Top positive review
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A great new take on the series
on February 29, 2012
When the new SSX was announced, I got giddy at the though and jumped up and down. Some of my friends didn't understand why I was so excited and I had to explain to them the amazingness of this series. Now that I have it, I have some mixed feelings, but I feel it's an overall good entry in the series.
A brief history: SSX has evolved continuously over the years. While some feel the games weren't different enough, I think it's one of the few series that varied greatly over it's iterations. The only SSX to not add or change much was SSX On Tour. Thankfully that is not the case with the new SSX. Fun fact: when EA got rid of EA Sport Big, they decided to start making EA Sports Freestyle, a more casual focused company, and the head of that sub company specifically said they would not be making a new SSX. Thank goodness that didn't stay true!
What's new: a rail riding button, extra gear required for certain courses which changes gameplay and adds additional concerns to keep track of, a whole new button configuration option (which is the default), rewind, no punching, no grabs (where you grab an edge and stay), no reset button, no halfpipe, and no freeride mode. Accidentally going 'off course' has been replaced by chasms of death that you have to 'rewind' out of or die. Also, new to the game, is death. snowflake multipliers have been replaced by geotags and snowflakes that give either experience points or money. The game also feels incredibly fast. In a developer interview, he said outside SSX, the biggest influence was Burnout Paradise. It shows. The new grind button is almost optional, since you can still grind without it, but it's harder. You can no longer grind if you hit the rail at an odd angle, which I found a little less fun.
Game modes: The game has 3 modes: World Tour (story), Explore (traditional SSX Medal score mode), and Global Events (psedo-multiplayer).
In Would Tour mode you open up playable characters. When you beat events, it doesn't matter what place you are as long as you aren't last. On feature that's interesting is if you keep failing an event, it will offer to simply pass it for you. I expected this would not give me my completion check, but there are no signs that I didn't beat that stage. If you wanted to go back and try it later, you'll have to remember what stage it was on your own. It also gives you any money and experience you would have received. This mode is mostly there to open up characters and reveal the 'story'. Each character has a motion comic video that plays to introduce you to them. Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems with this games vs the old games is that it lacks character. The characters are very vague, lacking the bite they used to have. As much as I love the old SSX characters, they might have well as used 'Male Racer A' or some generic build-your-own character. You'd think this mode would be all about building more out of those characters, but it just falls flat. As such, this mode is just there to slowly introduce you to elements of gameplay, mostly the new gear. This could easily have been done in a single level of Explore mode. Because it doesn't really work on both of these points, this mode ends up being mostly pointless, though it does give you a good feeling of 'progression', as opposed to simply earning money and opening up levels and medals. I also find the mode very unbalanced, because sometimes I'd beat the goal by a ridiculous amount, follow by a course I have to play 5 times, and back again. The XP and prize money don't really reflect difficulty either.
Explore Mode is the more traditional SSX fare, with most tracks having race, trick, and sometimes survival courses, with more options for each course than you'd find in World Tour mode. Survival (also in Would Tour mode) is new to SSX. Here you will have to make it to the bottom of the course without dying. The length you need to go to get a gold metal can be longer the course, which means once you get to the bottom, you go right back to the top and start over again. Until you die. This makes this 'survival' mode very different from anything in previous SSX games and can be closely compared to endless runners (i.e. Cannabalt). Trick and Race work very similar to previous titles. There's also a new avalanche mode that feels a bit like a mini-game, but takes the game and lets you play it from a different view. While it wasn't bad, it felt like a demo or mini-game at best, which is probably why I haven't seen it much in the game.
Courses, Death, and Rewind: The courses in this SSX have a very different feel than previous entries. The paths feel off-the-chart and not at all stadium-like. This makes the courses less memorable, but also gives a feeling of realism and each course has a more open feel to it. You don't just have one or two shortcuts, but the whole track feels like one open potential shortcut. I'm not sure if I prefer either type, they both have a lot of potential fun. The ability to die in the game adds some very difficult challenges and I found racing mode suffered the most from it. I also find I just plain think it ruins the pacing and fun of both racing and trick tracks. Previously, in racing, it's all about knowing the track and executing a near flawless performance. This time around though, there are a lot more places to fall and die, which makes you have to rewind. Unfortunately, the rewind only effects your character and the other racers speed ahead. The rewind is in 1:1 speed, so take the time it takes for you to realize you are in a chasm/dead-zone, then your reaction time to that, then the amount of time it takes to get to back to a point where you can safely not repeat the same mistake. You didn't just go from first to second place, you are now dead last. Also, half time time, I found that I'd end up somehow making the same mistake, so while you think you can back up to the exact moment you messed up, you actually have to back up several moments before. Meanwhile, a snail passes you by. Overall, the feeling of the game is entirely changed for racing, from 'getting it just right' to 'oh please don't mess up'. Rewind works better in trick mode, where it reduces your trick points significantly every time you use it. In survival mode, it has a limited number of uses (3, I think), which makes sense. Unfortunately, Rewind is really easy to hit with classic controls, causing me to hit it for some of the more complicated trick. Also, being in rewind is how you place geotags. I accidentally placed at least two geo tags. Rewind should have been mapped to the select button.
