PREVIEW: SSX [X360 / PS3]

SSX hits New Zealand and Australian stores tomorrow, but if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you’d like to spend some time getting tricky on the slopes, we’d like to recap a little of what’s in store.

The world we live in is a pretty decently-large place, so it’s only fitting that the world of SSX is also on the expansive side. There are more than 150 event drops in the game, from locations as varied as Siberia, the Rocky Mountains, New Zealand, Patagonia and – as shown above – Antarctica. Gone are the days where a snowboarding game is confined to a single mountain, a handful of tracks or a few select locations – instead, EA has created a truly massive, open playground for boarders to drop in on.

There are nine different mountain ranges, with the developers taking inspiration from Google Earth. Trying to choose where to race next? Spin the globe, pick a spot and then zoom in on your preferred destination.

Inspiration also came from NASA satellite topography data. The designers accessed maps of almost the entire planet, and with a few clicks of a mouse, could create a 3D replica of any major mountain range in less than 30 seconds.

It quickly became apparent, however, that accurate 3D mountains aren’t actually that fun to ride: Great jumps are hard to come by, rocks pop out in awkward positions, and there aren’t many awesome opportunities for killer tricks. A few more clicks of the mouse and the designers amused themselves for hours “SSX-ifying the terrain”, knocking down trees, adding pipes and tunnels and removing other elements in order to make it more “fun”.

And fun it is. If you’ve played older SSX games, you’d recognise that despite the feel of open-world gameplay, the only part of the map that was really ride-able was the main path. That’s all changed in SSX in 2012: Every single part of the terrain is accessible now, so you can ride up walls, use them as opportunities to pull tricks, and generally use the environment to your advantage.

This has actually added many extra layers of replayability. Newcomers to the map, game or series might take one course to the bottom, while more experienced players take an alternative route, and the pros can rocket through, pulling off gravity-defying tricks that exploit every bit of the 3D physics engine.

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According to the developers, SSX focusses on three key pillars:

Race it
The development team are “big fans of Burnout“, and decided very early on in the piece that they’d like to create “an amazing sense of speed” – inspired by the racing series, but still staying true to the SSX franchise.

Trick it
Part of that “staying true” means there are plenty of over-the-top tricks, things that you could never do in real life. There are moves you might remember from SSX Tricky, and the devs promise: If you liked that one, you’re in for a treat. “Tricks have always been – and continue to be – the heart of SSX.

Survive it
While so much of the game sticks with tradition, EA has brought something new to the table – the equivalent of boss battles. The game pits you against the mountain itself, facing huge crevasses and outrunning avalanches. It’s adrenaline-fuelled and edge-of-your-seat worthy, but it’s still SSX, so there’s nothing stopping you from performing a few cool tricks before you plunge into the ravine.

Those boss battles are known in-game as Deadly Descents, and there are nine to choose from. Disasters range from outrunning avalanches, soaring over gaps and crevasses, and even attempting to escape a volcano.

Rather than just picking these descents like any other race, you may need a little preparation. Armour may be required (watch for falling rocks!), or a wing-suit, or other important bits of gear. If you attempt a race without the appropriate equipment, the game will warn you in red text – providing handy warnings and even a rating on how likely you are to survive. It gets a little morbid at times, but hey – completing a race when you knew you had a 9 in 10 chance of being swallowed up by an avalanche? Can’t compete.

(For the record, we were told that the wing-suit is not just used in Deadly Descents. According to the developers, you can also get your squirrel on in “happy, friendly wingsuit races”.)

[img_big]center,7945,2011-10-03/zoe_patagonia.jpg,SSX[/img_big]

“You can’t talk about SSX without talking about online,” say the developers. They’re referring to the new feature, inspired by the Autolog feature in Need For Speed.

While there’s some pretty standard online multiplayer available – global events at every single drop point, no lobbies, no waiting, drop in/out gameplay and the ability to race your friends in real time – there’s a couple of nifty tweaks, too.

Explore mode lets you play when it’s convenient for you – it’s all about personal bests and how well each individual can perform. In a gameplay model reminiscent of Trackmania, you take part in races and record your time and the path you took. This is then uploaded to the server as a ghost, for your friends – and other people – to see and race against. If your prime rival is in a different location, timezone, or simply has different gaming hours to you, it’s the perfect solution (even though you don’t have the satisfaction of trash talk mid-race).

Another handy addition is RiderNet, which tells you which maps your friends are currently exploring, and adds a marker to the world map showing your location. If someone happens to log in at the same time as you, it’s a simple matter of checking the map, setting a destination, and dropping in on a race.

[img_big]center,7945,2011-06-07/mac_prepare.jpg,SSX[/img_big]

SSX is the sixth in the series, which kicked off back in 2000 for the PlayStation 2. This latest version is the first real appearance on “next-gen” consoles, and hits the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Australia and New Zealand tomorrow, March 1st. Want a sneaky peek? Get onto the demo on your platform of choice.

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