Also available on: Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Extreme sports titles were all the rage during the previous hardware generation, but saw their market share decline with the advent of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Fortunately for armchair adrenaline junkies, you no longer have to dust off one of your old consoles for a slice of intense snowboarding action, because EA has finally delivered another helping of SSX.
Developer EA Canada seems confident that the previous entries in the series devised a perfect snowboarding sim, based on how much of the formula remains unaltered. Having said that, the studio has pulled out all of the stops to ensure that this one is the most exuberant SSX title to date.
Storyline is superfluous in games of this nature, but EA has thrown one in regardless. The SSX team, who will be familiar to fans of the franchise, are on a mission to master the world's most dangerous mountains, known as the Deadly Descents. To add some drama to the premise, ex-team member Griff gives his teammates the proverbial middle finger and sets out solo in the hope of beating them to the finish.
SSX begins in spectacular fashion with the player dropped from a chopper at 30,000 feet, though this is merely a training stage where you can hone your tricks and combos without trees, rocks and other obstacles to impede you. Stunts serve as the nuts and bolts of the game, as speed and reflexes will only get you so far.
The real thrills, of course, only begin when you're careering down that first slope at breakneck speed. There are more than 150 slopes to tackle, all of which were mapped out using satellite technology to ensure they mirror their real-life counterparts. The realism doesn't quite extend to the physics involved. Nobody short of a superhero could pull off some of those combos, or survive a high-speed collision with a felled tree, but the end result is the kind of accessible arcade package fans have come to thrive on.
SSX controls smoothly using the left thumbstick, though the game feels it's necessary to give you a helping hand at times. It's difficult to swerve some of the larger obstacles given the split-second reaction time that's called for, so you'll occasionally be given a gentle prod in the right direction. Stunts are intuitive to pull off, yet you can rack up a fairly high score from mere button-bashing too.
Grinding along the Great Wall of China, leaping off decommissioned nuclear reactors, and skirting around bits of ruined aircraft are just some of the thrills you'll encounter on each course. It's over the top snowboarding action at its very finest, serving as a reminder of just what we've been missing while the series has been on hiatus.
Three substantial gameplay modes ensure lasting appeal. World Tour accounts for the main single-player campaign, complete with a pointless storyline and the more appealing feature of equipment upgrades via an in-game store.
Events mode keeps things fresh by hitting players with both speed-based and trick-focused challenges. The former will have you looking for surfaces to grind on to ensure the speediest passage through the stage, while the latter sees you churning out combos until you fingers ache.
Multiplayer comes in the shape of Global Events backed by RiderNet support, an innovative approach to online play that has been given the same care and attention as the rest of EA's stable. The developers provide challenges that you can drop into at any time to compete against other riders from across the world asynchronously.
Players pay a drop cost from their in-game earnings to compete in these days-long events, and the cumulative total is shared out among the winners. The lack of traditional and split-screen multiplayer will certainly be lamented by some, but the creativity on offer here is commendable.
SSX has always prided itself on its extravagant presentation, and the latest edition is no exception. A varied soundtrack featuring some of the brightest stars of rock and electronica helps the adrenaline flow, serving as an apt accompaniment to what is a visually intense experience. The vast mountain ranges are aesthetically pleasing as they are visually daunting, and the riders are slick and stylish despite failing to represent a significant improvement on their PS2 counterparts.
In summary, SSX is a triumphant return for the series. It may not be the most realistic extreme sports sim out there, but it captures everything fans have loved about the franchise since its 2000 debut, and brings a raft of innovative new features to the table. You won't find a better snowboarding experience elsewhere.