SSX has had a rough go of it over the past few years. What once was a very solid ‘Tony Hawk on snow’ has become an also-ran, getting passed up by other games over time. The last release of the series was in the previous generation, and fans have been clamoring for an updated release. EA has not been deaf to those cries and has tapped EA Canada to bring the classic series to PS3 and 360 with the simply-titled SSX.
The trailer shown off at E3 highlights the game’s modes as well as the new tagline “Defy Reality. Own the Planet.” The sit-down meeting we had behind closed doors while at E3 gave the game’s developers the ability to highlight more of what this means. We already knew that the game features real mountain ranges, but during the meeting EA revealed that they have used NASA satellite imagery with a Google Earth-inspired program to allow them to reliably map every major mountain in the world. This meant that the developers are able to use their skills much more creatively for course design, as opposed to trying to figure out what to make the mountain look like.
One actual example of this, seen in the trailer,is the Himalayas. As part of the mountain range is in China, the developers thought it would be cool to have the Great Wall of China make an appearance. So, with a few tweaks, the Wall now makes an appearance to allow you to trick off it, grind the wall, and so on. It definitely makes for a more ‘real world’ appeal to the game without sacrificing the insanity that is SSX.
The developer walk-through showed off all three game modes. ‘Race It’ is pretty much what you expect from the previous games. Players (and CPU opponents) race down a track with the emphasis being on finding the best line, shortcuts, and keeping your speed up. To show off this mode, the race took place on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, which is an inactive volcano. Unlike previous games where players all start at the same point and race, now you have different start points before having everyone merge together. Again, taking some liberties, you have the ability in SSX to literally race down the inside of the volcano, at least for a bit. This allowed for a lot of branching side paths and short cuts through the track to make for much more freedom in selecting your route in the race.
Next up was ‘Trick It’ mode, which is pretty much exactly what you expect: You go down a course trying to pull off as many tricks as possible to make a score to win the competition. The ‘Tricky’ meter from way back in SSX: Tricky is back (although without the constant refrain of Run DMC), as well as another great visual effect. When you pull off a monster move, and land it perfectly, the ground around your boarder actually deforms briefly from the impact with a shock wave resulting. It doesn’t seem to have any actual in-game consequences although it most definitely looks cool.
Finally is ‘Survive It’ mode, which is the mode that was originally developed when the title was SSX: Deadly Descents. This mode is almost a boss fight against the mountain, as the goal is simply to make it from the top of the mountain to the finish line (presumably near the bottom). The use of NASA’s satellite data comes into play again here as they’ve modeled in snow stability physics. If you carve a hard turn into the snow, or make a landing too roughly, you can loosen snow. If you don’t have a flat area nearby to absorb the falling snow, you could be looking at an avalanche, which is mainly what you have to survive. To show this off, in the demo an avalanche was triggered as the developer raced down the mountain. The mass of falling snow became thicker, faster and was almost a Level 2 avalanche before he was slammed against the mountain, triggering a ‘game over’. The game actually switches from the standard ‘over the shoulder’ camera angle to one which looks at the mountain from the front as you work from top to bottom of the screen. It’s definitely a much more visceral feeling watching this than racing or pulling off tricks.
Once we had seen all of the modes, we were given a bit of time with the pre-alpha game to try ‘Trick It’ mode. Essentially, if you’ve played SSX before, you know what you’re doing here. The analog sticks control movement and spin while the face buttons and triggers handle your grabs, tricks and grinds. Pull off enough tricks in a row and you unlock ‘Tricky’ mode, which means that you can pull off the more advanced (and much more high-scoring) tricks. While the game has a long way to go before its 2012 launch, what I’ve seen and played so far leaves me optimistic and enthusiastic about the snowy future.