Wednesday, 6 March 2013

SSX

Post-Launch Review
SSX (2012)
Developer: EA Canada
Released: February/March 2012

About

The SSX snowboarding crew has drifted in different directions since the last major competition, but it's time to get the band back together. Zoe Payne, together with fellow veteran Mac Fraser and newcomer Tane Mumea, found Team SSX in order to conquer the nine deadliest descents in the world. However, one team member - Griff Simmons - betrays the team and strikes out on his own. Now it's a race between Griff and Team SSX to see who can conquer the world's mountains first.

At Launch

SSX received average review scores of 82%. Critics were pleased with the refresh to the classic series, impressed with the updates to the gameplay and visuals, as well as the soundtrack. I particularly enjoy this quotation from IGN's review: "SSX redefines snowboarding games, raises the bar for the genre, then backflips over it." Some critics were disappointed at the lack of multiplayer, and others miss the sillier aspects of the franchise, absent from this game.

Post Launch

Two major patches were released in addition to the usual fixes.
Mount Eddie & Classics Character Pack includes seven characters from previous games, as well as a new mountain with tracks more reminiscent of the older games in the series, with more colour, half-pipes, bigger jumps, and fireworks.
Two new game modes were also released as a free content update: 3-2-1-GO! added live multiplayer (not present in original release), and Freeride allows the player to roam any track without competitors, ghosts, time limits, or scores.

The Good

Deadly Descents
These are SSX's big thing. There are 9 Deadly Descents, which are tracks with life-threatening obstacles or hazards that will interfere with your run down the mountain. Some of them are kind of lame - rocks, trees, and avalanche, I'm looking at you - but most are pretty cool. Darkness requires a headlamp, but you can't see ahead when spinning or flipping, so it's important to pick the right time to jump and trick. The Gravity descent has massive chasms that you need to glide across with a wingsuit. The run in Antarctica features shadows 40 degrees colder than sunlit areas, so you'll lose health in the shade and regenerate with your solar cell in the sun. Mt. Everest has thin air, so you'll need to remember to breathe from your oxygen tank on the way down. And snowstorms in New Zealand require "pulse goggles" to map the terrain through the whiteout.
This all sounds like a lot, but you only face one mechanic per track, so you don't have to worry about all of them at once. The Deadly Descents are interesting because it's not just "be the first one to the bottom" or "score the most points" - instead it's "get to the bottom... alive". They add a different kind of challenge to the game, especially since each one is different. Cool new feature.
Explore
World Tour offers a decent amount of gameplay, but Explore opens up every track in the game for both race and trick competitions (in World Tour each track was either race or trick), as well as adding a few bonus runs. If you made it through World Tour and enjoyed the game but don't want to go online, Explore is where you'll end up spending the bulk of your time, earning unlocks and levelling characters. There's a lot to do.
Geotags
This is a neat feature that supplements the on-track collectibles from previous SSX games. When you grab a geotag left by another rider, you gain credits (used to buy gear). 
But the neat part is that in Explore mode, you can place your own geotags, and they'll appear on other players' tracks - even in World Tour if you're online. Geotags remain in place for 24 hours, and you earn credits based on how long the geotag remained active (100% of the geotag's specified total for the full 24 hours). If another player claims the tag, they receive the same amount of credits as the placer (ie, based on how long the tag's been there).
So with all that explained, geotags are a really cool multiplayer feature. The idea is to place them in hard-to-reach areas to have them last as long as possible. They function as a sort of player-created challenge for everyone else. And even a year after launch, I'm still seeing and collecting plenty of player-placed geotags.
One potential issue/opportunity to keep in mind: you don't earn XP for picking up geotags until you complete an event. This means you could collect geotags all day without finishing events, switch to a level 1 character, finish a race, and blast them through several levels with all the XP you've accumulated. HOWEVER, if you quit the game before collecting the geotag XP, you lose it. So always finish an event before turning off the system.
Environments
In classic SSX fashion, many of the tracks have ridiculous features that no one would dare ride in real life. Over the course of the World Tour you'll ride through the tunnels of a volcano, across an abandoned oil pipeline, over the edge of a frozen dam, and through old industrial sites, to name just a few. Some of these big setpiece moments look fantastic and provide some really crazy opportunities. But the cool twist is that SSX uses all real locations instead of the completely fictional tracks of the previous games. Obviously everything isn't exactly as it is in real life, but you'll recognize names like Mt. Everest and Kilimanjaro.
Rewind
If you're an SSX veteran, I'm sure you'll recall restarting tracks after making a single mistake. The 2012 game is a bit more forgiving, adding a rewind feature that allows you to hold down the button for as long as you want (I think) to go back and fix your mistakes. It has three caveats to prevent it from being stupid overpowered. First is that the timer doesn't stop ticking and it doesn't rewind other riders. Second is that it subtracts points from your trick score based on how long you rewind. And third, you have a limited number of rewinds in Deadly Descents. So you don't necessarily have to restart the ride for making a mistake, but you will have to play catch-up. It helps fix mistakes, it doesn't erase them.
3-2-1-GO! and Freeride
I'm honestly surprised that these weren't in the game at launch, given how popular and requested the multiplayer and freeride features are/were for the series. But they're here now, and they're free, so everyone wins! In 3-2-1-GO! you can ride simultaneously against up to four other players in a race or trick event, which, you know, challenge and unpredictability because multiplayer is awesome. And freeride lets you explore runs and grab snowflakes and geotags at your leisure with no time or score pressure.
Online Pass
I almost put this in the Neutral section, but that's probably because I didn't know there was an online pass until after I bought my used copy of the game. Despite my disappointment, it's actually the best online pass system I've ever seen. Without the pass, you still have full access to the online features and multiplayer, but any credits you earn in online modes are held in limbo until you activate a pass. The pass also includes a couple of extra incentives: a pair of excellent boards for Psymon and Moby, and also some new tracks. So you don't need to buy the pass if you get the game used, but you'll certainly want to. That's the way to do it.

