The original SSX (aka Snowboard Super Cross) franchise originally released on the PS2 in 2000 but, for many, it was the release of SSX Tricky in holiday of 2001 that put the franchise on the map. Now, roughly twelve years after its franchise debut, EA Sports is preparing to deliver the most ambitious, and hopefully entertaining, SSX to date.

We were invited to a closed-door preview, at E3 2011, of the upcoming game, simply titled SSX (formerly SSX: Deadly Descents) and walked away pleasantly surprised – even nominating the game for one of the coveted “Best Sports Game” spots in Game Rant’s E3 2011 Awards.

We’ve published a full hands-on preview of SSX – since the EA Sports team let us try our hand, once again, at getting “Tricky” on the slopes but, for now, we wanted to address some of the stand-out features and design choices that sold us on the possibility that this SSX experience could rival our fondly-held “last generation” memories of high-flying snowboard action.

Back in December, at the Spike VGA Awards, gamers were treated to their first look at the SSX: Deadly Descents trailer – and, subsequently, player reactions were skeptical (at best). The CGI-only trailer featured a bland, albeit dangerous looking, trip down a back-country run – ending in iconic leading-lady Elise leaping to her death before whipping open a squirrel suit and gliding down the mountain. Sure, it was cool looking – but did little to give players any indication that the reboot would feature the same over-the-top tricks and action they loved in the series’ heyday. If anything the title looked like it was preying on the recent Hollywood trend of gritty but realistic action – grounded in reality.

Interestingly enough, SSX is heavily grounded in reality – but that doesn’t mean that the development team isn’t also set to offer one of the most outrageous, and more importantly, fun to play games on the market.

If you weren’t convinced by the original teasers, check out the SSX cinematic trailer below (and then read on for our in-depth reactions to the E3 gameplay demo):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i14cBRXhCWU

Wetalk about the “feel” of the gameplay as well as some of the other mechanics in our hands-on preview but, to help calm the anxieties of long-running SSX fans, there are two major pieces of information that should help paint a clearer picture of how the game will, if the development team pulls it off, be both realistic and gritty – as well as offer enjoyable and over-the-top gameplay.

Part I: Realism

While a lot of assumptions have been made about the new SSX, it is grounded in realism – but only because the design team has drawn from a myriad of scientific sources to create the craziest, real-world, environments for players to explore.

EA Canada used data from NASA that painstakingly recreated nearly the entire Earth’s topography – most importantly, the nine major mountain ranges on the planet. Additionally, the team will also be utilizing google maps imagery to further capture the environments in all their (frightening) glory. The combined data makes for the basic foundation of each level in the game – meaning that when players take to the mountain, they’ll be shredding through some of the most realistic runs ever depicted in a video game.

SSX Mountains

Part II: Extreme Gameplay

Even though the game’s foundation is grounded in scientific data and ground breaking physics, EA Canada didn’t set-out to make the most realistic title on the market – they wanted to make the most fun title on the market. As a result, gameplay will be broken into three modes in this installment.

  • Race – as seen in prior SSX titles, this mode is a basic speed trial down the mountain – and will feature the most realistic version of each run (though there will still be epic moments: helicopter jumps, etc).
  • Trick – again, like in prior SSX titles, this mode will test player’s ability to shred over death-defying jumps to pull-off crazy tricks and snag multipliers – in pursuit of a high score. However, in the new SSX, these runs will be exaggerated versions of the “race” run – with bigger jumps and some creative trick opportunities (i.e. The Great Wall of China is warped and buried in snow for greater tricking – as seen in the trailer).
  • Deadly Descents – there will be nine total deadly descents in the game – acting as the “boss fight” for each mountain range. While EA Canada didn’t spill too many details on what players can expect from these action-packed runs (the game is still months from Alpha), we were treated to a look at the “Snow” descent – which saw Elise attempt to shred a certain distance down the mountain as an avalanche chased her from above.

The developers also promised a variety of camera angles and action set-pieces in the descents (instead of simply following the character from behind). For example, in the snow descent, the camera shifted far out in front of the character (similar to the view seen in the trailer where Max and Elise sweep back and forth ahead of the avalanche), watching her cut left and right trying to stay ahead of the snow. That said, it was hard to tell how the altered angle would affect the controls (and our demo-lead actually failed the descent after sliding off-track too many times).

Building on both the over-the-top descent action and the groundbreaking physics that make the game possible, EA Canada gave a sharp example of how the gameplay and science come together.

SSX Tricks

Using the NASA and Google data, the team was able to successfully map out points of stability and stress on each run – like a weather channel pressure map (unstable zones are red and stable zones are blue). In SSX, each descent will be entirely different – since the physical environment will react the player’s actions. If the player cuts too hard on a turn, in an area where their speed (combined with the force exerted in the turn) violates the baseline pressure stability for that zone, it’ll cause pieces of the environment to react. In the demo level, snow started to slide down the mountain which also, in certain zones of low stability, violated the pressure baseline and caused more snow to come tumbling down – causing a physics-based avalanche that continued to build and react to, as well as cause further reactions in, the environment.

Essentially, SSX is set to not only deliver fans the classic Snowboard Super Cross racing and tricking they love – but also offer-up one of the most impressive applications of mind-blowing physics and fun gameplay available on the market.

Check out our in-depth hands-on impressions of SSX, and Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick and let us know what you’re hoping to see in the upcoming title.

SSX is expected to ship in January of 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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