Preview: SSX

Our haul was thirteen

This weekend gone, some of us wandered down to Earls Court Exhibition Centre for the Eurogamer Expo to have a gander at upcoming releases, check out some very interesting technology and receive umpteen packets of Doritos each. (top tip for event sponsors: free stuff is great). It was interesting, if a little crowded as every man and his pooch was after a free OnLive box or wanted to spend an hour in a queue waiting to peek at a soldiers arse from a game due out in three weeks. Instead, we looked at the less crowded areas of the show floor, one of them being for the return of one of my favourite EA franchises, SSX.

The original game and its two good sequels were bold, brash and great fun to play, as you hurtled down a mountain surrounded by bright colours and catchy sounds while doing some insane, incredulous and impossible tricks. With Timesplitters, it was the stand-out launch title for the PS2 and when it went multiplatform with its sequels, it garnered more than just a cult following. It peaked with SSX 3, which interlaced the fun races and awesome tricks with segments of you vs the mountain which worked very well.

After some wilderness years On Tour and on the Wii, it was announced last year and my interest has been building steadily, so I was very pleased when I got to play.

Firstly though, another top tip for people showing off games at Expos: be nice. Not over the top friendly, but be pleasant. Don’t bark at me for pushing an incorrect button or not standing up and leaving the second I finish my run down the mountain. I love the SSX series but the guy in charge of the machines put me in a bad mood, so this review may be a tad more negative than I actually felt about the game.

Looks good, yah?

Anyway, initial impressions. It looked fantastic. Whether it was the backdrop, the character models or some snow powder flying after being dislodged by a crazy man with a board, the graphics were consistent, crisp and clear. The level I played was dark, set at the top of a vicious looking mountain, but with enough colour around to make you realise you’re not in a snow level of Modern Warfare. It was nice, but it made me yearn for the more festival-centric nature of the earlier incarnations, though this shouldn’t take away from how awesome it looked.

The actual routes themselves were well designed with crazy jumps and so, so many possible direction branches that it would probably take even a hardened SSX-er a long while to find them all, and each route we took had enough space to traverse, but kept us on our toes with sections falling away and wide-open areas suddenly becoming narrow chutes into a lustful cavern. The fluidity of the riders too is something to behold and although at the time I felt the handling was a bit unresponsive and heavy, I take it back now. The game has always been about precision and it’s something to learn, which I did toward the end of the run. All in all, it’s all quite impressive

Aaaaayy!

Imagine my disappointment then that I was left a bit empty after playing. It looked good, it had been designed well, even doing tricks felt more natural, but it left me a bit hollow, which took me a bit of time to work out why.

The reason? It was too easy. I was hurtling down a mountain: sometimes I was getting jumps spot on and feeling like the Fonz, while other times I screwed things up and was heading face first into a wall of ice and ended up feeling like… well, the Fonz again. There was no challenge; I still got points for my tricks, I got up almost as soon as I crash landed and hardly lost any speed. And this was when it actually decided I crashed; sometimes I just carried on after landing completely upside down.

Now, SSX has never been the most realistic game in the world, but this just didn’t feel right. There should be some punishment for going wrong and unless this gets rectified, I fear I will be disappointed at release as well. Should they fix this feeling, however, this could well be worth the time and effort.

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