Score multiplayer, combo, trick mode, and landing: In previous entries, there was a perfectionism in the precision of taking a big trick, then landing, then chaining it, then doing another trick. Here, you have a combo score and a multiplier. The manual in the game is unclear on how they relate, but at some point there was a loading screen that clarified. And yet, I'm still not sure I get it. And that's sad, because previous entries let you know exactly how the scoring system worked. I still can't tell if doing one long trick on a rail vs multiple is better in the long run. I miss the clarity and find the hud in this very unhelpful. Also, it's easy to accidentally cancel your combo. In SSX3, you had to use the right analog stick to do last minute adjustments. I was sad when this was simplified to a button press in SSX Blur, but in this game it is taken out entirely. You simply land it if you've released all the buttons. And I do mean all the buttons. If you tweaked a grab using the boost button, then you have to make sure you let go of boost before you land. This caused me to crash the first few times, but I got used to it. Now having to adjust before I landed allows for me to call it much closer than I would have in previous entries. I feel it takes a little fun out, but it adds a little risk. The multiplier here works differently too, relying on you keeping up your speed and continuing to do tricks, regardless of whether or not you combo them. As said above, it's hard to get a clear strategy from the game as to which one is more beneficial or exactly how they interact. While I like the idea of speed, I miss the perfection of squeezing out every perfection I could get out of a course. Though, now, you no longer have to worry about time limits, since they multiplier forces you to not go back or it will cancel out.
Pseudo-multiplayer: This game has no real multiplayer. It has, at best, vaguely interactive scoreboards. This works fine for trick mode, which was essentially previously a simultaneous one player experience (not much interaction). Unfortunately, race mode suffers. I no longer feel like I'm racing against people. Not even the CPU. I'm simply racing against a previously known time limit. In some modes, you can still knock the CPU down if you hit them with your character, but most modes have ghosts instead. This would be why they took out punching. Geotags are a new way to interact with other plays over asynchronous multiplayer, but I just didn't care much for it. I can leave it around, and the longer players don't get it, the more points I get for it. I just don't care much, especially when the reward is basically the same as beating a race. On the flip side, collecting them is a little fun, since it's hard to say how much they'll be worth.
Customization: This is a really odd one. The customization in this game can be easily compared to what you'd find in a facebook game. It's very off putting. Just like a facebook game you can spend extra money (real life) for extra credits (in game). The items you can buy are randomly selected and you have 4 options which can range from amazing to useless (especially in the beginning). I can honestly say I can't stand it. The different outfits are just different colors, sometimes they have a perk, but it never tells you the details of the perk other than 'extra boost' or the like. How much extra? It's annoying, because you can see a board you want, but then can't afford. Next time you go to the store it will be 4 different random items. When it comes to gear required for a coarse (such as the wingsuit), if you don't have it, it will randomly put at least on in the list, from what I can tell. But then, in order to play, you are stuck with having to buy that one gear, even if you know there's a better one you can afford just around the corner. Or, you could play another race and come back I guess.
Music: Music and interactive audio has always been a highlight in the SSX series. The series peaked with the soundtrack to SSX Blur, whose soundtrack was done by Junkie XL. Unfortunately, the music in this one isn't nearly as charming or interactive. The soundtrack is more similar to On Tour, which was a mixed bag instead of just doing it's own thing and sticking to it. The tracks also don't have the feeling of interaction that previous entries do. Previously, when you soar in the air, the drums drop out and atmosphere kicks in, with only parts of the music still playing. In this one, there is what sounds like a simple frequency cut off filter. It's still good, but not nearly as intricate as previous entries, especially not Blur. This one does allow you to load your own soundtrack though, instead of the 35 tracks available. The results are surprisingly good. When in the air the low frequency cuts off, when gliding there is a delay/doubling effect. It's good stuff. I wish the soundtrack were a little consistence, but since I can load my own, it more than makes up for it. Hopefully in the next one they'll get one artist to work on the whole thing. I'm hoping for Amon Tobin, who has at least one 'hidden' track in the game.
PS3 exclusive content: 2 different main routs and 6 ways to play it (3 trick and 3 race). I'm happy I own a PS3, but I'm sad to hear xbox fans are missing out. It won't be forever though, the box says content is exclusive until 8/29/12. The mountain is fun, but definitely not an easy course. Both routes feel similar honestly, so it mostly feels like 1 track with both trick and race options.
Overall: While this is a great overhaul of the series, but the overhaul already needs an overhaul. I'm mostly happy with it, but I can see why others might not be. It's a good scoreboard based game, but that may not appeal to some. I think I'll appreciate this entry in the series, even when a newer better one comes out. Hopefully we'll reminisce on how interesting the death mechanic was and how great it was that they took it out, but that it was a neat idea. I look forward to the next one and hope they listen to everyones complaints and ideas on this one. Inject some character back into the characters, get rid of death (my biggest gripe), bring back punching and real multiplayer (local and online), completely rethink customization (no facebook feel), give a variety of tracks (both memorable and open), have an amazing soundtrack, and you may have yourself the best SSX of all time.