Not only is SSX 3 the best snowboarding title ever created, but it also renders obsolete every single game in the genre that preceded it.
Electronic Arts had already proven that developing a compelling and accessible snowboarding game was possible when the company released the original PlayStation 2 launch game SSX and its much improved sequel SSX Tricky. Although those two titles were really well done it seems like EA wanted to make the definitive game in the genre and not only is SSX 3 the best snowboarding title ever created, but it also renders obsolete every single game in the genre that preceded it.
The way in which the developer has achieved this is by mixing the old with the new, so those who have played previous games in the series will be able to start making some ridiculous combos almost instantly as SSX 3 is extremely accessible. Controls have been simplified and pulling off the most complex combos has never been easier, making the basic gameplay fun and rewarding. Additionally, the game encourages you to constantly change the way in which control your character as for movement you use the left analog stick and for combos you use the D-pad. So basically, you position your snowboarder with the analog stick before jumps and once you are in the air you are required to switch to the D-pad to make combos. Although confusing at first, this new approach adds a new layer of complexity to the game and mastering these movements requires both time and effort in the player’s part.
In addition to the Uber tricks, super Uber tricks have been added and both work pretty much the same way as they require you to have a full adrenaline meter. As usual, the way in which you fill this meter is by performing simpler tricks like grabbed air, rotation tricks, board presses, rail sliding, headplants and so on. But apart from some new tricks, tweaked controls, new mechanics, more customization options, secrets and rewards, the game allows you to participate in the Conquer the Mountain mode. This represents the single-player portion of the game and it includes some refreshingly unique open-world elements in which you move freely and take part in different races, challenges and freestyle events. This mode is much deeper that it appears to be at first sight as exploration is encouraged and you’ll be able to find some secret items and rewards just by travelling from race to race. It’s worth pointing out that these breathtaking races are complemented by a pretty convincing sensation of speed that is particularly well-executed.
Nevertheless, if you don’t want to explore these uncharted sections of the mountain, you can easily select the fast travel option which will transport you from one event to the next almost instantly. The various events include regular races, backcountry races, rival challenges, super pipe, halfpipe, slopestyle, big air and jam and peak events. The latter are the most impressive types of races in the game as in them, you try to make it to the bottom of one of the peaks at the same time you try to beat the clock. It’s simply surprising that the game lets you race for 10 to 30 minutes without interruptions as during these events you don’t have to endure any type of loading times. At the same time, you are able to appreciate how the different environments actively change according to your location.
Sharp visuals have always been an important part of SSX, but in this third entry in the series this aspect was taken to an extreme. The environments are rich and vibrant, but also change as you race, allowing you to clearly identify little details like different types of snow or upcoming obstacles like super pipes, bonus items, opponents, trees and so on and so forth. Different parts of the mountain (like caverns, forests and urban areas) look distinctive enough, letting you know your position and how far from your goal you are at that precise moment. Furthermore, some flashy effects, colorful visual and flamboyant character design add to the game’s remarkable style.
Music, on the other hand, is particularly well integrated into the game as it reacts according to how well (or not) you play. So for example, when you perform insane air combos the song that is playing at that precise moment will subtly disappear and then, when you land, it suddenly starts playing again, creating a unique effect. This interesting use of audio is simply fantastic and it definitely adds to the intensity and excitement of the races. A new DJ presents the numerous songs that compose the soundtrack, at the same time he provides information about current events. The cohesive soundtrack includes songs from a variety of artists like The Chemical Brothers, Jane’s Addition, Caesars, Queens of the Stone Age, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Eyed Peas, MxPx and Autopilot Off, among many others. Moreover, the ambient effects are quite convincing and the sound effect of the different types of snow is really well accomplished.
Another element that has made its way into this sequel is the way in which your performance is constantly being assessed and this happens in real time through aural feedback. This is a nice touch and one that adds to the game’s unique style as for example, the game warns you every time you repeat a trick, giving you half the points. This has always been a key element in the SSX series, but here it blends seamlessly with the rest of the audio.
The game has a roster of 10 characters which combine veterans with newcomers. The computer-controlled characters are extremely challenging and thankfully, they lack any sort of advantage associated to rubber band AI or anything like that. All of them are fully voiced and they utter amusing one-liners according to your performance.
The only minor complain with the PlayStation 2 version of the game is that at times it suffers from some framedrops. Thankfully, these never become intrusive enough to break the pace of the game. It should also be noted that the technically superior GameCube and Xbox versions of the game look better. Controls on the other hand, are better on the PlayStation 2 as the Dualshock 2 seems particularly suitable for a trick-based title such as SSX 3.
In the end, SSX 3 is so much more than another snowboarding title. Its new sandbox style, great licensed music, precise controls, short loading times, charming characters and countless additional challenges make SSX 3 a very cohesive package that is very hard to replicate. Electronic Arts has set a new standard in the snowboarding genre with this title and people will keep talking about it for years to come.