EA Canada’s reboot of the SSX series suffers from a small crisis of character. The professional game can be as exciting as pulling off a Switch Stay Frosty Tweak Front Flip or as infuriating as plummeting down the same mountain crevasse five times in one run. The less savory aspects of the series’s fifth canon installment center on the game’s nine Deadly Descents (the most hazardous mountain peaks on Earth). These Survive It modes test your patience and resolve as a gamer, requiring special gear such as head lamps, oxygen tanks, or wingsuits for you to stay alive. The developers realize they’re sticking points and include a level-skip feature if you’re stuck on a particularly grueling run. And you may need it.
The beauty of carving through deep powder is satisfying throughout the game and the detailed courses, though not as madcap as those from SSX Tricky, contain a few surprises. Some of my personal favorites included landmarks such as the Alaska oil pipeline and the Great Wall of China. Grinding rails through the volcanoes of Africa and doing tricks off Siberia’s abandoned nuclear reactors capture the ridiculous nature of the original series and are instantly gratifying.
Although some of the Survive It courses can be a drag, SSX outperforms in so many other areas. The traditional Race It and Trick It courses that fans of the series will know so well come back with tight controls and fairly memorable music. And if you dislike the dubstep-leaning soundtrack that EA Canada gives you, players are given the excellent option to import their own music playlists. More games should do this.
The game’s controls are nuanced and ultimately demand competency and the Prince of Persia-style rewind button helps you avoid falling into those aforementioned crevasses. (Just be forewarned that time and points will be penalized on Race It and Trick It courses respectively.) There are other built-in systems that reward your perseverance as you carve down the mountain. Each character can equip new types of suits, boards, goggles, armor, ice picks, wingsuits, and goggles that make the nine Deadly Descents less impossible. These items are purchased with the money you earn during each event.
The equipment and currency systems are skin-deep for the six-to-eight-hour one-player campaign, but truly boost forward in the immersive online portions of SSX. Instead of offering a regular head-to-head multiplayer mode with lobbies and invites, EA employs an intricate social network for tracking racer data against friends and continuing global-challenge events. Their RiderNet system will be familiar to fans of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog. Placing Geotags in strange corners of each course is a lot of fun; these shiny collectibles accrue points up to a point while other players try to nab them.
SSX’s variegated multiplayer experiences make up for the few irritating deficiencies in the single-player game. The lack of same-console multiplayer is a little wearing, but the customizable events and the depth of the RiderNet will keep extreme-sports fans sated for a healthy chunk of 2012. You have to give due deference to EA for experimenting with the formula they cooked up in the mid-2000s. The Survive It courses’ large swings in difficulty are vexing, but there’s enough solid material here to build an even trickier sequel. In the mean time, SSX provides an abundance of mountains to carve and rails to grind.