Gamescom 2011: SSX Hands-On Preview – A Tricky Reboot
Written Saturday, September 03, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Scepticism, huh? It’s a bitch, but like a lot of things in life it’s largely justified and most of the time that initial apprehension turns out to be a sixth sense that’s right on the money. What we have here is an attempted SSX reboot, with EA Canada looking to add a more realistic edge to the age-old and much-loved franchise, but still keep the same over-the-top trademark SSX antics. Even saying it back it doesn’t sound right, so I’d like to think that our scepticism is wholly justified. Having missed it at E3, it was about time we found out!
“Race it, trick it, survive it” is SSX’s new mantra, meaning that it should cater for all gamer’s snowboarding tastes, with it being quite self explanatory as to what the game will offer you. Set on various real life mountains from around the world, SSX uses courses mapped using Google Earth but with creative licence also taken to make sure they are as fun as possible. If you’ve ever had the desire to board down the Rockies, the Alps, into Alaska or up some of the biggest mountains in the world in Africa and never had the chance, then SSX might be your next best bet. Each region even has its own specific obstacles to overcome, like avalanches to avoid, so there should be a reason to test them all out. Yes, all 150 of them… the drops that is.
Moments after sitting down at the presentation preceding our hands-on at Gamescom, EA Canada was keen to stress that despite the new realism elements of SSX, that it’s “not a simulation game” – which according to them is “boring” – but the most ironic thing about that statement was that the first time we picked up the pad, it felt like one. In fact, it’s a game of two halves: on the board, navigating the slopes, the controls were so unwieldy and unresponsive that it felt like a simulation game and didn’t have the fluidity and intuitive controls that say SSX Tricky had; then in the air and on grind rails, the whole arcade SSX trick elements really start to shine.
The control scheme is as simple as you’re going to get: controls on the left stick, A to prep for a jump (and release at the peak of said jump), LT to grind, RB to rewind (yes, even SSX has a rewind feature now) and RT to boost – yes, SSX like every SSX before it has a Tricky meter that you fill up doing tricks and then can decide whether to use it in short bursts or fill the whole meter for a short period of unlimited boost. The tricks are either assigned to the buttons or the sticks, depending on how you feel, with the rotation being on the left stick also.
In the air, the game excels and SSX seems to have the tricks and big air nailed to a tee, however, they might not be as elaborate and over-the-top as they were in previous iterations of the franchise. On the ground though, the game feels sluggish and unresponsive, and thanks to some less bizarre and tracks that seem more rooted in realism – with only faint arrows guiding players towards big air – it just doesn’t feel like an SSX game.
At the heart of SSX, like every EA game seems to have recently, is its Ridernet, which is essentially SSX’s version of Need For Speed’s Autolog. The social network embedded into the experience not only means you can compete against your friend’s times, but also race against their ghosts. Interestingly enough, if you manage to set the best time on your friend’s list and your friends attempt to beat your ghost, every time they fail, you’ll get rewarded with money that you can use to buy new gear, better boards or even a wingsuit later on in the game.
EA Canada is offering players a robust offering for multiplayer, as well as single-player, and the Global Events section of SSX will have you competing on a global level. A good example of that is the Live Tournaments, which will ask players to set their fastest time or high score on a certain track within a certain time period, with their best effort counting.
As an SSX title, the latest reboot has a lot of ground to make up before its early 2012 release if it’s going to please fans. At present, while we can forgive EA Canada for the slightly unwieldy controls as there’s still plenty of time to tighten them up, we can’t really look past the fact that everything that made SSX – especially Tricky – a success doesn’t really seem to be part of this new reboot. SSX, for me anyway, was always about wacky courses, bright and over-the-top environments and more tricks than Del Boy, yet here, while the tricks seem to be wacky enough, the environments and courses are too grounded in realism to have the same effect. I suspect it’s too late to put the SeX back in SSX, but we can at least cross our fingers that they’ll do something to address this in the meantime.
SSX is scheduled for a January 2012 release.