As Jaime Kennedy’s character fatefully noted in Scream 2, the majority of film sequels are inferior to their predecessor. Fortunately, that tenet doesn’t typically apply to gaming, where follow-ups traditionally improve with each subsequent iteration. One of the most distressing exceptions to this principle can be found in SSX series (which happens to share the talents of David Arquette). After two standout entries, the franchise mirrored the same downward trajectory of the Scream films. Following SSX Blur’s requirement of drawing unseen geometric shapes with a Wiimote, it seemed as if developer EA Canada had subconsciously wanted to go all ghostface on their once-vibrant series.
Fortunately, a five-year hiatus seemed to have purged the team of their reckless intentions- save for the sadistic peril faced by SSX’s cast of characters. As a franchise reboot, the title captures the awe of executing implausible tricks and careening through precarious environments exceptionally well, only tripping up with frustratingly faultless AI for your fellow contenders. While the game’s plot is slender, tasking players with surmounting the globe’s nine Deadly Descents before a rival- the focus of SSX is undoubtedly the game’s selection of far-flung locales.
Built upon geographical records garnered from a NASA database, each of the game’s twenty-eight mountains are wondrous creations, each adding a thick layer of fabricated spectacle atop credible sections of natural terrain. From leaping off of crashed aircraft in Patagonia to grinding across Alaskan oil pipelines, SSX transforms each of its locations into riotous thrill rides. Prudently, the title’s courses are broad, offering multiple paths and exhibiting an impressive sense of scale. Likewise, a respectable sense of speed emanates from SSX’s thirty-frame-per second refresh rate, which remains constant despite intermittent show pieces like a huge thundering avalanche.
Whether players confront competitions urging breakneck sprints or outrageous stunts, they are obliged to master SSX’s trick system. Following genre tradition, players use the right stick to spin and twist their virtual snowboarder when airborne. Yet, whereas most titles require players to carefully reorient an avatar prior to landing, letting go of the left stick does this automatically. As such, the title wisely eliminates many of the combo-killing wipeouts instigated by mildly inelegant landings. Two concurrent methods initiate grabs: rapid taps of the right stick or button presses. Since successful tricks reward players with boarder-propelling Boost, even race events encourage a bit of stunting.
Assessed against previous series iterations, SSX’s handling can be loose, providing players with plenty of opportunities for tricks. Although grinds rails no longer have the initial magnetic pull they once displayed, once you’re attached, only a jump can dislodge you. With some of the stringency of gravity removed, falling off the course or slamming into obstructions can be a persistent threat. Borrowing from the current generation of racing games, SSX allows players to rewind play, erasing navigational blunders in exchange for a score deduction.
The ability to reverse time is especially useful during the title’s new survival mode, which challenges gamers to make it through to the bottom of a run while a heartbeat intact. While currency earned in the game can be spend on inconsequential items like new boards or clothing skins, players will need to purchase gear like body armor just to persist. Occasionally, these stages can be exhilarating, such as when players are using the wingsuit to soar across gorges like a flying squirrel. Other items like the headlamp or ice axes are less stimulating, making you fell like a boy scout who went on a REI shopping spree, since they’re rarely necessarily during the main Would Tour campaign.
Still, other design decisions feel even more contentious. Eschewing multiple difficulty levels, SSX’s AI becomes maddeningly merciless during the half of the game- dashing through races with inhuman precision and able to complete outlandish trick combos. As such, sections of the game demand memorization of the courses, which stands in sharp contrast to the genre’s sense of stunt-based expression. Many also might take issue with SSX’s largely asynchronous multiplayer component, which forsakes traditional head-to-head competition. Available to all SSX owners (or a microcosm of friends, should you so desire), the Explore event challenge players with executing medal-securing performances amidst a swirl of ghosts data collected from other players. Meanwhile, Global Events are transitory heats which open for short periods of time, rewarding high-ranking boarder with varying quantities of in-game cash.
Having a busy schedule with little time to coordinate with comrades, I enjoyed SSX’s attitude to competition, thanks to the title’s RiderNet component. Recalling Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog, the feature continually prods players about their friend’s successes, spurring engaging, back-and-forth rivalries as gamers battle for bragging rights. Another ingenious integration are geotags, where snowboarders drop brightly colored orbs in hard to reach sections of the map. As long as the sphere remains untouched, currency trickles into the player’s virtual account. Despite these clever recreations, it’s a bit puzzling why SSX didn’t include a mode that offered unmitigated competition for players that crave direct interaction.
SSX represents an oft-entertaining return to form for EA Canada, returning much of the rousing stunting and hectic racing which catapulted the series to fame during the last decade. Save for the title’s frustrating AI, superfluous equipment, and sporadically squelchy soundtrack (I think the kids call it ‘dubstep’), the game does delivers doses of adrenaline-drenched exhilaration. With any luck, the inevitable sequel will remedy many of these blemishes, restoring the franchise’s mountainous status.