The Neutral

Music
I'm not a fan of the playlist. I preferred the ones from SSX Tricky and SSX 3. This one's not my style. Though it certainly doesn't detract from the experience, and this is purely down to individual taste in music. Therefore, neutral feels on the music.

More Realistic, Less Silly
While SSX certainly features some very unrealistic elements - like some of the crazy runs and Ubertricks - a lot of the classic feel is missing. Some of the returning characters are a bit lacking compared to their previous renditions, especially Psymon, who's treated as a weird daredevil "known to the police" rather than the maybe-dangerous psychotic ex-convict that he used to be.
This is in the neutral section because newcomers won't notice or care, but series veterans might be slightly disappointed.

Mt. Eddie
I wanted this DLC pack as soon as I heard about it - SSX Tricky nostalgia! Well, unfortunately, the tracks didn't live up to my expectations. They feel like classic SSX, but don't look like it. You'll understand what I mean if you play the DLC. There are tons of massive jumps, crazy rails that thread up and down and around, even loops. But despite the addition of fireworks and billboards to add colour, there isn't enough colour to make it look like Tricky. So in other words, Mt. Eddie is a lot of fun to ride, but it doesn't pull off the nostalgia factor I was hoping for.
The retro character models are fun, and Eddie has a little beard now, I guess to show the passage of time. Psymon's spiky hair looks longer than I remember, but they're fun. The downside is that they aren't new appearances for your characters; they're functionally new characters. So, they start at level 1 with no gear. Not much motivation for me to use classic Psymon instead of my fully kitted out level 10 Psymon.
Items
Consider this entry neutral for players new to the series - since you have nothing to compare it to, it will probably seem pretty decent. However, move it down to Bad if you've played SSX 3.
There are three types of equipment: suits, boards, and gear. 
Suits are different clothing for your character, always as a single package - ie, you can choose outfit A or outfit B, with no mix-and-match. Some rare suits offer perks that will improve a stat or piece of gear.
Boards have three stats: speed, boost, and tricks. You'll want to pick the right board for each event, and purchase better ones as you level up. 
Gear are special items required for Deadly Descents that will help you survive each type of challenge - ice picks, wingsuits, armour, headlamps, solar cells, pulse goggles, and oxygen tanks. These aren't required for most runs, only Deadly Descents (and even there they're optional if you're good).
There are a lot of options available, and of course it's always nice to pick up new gear. But the store only offers four random items of each type at a time (suit, board, gear), so you can't shop for something specific - if you want, say, a better trick board, you have to hope you get lucky when you check the store. And despite having 450 inventory slots between characters, you can't share gear between characters. Huh.
If you've played SSX 3, you'll be disappointed with the lack of options. SSX 3 allowed you to completely customize your character's clothing, including silly stuff and weird effects if you so chose. Picking a suit pales in comparison, and each suit features only a different colour scheme rather than actual different clothing.

The Bad

Occasional Minor Issues
Sometimes your character will get stuck between rocks, requiring a rewind or restart of the track. And I had the game lock up on me twice, forcing me to reboot the system. Fortunately these are rare issues, so no big deal really.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
SSX is a great refresh of the series. Some of the sillier elements I enjoy from previous games have been toned down, but it still plays just like classic SSX. The new controls took a little bit of adapting, but aren't that different from SSX3 on the Gamecube. The best new feature is the Deadly Descents, each of which offers a cool new twist on the formula to make them feel unique from the other courses. Item functionality is a little lacking and the Mt. Eddie DLC is only okay, but it's SSX. There's a reason it's the only sports game I play, and that reason is because it's awesome.

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