E3 2011: SSX

By Andrew Yoon, Jun 14, 2011 5:30pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: I'm not exactly sure why SSX (then called SSX: Deadly Descents) was initially revealed as a dark, gritty take on the snowboarding genre. What I saw at E3 was the SSX we've come to know and love over the years, but on a scale unlike anything the genre has seen before. You'll be able to race and trick down all of the world's major mountains, whilst escaping the wrath of some furious avalanches.

THE DEMO: Perhaps the biggest change the new SSX brings to the franchise is its use of real-life data from NASA. By using topographical data from the research institute, the development team can focus on making the experience fun, instead of having to build levels from scratch. The scale is enormous: you can circle around the globe and drop down onto any major mountain on the planet, including one range in Antarctica.

The behind-closed-doors demonstration of SSX went over the three "pillars" of the game design: Race It, Trick It, and Survive It. Race and Trick will be familiar elements for SSX vets. It may come from the Skate team, but don't expect realism: 1260° spins are not only possible, but encouraged. The game's survival mode (aka "Deadly Descents") places players in dangerous situations, like having to outrace an avalanche from a new camera angle that faces the mountain. It will certainly test your skills, as even the demonstrator was only able to survive for a few seconds.

DETAILS: The first thing some fellow journalists and I saw when we entered the small demo room was the globe. What better way to show where you can go, than a 3D representation of the entire planet? As the presenter zoomed in and out of various mountain ranges across the continents, I knew immediately that SSX was going to be something special. Could anything be more empowering than giving the player the world?

There will be specific drop points to focus the experience, but the developers promise that there will be no invisible walls in SSX. Racing will be about discovering the fastest line down the mountain, a momentous task, given the size and scale of these peaks.

Although the developers are using NASA data to help build these mountain ranges, not everything is "realistic." In fact, specific aspects of the mountains may be exaggerated to create better jumping spots. "What if we had a derailed train here?" In the Macau level, developers recreated parts of the Great Wall of China, not because it was accurate ... but because it was great to grind and do tricks off of. Tricking appears to return fully intact from previous games, but the former house of Skate have also added a dual-analog system that allows you to "flick" moves with the right analog stick.

One of my favorite additions to the gameplay system is the "Tricky" meter, which builds up by successfully landing flashy stunts. You can use the Tricky meter to gain a boost (helpful for outrunning an avalanche, for example), but you'll definitely want to save it to activate a special "Tricky" mode. For a few seconds, you'll be able to pull off enhanced versions of your stunts, and when landing a jump, you'll send a shockwave that can warp the environment and even affect other racers. I didn't see this used in a competitive race, but I'm certain it'll come into play.

Because of how challenging the "Deadly Descent" survival mode was, I didn't get to see much of it. It did look dramatic, and it's clear that the development team is trying to make it feel significantly different from the rest of the game. There are only nine of these throughout the campaign, so they're meant to be treated as the snowboarding equivalent to a traditional video game boss battle.

There's so much to see and play in this newly re-imagined SSX, that I walked away thoroughly impressed. Even in its early pre-alpha state, SSX has a lot of polish. I can't wait to see what it looks like closer to its planned 2012 release.

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