SSX Preview (PS3)

There's nothing like a fast-paced, death-defying race down the side of a mountain to take the edge off a hard day's work. It's been five years since the last SSX title, and now the arcade extreme snowboarding series is back, this time in real world locations. The sixth main instalment, SSX (previously known as Deadly Descents, but they seemed to have dropped the subtitle now), takes on a more hard-hitting and realistic tone.

Careful, or Cher-Nobyl fall off. HUR HUR (Ed: You're fired)
Using a GoogleEarth-like interface, SSX presents the players with 9 real-world mountain ranges, with several drop points within each range that offer a variety of circuits and challenges to contend with. As always, this is primarily a trick-based race, but there are three main game modes on offer, using the theme "Race it, Trick it, Survive it". Race It tracks are simple races to the bottom, although you need to go some tricks to build up your trick and boost metre so you can stay ahead of the competition. Trick it tracks naturally focus on showing off and getting high scores, whilst also making it to the bottom in a timely fashion, and Survive It tracks are the new kids on the block.

Survive it tracks add in a (uh)healthy degree of danger into the proceedings. Not only do you have to make it to the bottom, but you have to do it without being caught by the natural disaster that embodies that particular map. Your could either be trying to outrun a landslide/avalanche, or fighting to get to the bottom before you freeze, or any number of mountain-related troubles. These tracks are typically more 'natural' looking as well, with no markers or track-lines, just rocks, slopes and gaps that you'll need to jump.
All this trouble just to get some milk
It's not all about the racing though - pimping yourself out is a key part of any SSX title. Ten characters will be present in the game, several old-hands as well as some new faces, and as always you can customize their clothing and their gear. It's all progressively unlockable, and before each track you get to choose your 'load-out', depending on what the track is. Most of the time, you'll be dropping from a helicopter, but these are cut scenes so not really that significant. Also: Wingsuits - yay! We don't think it's something you can have for every map - so far we've only seen them used on Survive IT tracks as they help you traverse the massive holes in the landscape.

There is an online component to SSX: Apart from the basic racing against each other online, the is also an Autolog inspired system in place, and you can post virtual 'ghosts' online that show people how you raced a particular track and got a particular time. It's then up to other players to try and beat it, and if they do they get rewarded. There's also leaderboards, a recommendation engine, global events and all the usual bells and whistles you'd expect from a game such as this.

We managed to go hands on with the game, and it still feels like the old SSX the most part. They've re-done the tracks so that anything that looks grind-able, probably is, and there's no danger of you straying to the edge of the area and hitting an invisible wall anymore, as the environments are now more self-enclosed. It's not easy though, and especially takes some getting used to, and the Survive It courses especially give everything a more desperate tone - you need to keep ahead of whatever is trying to kill you, stay on the track, AND do tricks so you can get a speed boost so you can stay ahead of what's trying to kill you.
Remember kids, don't try this at home. Go to the nearest mountain and do it...

SSX has been sorely missed, and it's good to see the iconic franchise making a come-back. This new title is a perfect blend of the old-school Tony Hawk tricking mentality, and the competitive streak you see in racing comes. Throw in the crazy environments and the fact there's sometimes hundreds of tons of rubble following close behind you, then this is a jolly good return to form. SSX is coming to Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on February 14th in North America, and February 17th in Europe.

Most Anticipated Feature: Wingsuits. We've all seen the YouTube videos.