SSX has always been more accessible to the general public than other sports-based games, like Madden or FIFA, because it goes beyond realistically simulating the sport. SSX merged “extreme snowboarding” with gaming, including power-ups, absurd tracks, and unreal characters with big personalities. After trying to add new characters and even skis in SSX Blur and SSX: On Tour, EA seems to have decided to try an entirely new approach.The game has classically had two modes, racing and trick modes, but SSX 2012 adds a new set of tracks with a new goal: the aptly named “Survive It” mode. The core of SSX is kept alive in SSX 2012, with the return of familiar characters with all-new tracks that are stunningly and excellently rendered.
There are 159 drops possible in the game, spanned across 65 tracks on 28 mountains. Data collected from NASA allowed tracks mapped from nine real mountain ranges around the world, though it was only used as a base for the courses so developers could still create their own terrain. In addition, shadowing, snow-spray, and other graphical improvements were implemented. These technical aspects add so much realism and sheen to the game, but thankfully without retracting from the fun of actually playing it.
The “plot” of the game is driven by the return of that little shit, Griffin “Griff” Simmons, who premiered as the snotty little 12-year-old that dominates the professional snowboarding championship of SSX 3. Now, he’s a 22-year-old has-been who rode fame and fortune to the top, and when it went to his head, crashed and burned. He fell out of the professional arena, hungry to defeat harder and harder challenges, and now the player must find him on the world’s most treacherous peaks and bring him down a notch.
This is where the “Survive It” mode is born. Unlike racing and trick modes, “Survive It” adds the environment as an adversary, incorporating elements like rocks, avalanches, darkness, whiteouts, and even freezing to death as challenges to overcome in the nine “Deadly Descents”. The point in these courses is not to earn enough points, or to beat anyone else’s score, but simply to make it to the end of the mountain. The mandatory tutorial takes the player through all nine descents, each of which unlocks a new character and exposes the player to a new dangerous element as the search for Griff continues.
With the exception of pitting every character in Team SSX against Griff, there isn’t much depth to the character-to-character relationships in SSX 2012. Part of the thrill of SSX was in the attitude-filled messages from rider to rider and the snarky commentary from DJ Atomika, who is present in SSX 2012, but only just. It’s as if the character’s personalities have been drained almost completely. There is an attempt to maintain their individuality in short stop-motion comics that play as each character is unlocked, but they just highlight the shallow plot to SSX 2012. To put it in perspective, Psymon, an iconic character in the SSX series, is briefly mentioned as a “criminal”, instead of the insane, impossibly daring and uncontrollable maniac he once was. SSX 2012 not only took a step backward in the individuality once granted to the characters, but also in character customization.
The aspect of the game I felt was perfected in SSX 3 and was most excited about was instantly absent in SSX 2012. I fully expected the customization to be expanded upon in the reboot. Somehow, landing a 720 Misty Flying Squirrel or a Quadruple Backflip was just so much more satisfying when my rider was as tricked out as my score. The void left by the customization screen was half-heartedly filled by unlockable gear. The gear’s purpose is not for looks, either, it’s for function, in providing advantages in the Deadly Descent challenges. Sure, that makes sense in terms of gameplay, but expecting that to make up for all the lost customization options just isn’t realistic.
As for the controls, the SSX team decided to design a complete reboot. For the seasoned SSX player, they will come as quite a shock. In the, again, required tutorial, the new controls are introduced and the player is forced to play through one descent with them. Thankfully after that, there is an option to change back to classic controls. For new players or those who wish to reconstruct their playing experience, the controls are more convenient, making a better jumping-off point for those not familiar with SSX.
The multiplayer mode of SSX 2012 exists in “Global Events”, in which EA can update challenges for anyone world-wide, or custom, private events can be arranged. There is no local multiplayer, however, which seriously detracted from the game. Instead of any tense, real, or head-to-head competition, the game offers pop-up notifications when friends complete challenges, which allow the player to immediately attempt the same challenge, and beat the previous high score. To some, this might be enough excitement, but it’s more like walking up to an arcade game and deciding to beat the last high-score, instead of thrilling real time clashes. With this scoreboard-based competition and the majority of the game taking place in the story mode, which is little more than a tutorial and challenge rounds, it’s difficult to pick up the controller again once a few online rounds are played, and the story is complete.
As a longtime fan of the SSX series, SSX 2012 threw me for a curve. I was completely disoriented by its new controls and a strange game structure with the mandatory tutorial and “Deadly Descent” mode. The gameplay in SSX 2012 is solid, while the story and substance of the characters is less than satisfactory. As an individual game, SSX 2012 holds up, but it just doesn’t seem comparable to other SSX iterations.