Saturday, November 14, 2015

SSX EA's classic gets back on board

It's all downhill from here - and we couldn't be happier

Every score could be higher. Every race faster. Every combo extended. EA's thrilling stunt racer reboot delivers dissatisfaction like little else - fuelling bittersweet OCD-style replay loops of thrilling depth.
The main solo mode, World Tour, lasts seven hours, yet acts as a glorious tutorial. No sooner does the 'final' cutscene roll than Explore mode taunts you into a fresh challenge: 0/153 drops completed. Each drop is a three-minute-ish track, split into bronze, silver and gold challenges. The original SSX had just eight tracks, and still offered near-limitless replay potential.

Quantity is no substitute for craft, however, and after 20 hours we're unsure if SSX offers the sculpted track genius of its predecessors. In SSX Tricky, we were finding previously unthinkable shortcuts and ramps months after release. Our gut says the gargantuan new SSX must lack such nuance, but most tracks are yielding surprises multiple plays later.

Initially, SSX is intuitive and bewildering. We plump for the new control scheme, holding the right stick down to 'charge' jumps, using the left stick to pre-wind twists. In mid-air, the right stick grabs the board for tweaks - for example, tap right to use your right hand, and rotate the stick 90 degrees to grab the nose. It makes sense, plus you can perform wild tricks without remotely mastering its subtleties.

Tracks have never been so intense, pulsing with ramps, ridges and rails. No sooner do you land than you're jumping again - in the milliseconds of reaction time, combos are made or broken, races won or lost. The seamless transition of thought into deed creates an almost Zen-like flow - over-think your grab or spin, and a clumsy slam often follows.


SSX thrives in its intensity, rewarding skill with seamlessly integrated audio and visuals. Run DMC's iconic 'It's Tricky' hijacks the soundtrack when you land a dazzling Uber move, as flares and scenery glow.
Nail a Super Uber trick and the scenery reforms ahead of you, creating subtle yet useful new ramps to maintain your combo. Imagine PS2's hypnotic-music-shooter Rez - with it's 'union of the senses' - allied to the twitch-shooter, reflex feel of multiplayer Call of Duty... only with fewer robot babies and swearing Arizonan preteens.

Wiping out really hurts - the colours bleed away, the soundtrack crashes and your senses mute. Handily, you can rewind time and keep the combo flowing, but it also rewinds your score, avoiding spamming of key scenery. In races, rewinding only affects you, allowing rivals to surge ahead. Combos aren't multiplied by the number of tricks you perform in a row, but by your 'flow' - the faster and more varied your run, the higher the multiplier. You get more points for one lengthy, stylish grab than three fiddly grabs in one leap.

World Tour features nine real-world regions split into multiple tracks, with a signature deadly descent. They're like boss battles against the elements, and mostly provide welcome variety to the race / trick structure. Highlight? Fitz Roy, Patagonia, gives you a squirrel suit so you can glide, Batman-like, over chasms - it sounds absurd, but it's well balanced, and surprisingly challenging.

Mt Everest is less fun, asking you to tackle thin air with an oxygen tank. It amounts to pressing R1 every few seconds to stop blacking out - more annoyance than challenge.

Veterans will sail through World Tour, and only three tracks out of more than 30 gave us extended problems - look out for Zombies With Jetpacks in New Zealand. Nailing a bronze medal is hard enough, while a gold medal seems impossible.

One fellow journo actually felt the Explore mode challenges were unfairly hard, and the opponents too cheesy - you seem unable to keep up, even by following the same line. Having sunk hours into Explore mode, we can confirm this theory is, to put it politely, bollocks. They're supposed to feel that way, certainly at first. After sinking in a few hours, levelling up the right characters (Alex is best for races, for instance, or Mac for tricks), then unlocking the double-perk slots, buying stat-boosting boards, hitting every speed-pumping flare and every obscure shortcut... after all that, we creamed 30 seconds off times we once thought unbeatable. That's not to say it can't be frustrating - maddening, even - and many won't have the gumption to persevere. Shame.

Other gripes? Too few moments really stick in the memory. It's all good - often excellent - but there are few dramatic tonal shifts, either visually (like SSX's mental Tokyo Megaplex) or structurally (like SSX3's astonishing 30- minute final run). Plus, it's hard to bail unless you really hog a grab, and your rider 'snaps' to rails too magnetically.

The loading times between tracks are minimal, but still puncture the flow; the Thin Air challenge is duff, and the trick system - while incredible - is only as exciting as it was back in 2001's superb SSX Tricky.
That's the bind. As a reboot, SSX teeters between nostalgia and evolution, and perhaps falls fractions short either side. Tricky fans will miss leaping through windows in the skyscrapers of Mercury City, yet feel slightly numbed by the familiarity of board-around-neck Super Ubers.

It's pitched between Tricky's insane stunts / contrived architecture and the quasi-reality of SSX3's mountains, and it almost nails the best of both. Office buzz says newcomers will adore it, seduced by the speed and sensory impact - think Burnout meets Skate. Whatever your skill, SSX makes you feel insanely good, flattering your skills and rewarding improvisation. Its old-school core has been invigorated by the right stick controls and audio-visual makeover, with the Ridernet (like Autolog) system keeping you up to date with friends' scores, times and activities - there's always something to do.

Whether this is worth 90 percent or more depends on your appetite for perfection - to strive for gold, to find every Geotag, or to spend weeks crafting combo lines when online foes edge you out. Until the community grows, its impossible to tell if it will gather that momentum, or if a handful of elite players will score so freakishly high, no one else will want to compete. The Clash Of Kings Hack Tool is currently the best hack service available on the net which allows players to start generating free Gold, Silver, Wood and Stone in their Clash Of Kings in game accounts.

We can groan about minor quirks, or the contradictory forces of nostalgia and ennui, but that would be overthinking it - and if SSX preaches anything, it's to commit to your instincts.

In the moment, when you're busting out some lunatic set of flips and grabs over a 200ft dam in New Zealand, the screen flush with colour as Flux Pavillion roars through the speakers, it's hard not to think that you're playing the most exciting game, well, ever. Innovative yet familiar, accessible yet deep, realistic yet absurd - it's a game torn between risk and reward. You know - the place SSX always felt best.

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