by Xav de Matos, shacknews.com, Nov 9, 2011 2:00PM PST
My last experience with SSX was the third game in the series for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, but easing into EA's new game was as smooth as cutting through fresh snow. It feels great and was easy to get back into the flow.
The marquee feature for this generation's SSX revival is EA Canada's use of NASA satellite topographical data to develop real-world mountains within the game. That is stage one of each level's development, gameplay producer Connor Dugan told me. The next stage was "SSX-ifying" each of the locales by adding big jumps, rails, and adding environmental items to differentiate each location at first sight. Alaska, for example, features the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
The idea behind using real-world mountains is great, but even if EA Canada crafted each level on its own without using the data, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. It's inconsequential, really, but a smart way to create templates for the world. What matters most are navigating the tracks and performing tricks. The mountains are filled with gorgeous vistas and monumental jumps, and that's all SSX really needs. Tricks can be performed with the face buttons or analog sticks, with grinds and boosts tied to triggers. As you successfully land tricks, your 'Tricky' meter fills. Once maxed, the same button or stick combination pull of even bigger stunts. Maxing the meter into 'Super Tricky' territory mean tricks achieve a new level of insanity. You can even do tricks off your ally helicopter, if you've reached the right altitude.
The "three pilars" of gameplay, Dugan explains, is "Race it, trick it, survive it." SSX features race and trick tracks that work into the game's campaign, as well as 'Deadly Descents.' These descents work as "boss levels" for the mountains featured during the campaign. To keep things interesting, each descent follows a theme: you may be racing within the mouth of a dormant volcano armed with only a flashlight to establish a path in a 'darkness' decent or utilize your a wing-suit to fly between the peaks of a mountain in a 'gravity' descent.
My hands-on time included playing a 'gravity' descent and, even though I couldn't make it to the bottom of the mountain, it was a lot of fun. The gaps between each peak are so far apart that it's necessary to activate the wing-suit use the analog sticks to glide toward the next piece of land. There's some really great anticipation between each point. Cutting through the snow is insanely fast, but pulling the suit in the air slows things down and offers some really great anticipation for each landing. Activating a limited number of 'rewinds' can help save you from failing the descent.
Dugan notes there are two types of multiplayer in SSX: 'Explore' mode and Global Events. In Explore mode, players can jump on the peak of any mountain and race or trick their way to the bottom, competing for the best time or score against friends. A Need for Speed Autolog-inspired stat tracking system dubbed 'RiderNet,' constantly keeps you updated to the best times on your friends lists and you can attempt to climb to the top of rankings against ghosts of other players as well. Global Events will see people competing in a number of races and trick challenges. "There are no lobbies, you jump right in," Dugan said, adding thousands players can be competing for the best times in Global Events at once. Rather than seeing thousands of other riders on the slopes with you, the game will phase characters in and out of your game as you ride within their current position.
The only question marks remaining are some changes to the game's UI, which was still in early stages in the version I played and the game's soundtrack, which EA was not talking about but Dugan notes is an important piece of the SSX experience.
SSX isn't scheduled to launch until February 14, 2012, but it's shaping up to be the return to the franchise fans have been waiting for.