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E3 2011: SSX hands-on

E3 2011SSX

It’s been six or seven years since we last saw a proper SSX game. Like TimeSplitters, it slowly vanished, but unlike that unforgettable FPS, SSX was never categorically shelved. Now it’s back and eagerly awaited, to say the least. How does it stack up to those expectations?

In short: well.

We were first given a gameplay demonstration, which started at a Google Earth-inspired globe view. EA have built the mountains in the game based on real NASA topology data. First, you select a mountain range from the likes of the Alps and Himalayas, then a peak within that range, and finally a run on the mountain.

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There are essentially three gameplay modes: racing to win, scoring points to win and a survival mode. These match up with the game’s tagline: “Race it. Trick it. Survive it”. The first gameplay demo we were shown was the former, a race down Kilimanjaro in Africa. Three boarders started at different points on the mountain, then converged at a later point.

Up next was the survival mode. This is unlike anything seen in SSX before, but it’s an intriguing concept. The entire game (and all of its modes) has a snow physics model, which EA claim is the first of its kind. This models how stable snow is as you interact with it and naturally, instability can cause avalanches.

The survival mode pits you against the elements as snow beings to collapse and tumble down the mountain with you. Instead of the normal view behind the rider, the camera switches to a wider, opposite angle. The goal of this mode is simple: get as far as you can before you’re engulfed in snow.

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We were given a chance to play a track which aligns to the ‘trick it’ portion of the game. While SSX doesn’t look as colourful as previous instalments, it certainly feels the part. The same range of tricks are available and in the demo we played, the controls allow for both stick-based and button-based play.

There are also some nice touches which point to the older games. Landing a move puts you in a ‘Tricky’ mode for a while, allowing you to build up combos. Landing a huge trick also sends out a shockwave, physically altering the landscape briefly.

This was pre-alpha code, meaning that it isn’t feature complete. The guys we talked to stressed that some aspects of the game, such as the control scheme, haven’t been worked out yet. There’s still a lot to be decided before its release in January. When asked if the iconic Tricky song would be included in the game, the EA rep smirked and gave a no comment. With or without it, this looks like it’ll be a worthy continuation of the series.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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