SSX is the most exhilarating game I played at this year’s E3. After such a long hiatus, it is great to hit the slopes again in the most over the top way imaginable. The game’s developers employ NASA topographical data to construct courses based on the world’s most famous mountain ranges. Although they use factual data for the mountains, they take great artistic license and use creative geography to design captivating play areas out of the world’s most prominent peaks from the Rockies to the Himalayas.
The game gives you the freedom to drop in on any mountain range based on an interactive view of the globe inspired by Google Earth. After choosing a mountain range located on several different continents, you choose a specific peak to navigate. The game has three unique gameplay styles; “Race It”, “Trick It”, and “Survive It”. The developers gave a demonstration of the racing aspect by racing down inside a volcano in the pacific. The mountains are completely deserted except for the competing racers. Rather than start from a traditional starting line, the racers drop in from different angles around the volcano’s rim and eventually converge as the race properly commences.
The racing is as tight as it has ever been. Think Burnout on a snowboard and you have a good idea of what the game is going for. The course is abundant in jumps and steep slopes to pick up speed. There are no invisible walls whatsoever so your only concern should be finding the fastest possible route down the mountain. The race ends with a massive jump where you have to grab onto the skids of a waiting helicopter that transports you to the next event. The developer hinted that the helicopter would serve multiple gameplay purposes throughout the game but stopped short of going into any detail.
Next, there is the “Trick It” mode. Here you go down the mountain performing tricks to earn enough points to place in the top three for the event. Your run starts with a jump from a hovering helicopter. The course we competed on was in Macau and in another display of creative geography, you are actually able to trick off parts of the Great Wall of China. There are no rails or any other man made object to grind or trick off. Instead, you can grind along sharp edges and any other natural prominences that seems that you realistically should be able to grind- realistic of course being a relative term here. Pulling off tricks is as out-of-this-world satisfying as it was in past iterations of the series. Within a few minutes, I was pulling off spectacular combos with button presses reminiscent of those in SSX Tricky. You can also use the right analog stick to pull off grabs and flips. After landing a few big midair combos, including a 1080˚ spin, I earned my Tricky allowing me to pull even flashier tricks for a short time. Stomping your board after a huge combo deforms the track in real time with the potential to throw off your competition.
The final mode is the survival challenge, called Deadly Descents. Here your snowboarder’s goal is to survive different elements such as darkness, ice, snow, fog, thin air, rock and wind. The developer showed off only the snow element, which featured outracing a dastardly avalanche. The goal here is to make it a specific distance down the mountain. Gameplay differs from every other mode in that the camera zooms out and the angle changes so the racer and the avalanche travel downwards towards the screen. Different distance markers are projected on the snowy face of the mountain, telling you just how far you have left to go. It looks exhilarating, think of these challenges as boss fights, but it seemed challenging to control, even the demonstrator had trouble surviving all the way down.
SSX is still pre-Alpha but it already looks good. The lighting and effects, such as the track deformation impress as does the animation. Only three characters have been announced so far, Mac, Kaori, and Elise. While all three are returning from past games new faces are promised when the full game releases. Though SSX still has a lot of time to go before its ready to hit the slopes, it was a stand out title at this year's E3. The game harnesses a brash sense of fun that gamers have been craving during the series long hiatus.
SSX makes it long awaited return in January 2012.