You never know who you're going to run into while covering the Penny Arcade Expo. While taking in a few drinks between appointments, I ran into a couple guys that worked for Electronic Arts. As we got to talking I realized that they were a part of EA Canada, the team responsible for the upcoming SSX reboot. Without even thinking, I pointed my finger at one of them and sternly told them to "not screw it up!" I'm pretty sure I used a word shorter than "screw" when shouting at them, but you get the idea.
I'm passionate about SSX. As far as I'm concerned, SSX3 is one of the best games of all time. Forget Tony Hawk or any other "extreme sports" game released in the last decade, Electronic Arts managed to perfect the formula with this PlayStation 2 series. It's been years since EA delivered an SSX game, which makes the anticipation for this new installment that much greater. So believe me when I tell you that I don't want this game screwed up.
Thankfully most of my doubt was put to rest when I played the game the next day. SSX is back and better than ever. Electronic Arts wasn't showing much off, just a short level that showed off the race and trick modes. But that small taste was enough to reassure me that EA Canada (the team that brought us the Skate trilogy) was on the right track. While I still question some of their decisions, I came away from the demo feeling a lot more confident about this January 2012 release.
The gameplay has largely remained the same, which is a good thing. The emphasis is firmly on performing tricks. You do this by manipulating tricks in the air, usually by spinning in different directions and holding various shoulder button combinations. Much like the first four games, this new SSX has a deep trick system. Best of all, players who string enough maneuvers together will be able to perform the ultimate uber-trick. Pull this off and you'll earn a new high score and in-game money.
SSX also features a traditional racing mode, where you go up against several computer-controlled characters. Here is where the game's level design really shines. Fans of the series will be happy to the return of huge, wide-open landscapes to explore. Each level has multiple paths, including some super-secret shortcuts that you'll need to uncover. But don't spend too long exploring the slopes; you have a race to win.
The developers took me on a tour of the game's menu, which definitely shows how ambitious this SSX reboot is. The game includes a number of real world mountains from all across the world, each promising a variety of looks and challenges. Players will be able to set-up challenges and show off their best times using the Autolog functionality. You'll even be able to experience a number of themed races, such as outrunning an avalanche or racing with only the light on your helmet to guide you. The more the developers spoke, the more I had to have this product.
But what it boiled down to was how the game felt. Based on my short time with the game, I'm happy with the way SSX controls. They said they were still finalizing the button layout, but this alpha build suggests there will be something for every taste. The presentation was also good, though not as over-the-top as I remember the first four games being. Then again, I only saw one area and didn't exactly set the mountain on fire. I'll save judgment for the finished product.
SSX comes out this January for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. There is still plenty of time for EA Canada to screw it up, but after playing this demo I have full confidence in this very capable team.