SSX 2012 Review: Can't go to the mountain? No worries brah, SSX is bringing the mountain to you... so grab your board and start sliding
Hands up if you're excited about this? That doesn't strictly work online, but we know you are.
Anyone who has played an SSX game before, particularly the original SSX, SSX Tricky or SSX 3 will know what the score is here. Ultimately, you're always looking to board from the start to the bottom of the mountain, but events vary between racing, tricking and sometimes simply surviving.
Whatever the event, your descent will never be a straightforward sprint to the finish line. If you want to win races, or get to the finish in one piece, you're going to need to boost. To earn boost, you're going to have to bust out some big airs and huge tricks. Waste time tricking and looking for one too many death-defying leaps, and you'll fall behind the pack.
And if you haven't played SSX before? Well, you've got a lot to look forward to.
If you've seen any gameplay videos, you're probably thinking this game looks remarkably easy... and on the surface it is. Use the left stick to steer and spin, and the right stick to jump and pull off grabs. Linking together tricks brings higher scores, and infinite boost. Sounds simple right?
But if you want a challenge, there's plenty more to think about even during the early, more simple events. As you progress, the game will give you wingsuits, armour, ice picks... all of which are well implemented and add plenty of depth to what is already a fun game.
Things do get decidedly hairy at times. One event in the Himalayas had us constantly tricking off small ramps at break-neck speeds, whilst controlling our own oxygen tank to avoid blacking out. If you don't boost, you will run out of oxygen before the end, and if you don't trick you can't boost, so hitting your lines becomes hugely important, and fiendishly difficult at times.
The combination of these things alone is very tough, and the game often demands precision. But the result is a real thrill-ride, and a genuine sense of satisfaction when you get it right, even if you only realise that after you've been sobbing in the bathtub for over an hour.
SSX's twitchy arcade steering takes a bit of getting used to, and makes it very tough to hit your lines with precision. Thankfully, the game often compensates for this. Launch into a big trick, and the game will subtly assist with the landing. Land in front of a tree and you will be gently nudged around it, so that you aren't continually knocking them down with your face (or vice versa).
That said, we've often found that our rider attaches himself (or herself) to rails magnetically, like a scared child clinging onto an uninterested parent. Ultimately as we got to grips with the game, and started to string our combos together like a real pro, we often found ourselves thinking it would be better if the assistance was optional, to further separate the men from the boys.
Like much of this game, EA Sports is conducting a fine balancing act between adding new life to the series and re-capturing what made it great in the first place. We loved the original cast, because they fitted the game perfectly.
So naturally, we're thrilled that many of them have returned in SSX's latest outing. Old favourites such as Psymon Stark, Mac Fraser, Zoe Payne and Kaori Nishidake have returned to conquer a new set of challenges, and they're still crazy, if not quite as crazy as before (Psymon, for example, has finally sorted out his hair).
Admittedly, this is and was always 'Character Design 101'. Anyone who decides to throw themselves out of a helicopter and slide down a potentially fatal mountain on a bit of wood is probably on the eccentric side, so to cast a wide palette of total nutters is pretty much straight out of the textbook. But that doesn't mean we don't love it.
The new characters are generally more ice-cold badass than the classic SSX batpoo crazy cast, but that's not such a bad thing either. In general this game is taking itself a little more seriously than SSX games of old and this goes some way to making the game feel significant in its own right, and not just an old game with a graphical update.
As is part and parcel with a 'story mode', you do get a bit of backstory on each character as you play through. But SSX doesn't mess about, and after a few pages of eye-pleasing comic strip you'll be back in your trusty 'copter, ready to carry on tearing up the slopes.
As we've already touched upon, the single player is excellent. The story is well put together and recognises that the less time spent away from the mountain, the better. Each mountain range introduces a new difficulty to deal with, whether it be ice in Siberia, enormous crevices and drops in the Andes or thin air in the Himalayas.
At the same time you are given new equipment to deal with the change in environment, adding some welcome variety and depth to proceedings. These mountain ranges can be completed fairly quickly, making the story mode varied and interesting, but also a tad on the short side.
This isn't really a problem, as EA Sports has introduced 'Ridernet' - a snowy equivalent to Need for Speed's Autolog. Provided you have an Xbox Live subscription, Ridernet will track all your friends' best times and scores on all of SSX's many descents and challenge you to keep beating them. There really has never been a better reason to keep playing a game than to beat your mates.
With the addition of the Explore mode, which lets you experiment with lines and pick up the collectible 'geotags' scattered across the games mountains, there's plenty to do here and provided you have a fairly active and competitive group of friends, there could be no end to the fun.
There's a great sense of realism that accompanies the slightly (really, only very slightly) more serious tone of this latest SSX. This is summed up by the mountains themselves - built from NASA's own satellite data and embellished by EA Sports' designers. We know that there isn't a giant metal pipeline running through the Alaska Range, but sliding down a mountain knowing that it actually exists in real life is oddly satisfying. Not that we would recognise any of it...
We'll freely admit that the prospect of a new SSX had us as nervous as we were excited. Messing with nostalgia is very much a double-edged sword and there's no guarantees of critical acclaim for making a great game, because someone will always say that the old version is better.
EA Sports could easily have remade SSX Tricky, spruced the graphics up a bit and seen it sell well in the charts. Credit where it is due then, that the developers gambled on reinventing a significant part of the game, and dumbing down its crazy nature somewhat.
The game we've ended up with is a real beauty. SSX is instantly accessible, but eternally challenging and vibrant. The thrill of speeding through a tunnel, launching yourself out of the end and grinding the landing skid of your own helicopter with dubstep pounding in your ears is one we'll never forget. This marriage, of old and new, of realism and absurdity is one that will stand the test of time, just as it's predecessors did.
SSX availability: Available now on PS3/Xbox 360
SSX price: £40