Yet the thing we love most about SSX is that it finds a real balance between the easy-to-follow structure of the old SSX games and the more freeform exploration of games like Amped. The game has a straight, single-player story-led campaign, which sees the SSX team facing off against a rival extreme-sports crew across a series of the world’s deadliest mountains, but over time this becomes less the heart of the game, and more a means to unlocking characters and equipment. Instead, the long term draw of the game lies in its Explore mode, and in its online play.
In Explore mode, you’re granted access to a huge range of over 150 events spread across the game’s nine ranges, pushing for medal positions in each one. The desire to better your score is addictive enough, but it’s all integrated with RiderNet, an online system that works much like Need for Speed’s Autolog. Suddenly you’re not just competing against yourself, but against other players on your friends list, and they’re laying down times for you to beat, beating your times and daring you to come back for another shot.
Global Events mode takes things one stage further. These are challenge events, open to the game’s entire player base, where you drop a set number of your in-game credits to join and have until a deadline to get the highest score or quickest time possible.
The higher you go up the rankings, the more credits you win back. As you take on the events, you can see other players taking them on at the same time, which makes it feel like a race even when – strictly speaking – it isn’t. Cleverly, the game also allows you to leave glowing spherical Geotags in inaccessible places on a mountain. The more these remain undisturbed by other players, the more points you get, while you earn credits for grabbing someone else’s.
Some players may bemoan the lack of a traditional online multiplayer mode, but to our minds this is better. You’re not reliant on matchmaking systems or left waiting in the lobby – you just get out there and do the best that you can do. Plus, the more you play SSX the more confidence you develop in your skills and the more you want to show what you can do. It all gives SSX a level of depth that previous extreme sports games have never had.
If the game has a fault, it’s that it can seem fearsomely challenging. If you’re not paying attention in the game’s majestic airbound tutorial you’ll struggle with building your tricks and combos, and even then pulling them off in the heat of the moment can be tough. Some of the steep mountain courses have terrifying insta-death drops or chasms, and you’ll find yourself using the ‘restart’ feature quite a lot (to the extent that the game actually has an option to switch off that annoying ‘are you sure?’ confirmation).
The difficulty level is ameliorated by a rewind function, but using this loses you points and doesn’t rewind the progress of any rival racers. In a way, though, it’s great to see a game that demands a little skill, and – once you get used to it – playing SSX feels intuitive and natural.
SSX is a phenomenal snowboarding game, capturing the spirit of the PS2 original in a game that sits right on the console cutting edge. With a perfect balance of visceral racing and gravity-defying stunts, plus superb online features, this is a miraculously successful reboot of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit proportions.