It can feel like hours, those precious seconds between launching off the lip of a kicker and returning to the snow. As you flirt with the clouds, the altitude drowns out the music and time slows down for a moment. In actuality, you're slicing through the air at frightening speeds, spinning and flipping, whipping your board round your body like a hula hoop - but you can become numb to this flamboyance after spending enough time with SSX. As you dance through the sky, a carpet of snow-capped mountains at your feet, there's an isolated moment of tranquillity; a brief respite from the madness of the run. Then you land.
The bass drops back in, accompanied by a healthy dose of 'wubs', and you're hammering on the boost button, screaming towards the next jump at ferocious speed.
Ignoring the obligatory use of dubstep, the SSX reboot presents an experience that is reassuringly similar to that of its PlayStation 2 ancestor. Hearing the immortal words 'It's Tricky' ringing through the air as you tear your board from your feet and fling it round your body in some nonsensical fashion triggers a wave of nostalgia. EA Canada's follow up to SSX Tricky is fast, sexy and just as likely to piss off ol' Newton as ever before. With its 'trendy' soundtrack and menagerie of connected features, however, it's fair to say that it's relevant for 2012's audience, too.
The character roster, musical motifs and general atmosphere of the game might be straight out of 2001, but it's very much an evolution for the series. As your boarder pirouettes violently though the air you'll be struck by the notion that SSX is much faster than you remember it. It takes a while to acclimatise to this pace, but once done, muscle memory kicks in and your fingers start tapping out tricks your brain had long since forgotten. While there's a control scheme built around both sticks and buttons, veteran players will be more at home with the latter.
The revised version of the trick system from SSX Tricky is instantly familiar. Tricking fills a gauge along the bottom of the screen, eventually bringing up the word 'Tricky' once full, dropping in the Pretty Lights remix of Run DMC's classic track and making your tricks Über in the process. Every time you pull off one of these signature moves, you'll turn one letter in the word yellow, eventually working your way up to Super Tricky moves, where each character showcases their most preposterous displays of acrobatics.
The system is too forgiving though, I'd argue. While Über moves in previous games couldn't be interrupted once initiated - often resulting in a face full of the cold stuff if you're timing was off - the new SSX isn't bothered if you're a little sloppy. You can let go of a grab and straighten up for landing a fraction of a second before hitting the snow, making extravagant displays of aerial ballet all too easy to perform. That's not to say scoring big is easy, however. The skill here is in keeping your trick combo together, linking moves with manuals and maintaining Super Tricky for as long as possible.
A World Tour mode forms the spine of the game, where Team SSX jaunt about the globe in search of the world's nine most deadly descents. From the Alps, to the Himalayas, to Alaska, players can carve their way down real mountains for the first time in the series. EA Canada has even had a stab at a story. Former SSX star and floppy-haired d-bag Griff Simmons has gone rogue; determined to beat Team SSX to these deadly descents and talking a lot of smack in the process. Clearly it's up to you to put him in his place.
With each location on the tour, a new character becomes available. Fans of the series will be pleased to see the return of Mac, Kaori and Zoe, amongst others, while Tane, Alex and Ty bring some new-blood to the slopes. After completing enough race, trick and survival events at each mountain range, the deadly descent itself finally becomes available. The ultimate goal is to make it down this treacherous run in one piece, unlocking the next mountain range in the process.
Each of the nine deadly descents plays host to a specific hazard. In Siberia, for example, it's ice, and you're encouraged to equip an ice axe to ensure your descent is a safe one. In the Rockies, trees are your enemy, and making it to the bottom alive becomes much easier with body armour. In Alaska, the threat is that of avalanches, where loose snow reacts dynamically to your movements, triggering a torrent of powder that relentlessly snaps at your heels. Undoubtedly the most interesting piece of equipment you can equip is the wingsuit, which allows your boarder to glide across gaping chasms that might otherwise be impossible to traverse.
World Tour is just one facet of the SSX experience, of course. Since Hot Pursuit screeched onto the scene and introduced the world to Autolog, the technology has been begging to be let loose on the extreme sports genre. Thankfully some bright spark at EA thought the same thing. Rebranded as RiderNet for the purposes of SSX, the social platform presents the perfect means to let the world know just how good you are.
Back when I used to play SSX Tricky (and this was ALL I did for a good six months of my life), the only means of doing this was to wire a VHS recorder up to the TV, capture a video of yourself playing the game, put the tape in a jiffy bag, send it to the relevant gaming magazine and hope - pray - that they added your score to their leaderboard in the next issue. They never did. In 2012, things are much simpler.
In Explore mode you can tackle each mountain at your leisure, setting scores, beating times and humiliating your friends by knocking them down a place on the leaderboards. With challenges, recommendations and the option to race your friends' ghosts, it's fair to say that RiderNet is the most advanced social platform of this nature out there, grabbing your competitive side by the horns and forcing you down that mountain one more time, cracking the whip to ensure you beat your rivals' scores.
Global challenges take this sense of competitive togetherness to a whole new level, putting you in live events where anybody in the world can compete together for a shared pot of credits. After paying a 'drop fee', you're free to compete in the event as many times as you like, so long as there's still time on the clock. As you take to the slopes in these specially crafted events, other players will appear on the same slopes, spurring you on to push faster and trick harder. Once the event has finished, the pot of credits is dished out based on your score or time.
The fact that there's no multiplayer in the traditional sense is of no consequence when you consider that you can race any of your friends' ghosts at any time. While ghosts are by no means a new mechanic to the world of competitive gaming, they compliment the rest of RiderNet's features perfectly.
Perhaps the most innovative feature SSX has to offer, however, is the option to leave your mark on the slopes in the form of Geo Tags. By placing these abstract collectibles in hard to reach places about the mountain, you can earn extra credits while you're away from the game. The longer your tag is able to survive on the mountain without being collected by another player, the more points you'll earn. The innovations don't stop there, either.
Hundreds of badges form a meta game that tie each of the three game modes together. Some will unlock after you've performed a set number of tricks, reached a certain speed, or spent long enough in the air. Others are earned by spending enough money on new boards and gear, or winning a certain amount of credits in a global challenge. Completionists beware: getting each and every badge in the game is going to take a serious investment of time.
Do yourself a favour: get a good playlist ready before you get stuck into the game. Doing so highlights one of the game's most interesting features: the dynamic remixing of its soundtrack. Drum n' bass and dubstep isn't particularly my scene, I'll admit; I tend to lean towards the shouty kind of nonsense that your mother would screw her face up at - Enter Shikari, Funeral For A Friend, Hadouken, that kind of thing - and SSX is more than accommodating of such playlists. Catch some big air and the music fades out to a barely audible muffle, the distant beat of the drums the only sound to keep you company in the clouds. When you eventually hit the powder, the track kicks back in, and it's all systems go again. Hearing SSX's Harmony feature at work with your favourite songs, reacting to the very way you play the game, is a genuine joy to behold.
A combination of innovations make SSX one of the most forward thinking games in recent times. The snowboarding itself is solid, if lacking some of the skill required in previous titles, but it's everything surrounding it - RiderNet, Geo Tags and Harmony - that make the game such an involving experience. Its connected features take the genre to the logical next step, setting the benchmark for future extreme sports titles to follow. If you're even slightly competitive, SSX will drag you down its slopes with an iron grip.
Version Tested: Xbox 360