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SSX 3

SSX

Synergy – it’s a beautiful word, like candy for the tongue. Perhaps it’s the inflection at the end that makes is so delectable, or its inspired letter formation. Nevertheless, it stands out among the English Language as a word of character and elegance. Fitting, then, that we have SSX 3, the sequel to the fantastic SSX Tricky. Prepare for snow, stunts, and frightening speeds – prepare for synergy like never before.

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SSX 3 is a world of difference to previous titles in the series, and the snowboarding genre in general. While most of these games had a standard event selection approach to races and other challenges, SSX 3 instead let’s you loose on a huge three peak mountain, what you want to do is entirely up to you. Giving it a generic GTA imitator label would be doing injustice to a fantastic concept that really adds a lot to the SSX experience, and one that helps in mixing all the wonderful elements of the game into an insanely refreshing and rewarding whole.

Theme WeekThis review is part of our inaugural “theme week” of content. Please click this link for more information!You’ll be spending most, if not all of your time in the game’s impressively huge ‘Conquer the Mountain’ mode, where the ultimate goal is to get 100% in everything the mountain throws at you. On the mountain you’ll be able to participate in a range of events, including slopestyle, super-pipe, and races through the wildest of courses. As well as these there’s a whole hoard of challenges to attempt (beat a high score, navigate through a set of gates and beat the time, etc.), hundreds of collectible crystals to seek out, and specific trick objectives to complete, aptly named ‘Career Highlights’ – such as getting nine seconds of air. The quest for 100% requires a lot of dedication, but the rewards you can get on your way complete with the infinite fun of the gameplay, means you’ll always be motivated, and completely focused. There’s a standard single event mode alongside conquer the mountain, which lets you play any event that you’ve unlocked in the main game. There’s also online and offline multiplayer, which is just as fearsome and frantic as single-player. It’s a competitive game that can produce some fantastic multiplayer games.

Before anything begins you’re required to choose a character from a wide selection of charismatic and utterly likeable snowboarders. Their overwhelming style and over the top originality stand out in a world of many lifeless souls. Each character screams personality, and you’re bound to find your ultimate snowboarding partner, whether it be the mental, psychotic nutcase that is Psymon, or the cutesy, anime-loving Japanese sweetheart Kaori. Veteran boarders such as Mac and Zoe return from the first games alongside new recruits like Allegra, the game’s coverstar. As you progress through the game and win more events, you’ll be unlocking clothes and many other customisable accessories to really make your character your own. There’s over a thousand customisable options to enjoy, and every one is inspired and finely designed.

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The ‘Conquer the Mountain’ mode is hugely freeform and open ended. Imagine a mountain with a bevy of events to participate in, lodges to stop at if you’re in the mood to buy some gear and view what you’ve unlocked among other things, or if you just feel like cruising down the mountain freely, not worrying about the competition, you can do just that. Every event can be explored without a particular objective, which gives another dimension to snowboarding with the idea these courses – that usually hold races or trick events – can be ridden down at your own will with no opponents or high scores to beat. It’s a relaxing experience that is unparalleled.

Your quest starts at the bottom of the mountain on the first peak, which settles you in nicely for what’s to come. It’s a peak of virgin white snow, blue skies, wide paths and generous jumps. That’s not to say it’s not intense, this is just in comparison to what’s to come. Peak one is full of fantastic vistas and memorable moments; including the brilliant ‘Metro City Meltdown’ that holds a race through a snow-ridden city at night. The second peak ups the tempo with rougher snow and steep drops, the obstacle count is upped and there are some truly awe-inspiring jumps to behold. One route – ‘Ruthless’, is a backcountry slope full of harsh rocks, hidden caves, and some truly fearsome weather. The final peak is fierce, frighteningly fast and immediately dangerous. Filled with bottomless chasms, ridiculous drops, and areas where the ground falls beneath you, it’s undoubtedly the most intense of the three. You can choose whether you want to go to the various events on your snowboard by navigating the signs and arriving at your destination, or you can use the game’s handy transport function, which takes you to whatever event you desire.

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The mountain is begging to be explored, and it’s full of charm and utterly spell bounding design. There are hundreds of collectable snowflakes dotted around the areas, which give you money upon their collection. The sheer amount of them means it’s a big challenge to seek all of them out, but a welcome one nonetheless. It’s also a great way of replaying the various events, and leaves you to explore the hundreds of routes and shortcuts.

And shortcuts are never in short supply, as every course is filled to the brim with alternate routes and secret places that give you an edge over the competition. Blue glass panes can be found and smashed through over all the levels, and they represent a shortcut. These shortcuts are so effortlessly designed and fit in with the mountain so realistically you’d think everything was recreated from something in the real world. The shortcuts are testament to the fantastic design of the mountain.

