If you’re anything like me, you’re probably not into sports in real life. For this reason, I thought that videogames based on sports wouldn’t grab me either, and I was right for the most part – until a friend forced me to play Cool Boarders 3 back in ’97 and I realised that, as long as it involves a character with their feet planted on some kind of board, I’d generally like it.
That might be because boarding games, be it skateboarding, snowboarding… wakeboarding… whatever – well, they generally have a lot in common with fighting games, requiring a similar amount of concentration, timing and co-ordination to excel at. I don’t play them all, but I generally pick up one or two in each generation to satisfy the occasional craving.
EA’s SSX series of snowboarding games has been one of the big contenders for the last decade or so, and it’s easy to see why. Who wouldn’t like the idea of screaming down massive, steep mountains, catching crazy amounts of air and pulling off as many tricks as your fingers can handle? Okay, nobody would call them realistic, there’s a lot of physics defying going on there. The sheer height you can get out of each well-executed jump is insane and nobody in reality would be able to land safely from some of those, even if they were landing in nice, soft snow – never mind landing on a rock-solid rail of some kind. And the unexplained boosting, where your character can surge forward at ridiculous speed, even on an uphill, as if they’ve got rockets strapped to their back? Yeah, we just have to kind of accept that it’s there – but who cares? It’s fun!
In keeping with current tradition, EA’s first instalment of their long-running franchise for our current consoles is simply called “SSX” – although it doesn’t seem to be a reboot or anything. I haven’t exactly played any of the previous games, but the small amount of story the game provides does seem like it’s following on from previous titles. Anyway, it turns out that some self-styled snowboarding daredevil named Griff is traveling around the world, conquering the most deadly mountains in each continent for fame and fortune. This gets up the nose of former SSX competitor and extreme sports-loving tough chick, Zoe, who decides to put the old SSX team back together, complete with a few new faces, to catch up to Griff and show him that he ain’t all that.
Really, the story just exists as a reason for players to go through the World Tour mode, which is essentially a glorified tutorial, introducing you to the various mountains in the different countries and the several different runs on each one. It also gives us a little bit of story insight into the lineup of drop-dead sexy, attitude-packing designer daredevils we can play as – and it’s hilariously over-glorified. I keep expecting to hear a narrator suddenly chime in, “This is the world of Peter Stuyvesant!” Or something. As players progress through World Tour mode, they’ll be able to unlock all of these characters one by one and also get a taste of the various event types and the conditions for winning them.
There are three main types of events. The first is the standard race events, where the goal is simply to be the first to cross the finish line. You’ll need to do a few tricks along the way to fill up your boost gauge so that you can go faster, and finding out how to do that while sticking to the fastest line is where the skill comes in. The second is the trick events, where your sole aim is to perform as many flashy, crazy tricks as possible in succession, all the way down the course, for the biggest possible score.
The new, third event type are the “Deadly Descents”. In these white knuckle runs, you get to race all the way from the top of each mountain down a hazard-filled course, and your only real goal is to survive it. If you can squeeze in a trick or two along the way, well, good for you. Each Deadly Descent has its own signature hazard that you’ll need to outfit your rider with the correct gear to survive, like ice axes to maintain control on ice, flying-squirrel suits to cross deadly chasms, and oxygen masks to breathe in certain areas.
Once you’re done with the World Tour mode, or if you’re confident that you don’t need any instructions, you can head to the meat of the game. Explore mode is where most of your single-player exploits will take place. You can choose any of the runs on any of the mountains in any country and race or trick your way down them to earn money to buy better gear and level up your characters. You can also upload your best scores to the online leaderboards.
Global Events mode is where the online multiplayer aspect comes in. There are always huge events with massive pots of money up for grabs that all players around the world can compete in. There have been some complaints about the lack of a true multiplayer mode – because in this case you’re actually competing against other players’ recorded ghost data or their scores – but I don’t mind so much. You can do it any time you want and you don’t need a lightning-fast, unshaped broadband connection to enjoy it. Going hand-in-hand with this mode is EA’s RiderNet, which allows you to keep track of other players you mark as “rivals” so you can constantly rub your achievements in each other’s faces. Cool.
That’s about it. There’s a huge amount of tracks on offer, a titanic amount of things to achieve in single player alone, and the almost unlimited appeal of online competition. The only reason you might not like this is the lack of a directly competitive online option, but apart from that, it’s the SSX we’ve been waiting for.