I know this because no video game took over my house quite the way SSX 3 did several years ago on the PlayStation 2. Since then, SSX has been the game by which to measure all others that might have a shot to appealing to me and my wife. I might have liked just a few other games better, but not many. And her? She liked this one best.
After SSX 3, however, came two not very good SSXs and then, later, apprehension when a new one was announced for January 2012. I finally played it last week and can tell you what I told my wife about it. It’s not going to be the old SSX, but we can like this one.
The new SSX looks more realistic than the PlayStation 2 game that I loved. The landscape is coloured more naturally and the runs down mountainsides involve slightly more believable land formations than those in the over-the-top SSX 3. But what we loved about SSX 3 was the ability to snowboard long runs full of jumps, tricks, with a defiance of gravity as fun as Super Mario’s. When I tried a Siberia course in the new SSX last week, running on non-final code at an showcase event for publisher EA, I got some of that grand, soaring scale. The run felt less crowded than SSX On Tour‘s obstacle-laden courses and was easier to zip through than the the Wii SSX‘s absurd gesture-controlled boarding was.
I played as Kaori on a maxed-out board. the role-playing-game-style rider stat-levelling from SSX 3 is back and she was at her peak. Controls have been tweaked, with grabs now mapped to the right control stick or face buttons. Nothing I can’t adapt to.
The Siberia race was a nice long, big-air run, though the game won’t offer the scale of runs we loved in SSX 3. That game took place on a massive three-peaked mountain and let players graduate from running partial lines on the mountainside to eventually running a full top-to-bottom course which would take about a half hour. What we’ll miss in the scale of the runs we’re supposed to be getting in the range of ranges available. At E3 in June, EA hyped that every major mountain range will be in the game. Players will transport from one to the next.
SSX 3, like SSX Tricky before it, was a joyful game. The games presented it as a given that snowboarding is fun and that the exaggerated snowboarding of these games was a blast, something for happy people to do to be even happier. That cheer diminished with On Tour and seemed threatened by the initial presentation of this new SSX as some darker, edgier game. The presentation isn’t as dreary as I’d feared. We don’t get to hear an over-the-top announcer, but we also don’t have the menace of whatever the new game’s original title, SSX: Deadly Descents was alluding to. There are deadly descents, but they’re not the focus. The focus is on a group of riders tackling world-famous mountains and filming each other in the process. As you race down the mountain, you see the action through what appears to be the lens of a video camera, with a friend shouting their approval for your runs. I don’t love that concept, but I do like the intent, which evokes the kind of camaraderie and happiness I’m looking for.
The game’s concept of all being depicted through a video camera may also justify the game’s rewind feature. The version I played allowed for infinite rewinds, letting riders correct any bad turns or falls just by reversing the action and then resuming the flow. That rewind option will be limited in the final game, to add challenge, though I must say that I think my wife and I liked playing SSX 3 so much because that happy game didn’t have a significant failed state. Not getting a good enough trick score was failure enough.
I’m not sure what the soundtrack of the game will contain, but I was told that it’ll be malleable in some wonderful ways. As with previous games in the series, including SSX 3, it will drop parts of the song out as you gain air or add parts as you trick better and get on a score rush. Apparently EA is also working on technology that will allow those things to happen to players’ custom soundtracks. It’ll do those things to your own music, which sounds great (and a little hard to believe) to me.
I’d heard other people’s impressions about the flying in the game. I wanted to see it. Riders wear wing-suits, those flying-squirrel webbed body suits seen in last summer’s Transformers movie, and they can activate them with the tap of a button during the game’s crazy deadly descent runs. Those runs aren’t played for points but just for getting down the mountain. When you need to, you can grab a lot of air and then–double-tap–spread your rider’s limbs to an X and float on down the course. It’s exhilarating already.
I would love for the new SSX to feel a little more joyful than it does. It is still a bit drab. But I think my experience of it was hampered by the lack of other riders, human or computer-controlled. With more daredevils on the mountain-sides, things should feel a bit more like the colourful collective madness of prior, spectacular SSX games. Computer-controlled riders were just added to a build that the EA rep who showed me the game had just played, so, somewhat late in development, they’re getting in there.
I’m encouraged by what I played, but the standard I want the creators to meet is high. The game is scheduled for a late-January release. It’s already better than the last two SSX games I played, because it re-embraces the exhilarating grandeur of the earlier games. I just hope it can evoke half as much cheer as the older games did, because, if it does, it’ll be well-liked in my household and hopefully many more.