Every route, slope, rail, jump, secret tunnel and the like fits in with the game world so well, and everything works off of each other to marvellous effect. Subtle design decisions like falling rocks or planes flying across your head make the experience so much more than just a ride down a mountain. It’s one of the greatest gaming experiences to be had. Every slope has something about it that is completely memorable. An avalanche on one of the first courses is heart-in-your-mouth good, a shortcut through a train station is genuinely exciting, and a jump across an icy waterfall are just some of the moments that stand out in SSX 3, and are what makes playing the game such an exceptional experience.

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SSX 3 eases you into the game well with a set of events that aren’t too demanding of skill. Because at the beginning your stats will be essentially undeveloped, the speed of your character and their acceleration, stability, and suchlike will mean you’ll start the game at a steady, controlled pace. Once you progress and win more events you can buy more stats until eventually your character will inhibit the abilities of a champion snowboarder, and you’ll be able to fly through the mountain at inhuman speeds. SSX 3 boasts four different events within the three peaks – Race, Slopestyle, Big-Air and Super-pipe. Race obviously encourages speed over style, while the final three are all about tricks and combos. As well as these, throughout your journey to conquer the mountain you will make rivals, and these challenge you to both race and trick events on the backcountry courses (the ‘natural’ courses, the ones untouched by human hands). Not only this but they will also challenge you to races and trick-offs down whole peaks, until the finale where you are pitted against your rival down the whole mountain – a thirty minute adrenaline rush from start to finish. Concerns of either repetition or boredom can be entirely diminished thanks to the expertly designed slopes, with something new and interesting constantly just metres away.

Events are won by receiving the gold medal, which at first comes easy, but later is a test of nerve and skill. The final peak can get incredibly tough, which makes completion all the more sweeter. A platinum medal is also available to those who spend enough time improving on their times and scores. Winning gold naturally wins you some unlockables like a new deck, as well as money to either spend on stats, gear, new uber tricks, new tracks to make your own music playlist, and there’s even a neat rewards room where you can buy artwork like trading cards, posters, and new characters. The amount of reward in SSX 3 is extremely generous – there’s always something to be aiming for.

One thing heralded about developer EA Big’s previous SSX game, SSX Tricky, was how well the ‘boarder-cross’ concept was executed, with a great mix of racing and tricks. The actual snowboarding, too, was flawless. In SSX 3 it’s never been more perfect – racing down the slopes is immense fun, it all just works. Characters swerve down the courses with realism and spin in the air with effortless style. The animation on the whole is also incredible, with each uber trick a sight to behold. SSX Tricky introduced these uber tricks (over the top, almost impossible tricks that are acrobatically and physically spectacular) to the series, and SSX 3 improves on them, injecting its own sense of character into them. There are now three tiers of uber tricks – the first are simply more advanced grabs, the second introduces flips and spins and are visually excellent, while the third are the ones specific to certain characters – one even has your character break-dance on their board. If your current uber trick set-up isn’t to your liking you can always buy different ones at a lodge on the mountain. Of course, you need to fill up your boost meter with tricks in order to be able to trigger these elusive uber tricks.

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Now back to that word ‘synergy’, as in SSX 3 every aspect of its design is as close to perfection as possible, and they meld into something special. The music is varied and entirely fitting with the snowboarding theme. The licensed soundtrack could be argued to have the greatest set of bands and songs yet seen in a video game, with the likes of Röyksopp, The Caesars, Fatboy Slim, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, N.E.R.D, Yellowcard, and the Audio Bullies. There’s also a unique touch in the gameplay that alters the music being played. If you’re going through a tunnel, for example, or making huge air, then the signal of the music is lowered, and the vocals aren’t as prominent. It makes the music feel more part of the game-world, as if your boarder is listening to the radio. The DJ, too, is surprisingly likeable, with some informative advice and some decent quips. If you prefer to just play and relax the option to choose an ambience setting is always there, where birds chirp and the wind blows. This setting also makes the sound effects stand out, with some great voice acting on the characters’ parts, and some realistic sounds like the tearing up of snow.

The graphics are exceptional and really make the mountain look breathtaking. The snow glistens in the sun and is incredibly convincing – so convincing that you’ll soon be able to tell the types of snow apart, be it the thin and hard blue snow of the final levels, or the pure and thick snow of the first peak. The scenery is what makes SSX 3 so gorgeous however, the detail and amount of care that has gone in to making every tree, every building, every object so full of character and vibrancy is remarkable. SSX 3 is a game of extreme beauty.

SSX 3 offers an experience like no other, a rush that just can’t be matched. It had a lot to live up to, but EA Big have delivered a game that lives up to the standards Tricky set, and then some. SSX 3 is visually stunning, expertly designed, and the ultimate example of fun. Now that, is synergy.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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