Lolocaust One Hour Play-Test – SSX

Radical.

Dude.

Gnarly.

Tight.

These are all words that you will not find in this One Hour Play-Test of SSX for the Xbox 360. Words you may find include ‘the’, ‘chimpanzee’ and ‘urinal cake’. 

When it comes to snowboarding games the king of the mountain has always been the SSX series, which even despite it’s occasional mis-step is still a franchise that has it’s fans, something Shaun White could only dream of. Starting out as a launch title – and a ruddy great one – for the PlayStation 2 the series has seen a few changes, but the world wasn’t ready for a full on gritty version as promised in that now infamous VGA teaser that suggested that the colourful, joyous days of the early SSX games was long gone.

The problem was that it was a huge leap, and after spending time with the game in it’s final form I can say that while the marketing of the game is now wholly different, that original teaser is actually not too far from the reality of the finished product. For better and worse.

See the game developers have clearly made a concerted effort to meld the SSX series with other, more recent successes. There are elements of Need for Speed in there, a vibe ripped directly from Trials HD as well as aspects of the better Tony Hawks games. Mostly this is a great idea, updating a workable franchise with Autolog features and encouraging you to use your friends as the most bitter of rivals works. (I assume at least, as none of my friends have the game yet, the curse of the pre-release review) However, it is very clear that while chasing the goal of high scores and better times is great, the main selling point of the game, namely the formerly eponymous Deadly Descents are nothing more than thinly veiled boss battles that serve little purpose other than showing off some great visuals and encouraging the gamer to rip their controller into edible pieces before feeding the remnants of controller past to a passing pelican. Frustration and repetition go hand in hand as you over use the rewind button – does every game really need to offer a ‘You fucked up, so have a second chance’ button these days? – until you manage to beat the descent. I have played two of the descents thus far and both were no where near as much fun as just casually browsing runs in Explore mode, but then without the new additions of these challenging areas would the game be doing much to better it’s, admittedly smaller scale, competition (namely Shaun White Snowboarding and Amped 3).

I’m as yet undecided as to whether I admire the addition, despite the frustrations, or loathe the intrusion into what, even without these areas, is a great game.

SSX is everything an SSX game should be, it has outlandish level design that rewards ballsy moves – you’ll never fail to smile when you grind a pylon cable or trick off of an overhead helicopter – as well as featuring an interesting mix of playable/purchasable characters. Which brings me to my other area of contention. In-Game purchases.

I have often gone on record in support of in-game DLC, when it enhances the gameplay experience for the end user, namely us. What I do not appreciate is the consistent assault on our wallets in exchange for ‘Time Saving’ goodies. With SSX you are presented with a whol shed load of outfits, characters, boards and accessories that you would love to own, but you are still early on in the game, so you can’t actually make the purchase, but the game offers you the potential to buy in-game credits, rather than encouraging you to persevere with the game itself and earn them. This is made worse by presenting you with a survival percentage based upon your selected character and kit, that seems to exist purely to drive further purchase. What it doesn’t take into account is player skill, which in my mind is the biggest impact upon the survival percentage – if the countless times I’ve slid off into oblivion are anything to go by. I’d have preferred the game to not show me what I *could* buy, instead simply offering unlocks as I progress through the story and events. Ah well, revenue streams are clearly more important than gamer satisfaction, or maybe it is the gamer’s lack of patience that has driven the exponential rise of this practise. Who knows?

So the main game follows three extreme sports celebrities who come from different areas of the X-game world – in fact the SSX name is broken down as something like Snowboarding, Skateboarding and Motocross – who are racing against a former team member to dominate the world’s most Deadly Descents, all for the thrills, the guts and the glory. It’s inconsequential really, but it does act as an excuse for their reckless actions, while the former team member’s efforts act as ghost data to be beaten in some areas. It works, it’s not as dark and edgy as the initial promo material presents, but it is as dangerous. Wing suits do make an appearence, as do night time levels and other environmental hazards. All in all nothing to complain about, especially when a bigger portion of the game is dedicated to more free choice in the Explore mode. Points are culminated by linking tricks together, with the best ones filling your Tricky meter, and increasing the chances of hearing a little bit of Run DMC. All your standard stuff, but polished up and looking great. Geo Tags exist in the world to be found, increasing your chances of finding a rather good tunnel or rail network to trick off of, while also giving extra credits, as does hitting flares on the mountain side – the flaming type, not the trousers – again encouraging you off of the beaten path. Exploration is the key to SSX’s finest moments, something that is vital in the rather decent on-line modes available.

Finally we have the online mode, which while coming with an EA Online Pass code doesn’t get restricted to code owners alone, instead EA have decided to open the mode up to all game owners, but only those who have the code will benefit from credits for their performance, unless they purchase a code at a later date, at which point they will get the credits that they ‘earned’ while pass-less, which is a very favourable idea. You also get some extra gear to help you in your quest for leaderboard dominance. I fully support this use of the online code/Project Ten Dollar, given that no one misses anything from the game, but early adopters do benefit from supporting the industry. All good news, and something I hope spreads to other games. On-line gaming can make or break a title, and restricting that mode is never going to be a good idea. SSX lives and breathes through it’s on-line capabilities, so well done EA.

Now as this is a ‘One Hour’ play-test I must disclose that I had to play for longer than an hour to get a feel for the game, it didn’t impress immediately, but now I’m feeling the charm. The On-Line tournament I’ve taken part in, in particular, could be something I’d spend a lot of time with – offering no live competition, but acting as a world-wide tournament, with the best scores gaming the player an in-game wad of currency. Essentially you are still playing alone, but with the world as competition, rather than the AI – which I must admit is a little too good in the game. I shall be spending another couple of days with it, up until release day here on Friday, but I don’t expect to find any other niggles.

SSX is everything a next gen update should be, and suffers faults as a direct result. By attempting to do something new, and add in more challenge it moves away from what we initially loved the series for, but it isn’t fatal. The new areas and on-line aspects add in enough to feel worthy, and the title has left me confident that some folks will make good use of it for many, many hours. It isn’t going to change your mind if you already hate ‘boarding games, but it is worth a try.

If this game was an animal it would definitely be a Killer Whale, or perhaps a Chimpanzee eating a urinal cake.

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