SSX – Review
SSX’s lead characters are absent from the first 15 minutes of the game. You meet them soon enough – resolute, ancient, snow-capped behemoths plucked from the Rockies, Alps and Himalayas, drawn up through a NASA satellite and digitally deposited into the game – but before you can walk them, you must first learn how to fly above them.
Dropped from a helicopter at 30,000 feet, the opening minutes of SSX give everybody the chance to experience the game’s true quest object: flow. Freefalling through the sky with no trees to slam against, no rails to miss, no snow tundra to upset the carve of your combo, you are free to chain trick after trick and watch the score counter climb to the stratosphere. 20 hours later and there’s a chance you’ll be able to link trick to tweaked trick with this kind of uninterrupted elegance, but for now you can wax lyrical with your thumbs without fear of stutter.
Then, when you’ve mastered the basic vocabulary, it’s time to meet the opponent against whom you’re going to pit it. A squeeze of the right bumper and you open a wing suit, gliding to the ground where miles of snow dip and rise. Rock protrusions provide rails, and ice sheets scream you into tunnels that burrow through the earth before spitting you out into twirling drops.
For all the wonder of limitless combos in the sky, it’s only when the first mountain turns up, along with its potential for disheartening failure or thrilling mastery, that joy truly avalanches through you. William Blake was right: great things are done when men and mountains meet.
It would be easy to dismiss the satellite technology that went into designing the game’s 150-odd courses as a mere gimmick. And make no mistake, while the Aster Global Digital Elevation Map technology provided the blueprint of realism for these mountains, shaving months of grunt work off the project, the fingerprints of EA Canada’s game designers are all over the peaks, adding jumps, drops and tunnels to increase the pace and excitement. Nevertheless, there’s the sniff of truth to environments which, beneath the wind and the blizzards, enjoy a sense of place that’s new to the SSX lineage.
Realism is not the word you’d use when it comes to the manner in which you fling yourself down the mountains, however. There are, of course, the physics-defying (and often spine-defying) tricks that can be strung together in quick succession over even the slightest of jumps. Mash the buttons and your boarder becomes a well-wrapped contortionist, striking poses as the combo counter tricks together in the bottom left corner of the screen.
Hold the left trigger as you land on a low-slung wall, following a 1080 degree spin, and you’ll effortlessly grind along it, building meter that can be spent on a speed boost to rocket-propel you into the sky. Hold down the X or B button and you can maintain combos by grinding along snow, the potential there to combo the entire run (while, of course, risking your mounting score total, which is only “cashed” when you add a full stop to your string of tricks).
Realism is shooed further away as EA Canada’s designers pull all kinds of tricks of their own as they work to ensure you have the most fluid and stress-free journey down the slope. Land a jump just in front of a tree, for example, and the game will gently nudge you around the obstacle, constantly evaluating your lines and helping out in order to give you the best chance at finding flow. Normally such trickery would be a sign of weak design, but in SSX’s case it’s a welcome effort; it reduces the number of staccato starts while leaving the focal business of score-attack mostly untouched.
Read the rest of the review over at Eurogamer here.