yet gimmicky things like wingsuits, oxygen tanks, and ice picks, and even if they add variation I can't help but feel a bit sceptical. The wingsuit is a great idea in theory to that doesn't turn out to be very entertaining in practise. As you jump across great distances you extend your wings and fly, and all of a sudden I'm playing Monkey Target from Super Monkey Ball and the intense pace of the race is completely lost. The other special courses, dubbed Deadly Descents, are more entertaining as they have us escape avalanches.
The singleplayer campaign has some flaws, and the main attraction here is without a doubt the ambitious online mode. Sadly, there is no split screen mode and that is something I feel every snowboard game needs. But the competitive spirit brought on by ghost riders is hard to beat, and to create your own events to share with friends is a lot of fun.
You can compete against ghosts on certain tracks, or when you're taking part in the massive Global Events, that take place over the course of several days. I really enjoy this semi-online concept, since it does away with latency issues, boring lobbies, and load times. The level of excitement as you've come across the perfect line in a slope and manage to stay a whisker ahead of the opponent is on par with anything you can experience in an online game. Prizes, access to new events and points to buy equipment for add to your motivation.
The first impression of the visuals is decent, but there aren't any jaw dropping moments and I was expecting some of those. The riders are fairly low on detail, and the helicopter that transports me up the mountain is an abomination, both in terms of design and technical merits. The snows glistens nicely, and there are no technical hick ups such as slowdowns or pop ups to report. And there are lots of imaginative "Yoda animations" as mentioned previously.
SSX does not carry the same weight as the old SSX Tricky or even SSX 3 in my book, but in the end it's a fairly successful compromise. There is room for both crazy trick rides and the ancient art of shaving away tenth of seconds on your attempts. Frustration and freedom are both found on the same disc, along with gimmicks and good old tricks. I yawn a bit as I play the singleplayer campaign, but continue on thanks to Ridernet. EA Canada brings us a mixed bag full of high peaks and low valleys.