Extreme sport video games hit their high watershed in importance at roughly the same time as Rap-Rock or Mountain Dew: Code Red. Those were simpler times; arcades still existed in North American in some limp deathbed formation, online multiplayer was reserved for the snobby sophisticated PC elitist and hard drives in consoles sounded like an unfathomable though hopeful future. While Tony Hawk held the public pulse of the genre with an iron talon, the SSX franchise found a nice snowy niche with its crazy character design, easy to pickup though mind-crumbling-ly difficulty to master controls and the sheer frozen thrill of leaping thousands of meters off a mountain cliff without suffering the inevitable repercussions…and concussions. Perhaps only rivaled by the American movie industry, video game developers (or more accurately, publishers) have zero problem living up to the mantra of “What was Old is New Again”. Hence, the dubiously self-titled SSX grinds onto store shelves in 2012.
The biggest sigh of relief needs to be released at the onset; SSX 2012 dumped most of the Call of Duty styled content seen in development. Originally dubbed “Deadliest Decent”, early builds of SSX cringe worthy detailed modern combat infused snowboarding complete with SMGs and Kevlar vests decked out in the grayest color scheme EA could muster. Opinions were appropriately sour. Lots of stones get thrown from the peanut gallery about large multifaceted corporations, but credit must be dolled out to both EA Canada and Electronic Arts as a whole for pulling back on most of that reviled material in light of popular opinion. In fact, only two features left within the retail disc that feel spun from that dark turn of tone; the survival based “boss” mountains at the end of each locale in the campaign mode and the more realistic character design. No sweet Swedish afros in this one.
The game’s campaign has team SSX reforming once again to “Defy reality, own the world”. Much to the dismay of the rest of the crew, one flaxen haired douchebag (whose’s name in a bit of a blur to me) strikes out on his own to best Team SSX. Outside of motion comic strip character introductions, that’s really about it for the story structure. Thankfully.
SSX veterans should happily open wallets to their returning champion knowing that this entry can control exactly like the hallowed early titles. The control scheme can be toggled between the classic style and a new (and perfectly playable right stick focused) control set with a single button tap in menu. Regardless of your personal flavor, SSX handles like a speedy dream. The amount of agency the player has over the snowboarding maniac of choice can be a bit intimating at first. I personally found myself pipe-cleaning cave interiors and bogging down my rider’s momentum by anticipating slopes way before necessary. The learning curve is slight and soon enough you’ll be nailing combos and soaring fearlessly off the steepest mountain faces you can imagine. The game also features a rewind button that can, at any time in any mode, turn back time for a second shot at a botched leap.
Rookie friendly flourishes aside, SSX is not afraid to get rough in the later portion of The Tour mode. With little warning, deathly sheets of ice and bottomless abysses appear to keep you on point. I never found myself at a complete road block in progress, but gamers who write SSX as a peril-less diversion within the first few hours will definitely want to reconsider by the second half.
The sole new objective introduced in SSX 2012 is the “Deadly Descent” courses. Survival is the goal and each track features a new peril that plays to the strength of character specific gear. A treacherous icy slope is more surmountable with an ice pick in hand or a non-linear multi-mountain can be transverse through use of a wing-suit. Honestly, the name is mostly for show when the proper item is utilized…it’s not too hard to pass. Optionally, players can disengage the advantageous gear to face a radically more difficulty descent with a large reward waiting at the finish line.
Credits earned either through the game’s single player campaign or smashing friends’ scores online can be used to purchase color-coded upgraded gear. Yes, this is a snowboard gaming with loot. The pricing can be a bit inconsistent; palate swap costumes can run the same price as buffed snowboards or stat enriched special items.
Online in SSX is completely asynchronous. Utilizing EA’s beloved stat comparison technology, SSX’s Ridernet constantly feeds you new high records set by your friends. Breaking them will not only offer you innate bragging rights, but some generous credit bonuses too. Set player ghosts help simulate the intensity of head to head competition; though I never felt at a loss for the lack of direct in-slope player interaction. Players may also leave a Geotag, a floating neon credit enriched collectible, for subsequent players to snag. Credits are awarded for more difficult initial placement. Its a fun metagame that can easily be subverted if it does not tickle your particular fancy.
The only bone I have to pick with SSX 2012 is the visuals. Running at a fairly consistent 30 FPS (though controller input is rendered at 60 FPS), SSX looks a bit drab in comparison to its brightly-tinged predecessors. A lot of character and charm have been minimized in pursuit of a more realistic-looking snowboarding affair. Even the snow seems kind of gray and uninteresting.The character design is appropriately detailed even if most of the cast can be divided along pretty strict extreme sport stereotypes. Oh look, a spunky pink-haired riot grrl!
The licensed soundtrack and sparse use of character taunts mid-event help pick up much of the void of personality left by the graphics. SSX features tons of electronica, dashes of hip-hop and dub-step laden remixes as far as the eye can see. And you better believe that a certain Run-DMC track makes an appearance. SSX 2012 offers an interesting take on mid-game remixes. When a player soars off the side of a mountain (and you will…many many times), the game slowly mutes elements of whatever background track is playing during freefall…only to kick it all back in the instant you touch earth again. This gives landings a sonic umph that is really astonishing. This feature will also work with custom music provided on your console’s hard drive, though I found the breaking of song elements on these tracks to be less severe and noticeable then on the default playlist.
SSX is every bit as harrowing and off the wall fun as any other title in the series. Personal taste will factor into how much you personally enjoy each specific activity, but with the variety offered it’s not hard to imagine everyone leaving happy.
If you have ever enjoyed a single moment from the last generation games, you need to own SSX. Newcomers should not fear getting their snowboots wet with SSX. Like the other games, it is easy to get into and the online Ridernet helps fuel the flame of competition for many months to come. Defy expectations, own this game.