The defining SSX moment—whistling toward earth while breakdancing on a wafer of fiberglass as Run DMC sings “It’s tric-KAY!” in the background—is still enjoyable, even 12 years after the original version of the snowboarding game was released. The mixture of ‘80s-era nostalgia, absurdist feats of athleticism, and nosebleed-inducing heights stands as one of gaming’s most sublime, unlikely combinations. Even so, the new SSX—the first since 2007’s SSX: Blur—had the potential to be a worthy reboot, or a so-long-everybody swan song.
Gameplay is divvied up into a single-player World Tour and multiplayer Global Events. World Tour functions as an extended tutorial, familiarizing gamers with the control scheme—carving is handled with the left stick, tricks with the right—across 27 real-world mountains. Control can feel twitchy at times, resulting in a botched grind or inadvertent trick, but the sticks-only approach is an improvement over the buttons-only classic scheme. (Though that’s accessible in the Options section.) True to the series’ roots, every character in the game is still an unlikeable jerk, including newcomers like Alex “The Chamonix Assassin” Moreau, a French model who also happens to be a world-class snowboarder.
Each stop on the World Tour crescendos with a “Deadly Descent,” a run so dangerous that riders must don special equipment—an oxygen tank, thermal outerwear, and a skydiving wing-suit—to attempt it. The Deadly Descents are terrific fun, with vertigo-inducing finishes. Failing a Descent, or any of the game’s challenges, for that matter, more than a few times in a row results in the following prompt: “Would you like to skip this event and move on? You will still receive character XP and event earnings.” Loosely translated, this means “What you are doing is basically meaningless.”
This is a blow, especially to the SSX faithful who will no doubt be trying with all their hearts to master each mountain run, as they have in every SSX game to date. That nagging sense that what you’re doing doesn’t mean much unfortunately pervades nearly every aspect of the game. The leveling-up system, the way credits are doled out, unlocking new boards and gear—far too much of it seems random.
While World Tour mode can be wrapped up in a brief five hours, the Global Events and RiderNet are supposed to represent the real meat of the game. RiderNet, a clone of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog feature, keeps track of your performances, then posts them to leaderboards. Whenever someone bests you, RiderNet begins its incessant badgering: “SgtPepper2000 has set a new record on Mt. Everest!” Each bit of RiderNet “news” quickly becomes as relevant as a pop-up ad. RiderNet effectively reduces the once-rich SSX exp erience to an exercise in playground chest-puffing. In fact, so much of the new SSX is public—everything is forever being quantified and shared—that longtime series fans, in search of a bit of privacy, may be tempted to unplug the Internet and simply enjoy a couple of runs in peace.