These days it seems like every single genre is receiving a constant stream of new games to feed not only fan demand, but competition. But when it comes to snowboarding, the past few years have seen the well dry up almost completely. EA Sports is looking to bring back their extreme snowboarding franchise with the upcoming reboot SSX, and are bringing some serious tech along with it. But how does it really feel to take a run down Mt. Everest? We got our hands on a behind-closed-doors demo of the actual game, and are here to let you know.
A good amount of time has passed since SSX last ruled the slopes, and the previous developer diaries are enough to show that the team behind the newest game are readily aware of both the franchise’s past, and the need to bring a new standard to the genre.
We’ve already given you details on the mind-blowing technology behind SSX, but it didn’t take long for the developers to realize that their dark and gloomy style ideas for the formerly-titled ‘SSX: Deadly Descents’ was straying too far from the core for its own good. Now the game has been showcased at E3, and it seems that a proper balance is much closer to be coming a reality.
Right off the bat we need to make one thing clear: the launch trailer for Deadly Descents does not reflect the tone or actual gameplay of SSX, at least not what was shown at E3. While the visuals of that cinematic trailer gave the impressions of a dark, gritty, realistic simulation of what extreme snowboarding is, the actual gameplay is as detached from danger and gravity as always.
While the developers are using their proprietary Mountain Man program to generate an incredibly realistic model of real-world mountain ranges, the artists have also taken some serious liberties where jumps and runs are concerned. The developers on hand explained that what the new technology means in terms of actual gameplay is that they no longer need to retain the most artificial aspects of past games.
No more invisible walls, as any slope or cliff face that a player can see can be explored and tricked. No more need for conveniently-placed metal poles or logs to facilitate boardslides or ‘grinds,’ as they’ve been made obsolete by the game’s engine. You see, while the player is making their way down the slope, the computer is constantly monitoring the surrounding topography. If you approach any edge or ridge even remotely approaching a 45-degree angle, you can immediately enter into a grind with the push of a button.
This change is much better for simulation purposes – for obvious reasons – but also makes initiating slides much easier, and reduces the amount of blown jumps. Although, every jump is sure to lead the player somewhere they’ll want to go. What the ‘go-anywhere- mentality means in gameplay terms is that over every drop, around every corner, and hiding beside every run is a brand new set of jumps, valleys, pipes, and sheer slopes to dominate. While the scope of SSX is far broader as a result, those who preferred the limited exploration of the series’ early titles may be unhappy.
But with so many years having passed since the glory days of SSX, fans are going to have to accept that serious changes are coming, and to be fair, EA Sports is doing everything they can to make the transition an easy one. EA’s venture into the skateboarding genre, Skate, brought new levels of simulation to the field dominated by Tony Hawk‘s favored arcade approach. But with SSX, it seems that the developers are trying to give players both options.
Throughout gameplay, the two separate control schemes are working in tandem, allowing players to choose between tricking with the twin sticks, or using the face buttons to initiate grabs or flips. It’s even possible to trigger a jump with the stick, then flip over to buttons, so those who have struggled with transitioning from one to the other in the past should be in the clear.
But with SSX, the distinguishing factor was never the controls, but the flair. The over-the-top attitude and showmanship of the game is what made it fun to play, and this is the area that EA Sports needs to work on.
Upon launching from the gates and chaining a few combos together, players begin to earn Trick points. Those points can be used to gain boosts of speed down the mountain, but conserving them is the only way to initiate ‘Tricky,’ the portion of the game that blows reality out the door in favor of visual shocks.
When in ‘Tricky,’ every trick completed causes the terrain directly in front of the player to massively deform, with the slamming of the board into the snow causing an impact wave to ripple out ahead of them. The effect is a great one in theory, but the slowing down in time and somewhat disorienting visual when the effect is first launched just doesn’t work. Having an approaching jump radically deformed, then snap back to reality can really throw off the timing of a jump, and the most satisfying part of SSX was always linking together combos seamlessly.
That being said, with the ridiculous nature of the ‘Deadly Descents’ mode, it’s safe to say that the developers have more in store. The fans spoke loudly after the first trailer launched, and going by the shift in advertising, their complaints were heard. The game is still a ways out from Alpha, so we’ll choose to take the ‘Tricky’ effects as a work in progress, and if they are, there’s definitely room to improve. SSX is clearly built on strong fundamentals and some of the most impressive technology in environmental design.
The bottom line is that we’ve been without a snowboarding title, let alone a triple-A SSX title for too long, and the next game seems to be getting the attention it deserves. Snowboarding games are fairly straightforward in their delivery, so for SSX to be nominated for Best Sports Game of E3 2011 by us at Game Rant, the game has to show plenty of promise. The basics are there, we just hope that EA Sports keeps their finger on the fans’ pulse.
So for you SSX fans and those who would simply love to be able to say you ran the entire length of Everest, the new SSX is something to look forward to, provided the developers use the remaining development time to bring out more of the over-the-top style of the series’ beginnings.
SSX is expected to release in January 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.