Review by aargh! ahoy, mateys!

Reviewed: 08/22/04

Smashing!

ARE YOU READY!?

Are you ready to have the cold, icy taste of snow in your mouth for weeks to come? Are you ready to be humiliated in front of hundreds when you miss that one, crucial jump? Are you ready to have yourself shred up, ripped apart, (and, worst of all, thrown back to last place) when you act a split-second too late and barrel into that tree at speeds up to 70 MPH? Are you ready to put your wings to the wind, be equal to the birds, and catch the biggest “air” known to man? And are you ready to feel the starburst of pain that shoots from the knees upwards and that cripples your entire frame as you land the said “air”? If not, I have a few words for you: get out while you still can. And get out FAST.

Play 10 minutes of SSX 3, the latest installment of the SSX Snowboarding series, and you’ll find out if you’re ready or not. This game is intense, the best snowboarding game on the market (by far), and quite possibly one of the greatest games of the so-called “extreme sports” type. Why? Because, simply put, it is EXTREME, which is more I can say for most of the titles plaguing the entire genre.

“Holy @#$! Was that a 1080 Triple-Back-flip!?”

The SSX series has always set itself apart with its “larger than life” approach. Do not be surprised when you reach an elevation approaching say, 30 feet after a big jump. The game thrives on the impossible; the outlandish is its fuel. I can just imagine how a typical “trick dreaming” session would go during the process of making the game...

“What’s that, Charlie? What, you mean that doing kick-flips on a snowboard is impossible? Perfect, we’ll put it in the game... except that we’ll make the guy do a couple of spins along with the trick to round it off!”

“Get this, Bob, the law of physics says it’s impossible to do this... Heh... we’ll sure fix that good...”

Needless to say, this new installment is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. However, this brings up an issue that was never brought up before. Is there such a thing as “too much” crazy? Does the game actually overstep the invisible boundaries, does it break the string that supposedly tethers a game down to Earth and keeps it from flying off into the unknown? Well... the answer is... no it doesn’t... but it comes dang close. And that’s what gives this game a ten.

“Admire the scenery... before you get killed on it...”

Wow. Is there anything that can describe the game’s look better than those three letters? I’ll give you an answer in two: no. This time around, SSX 3 takes place on a single, solitary mountain... albeit a HUGE mountain. And every single part of it- every cave and tree- is unlike any other mountain you’ve witnessed before. The snow... it looks beautiful, and (for the first time ever in a snowboarding game), does the real thing justice. You can see twinkling flakes flicker at you ass you slowly cruise by, and it is entirely possible for those of us with weak constitutions to get overwhelmed by the overall vastness of it if you ever happen to be in an open area. Of course, you leave quite an impression on it with your board as you grind through it while riding downhill- and yes, the impressions will still last, even if they happen to scroll off of the screen. But what really amazed me were the different TYPES of Snow- and how they affected your riding.

For example, when I was ankle-deep in snow powder, not only did I move slower than normally, but if I managed to get reasonable speed up and throw myself off the edge of a jump, I would see a substantial amount of snow powder flying off in all directions. And if I happened to be in an icy-packed area, my boarder would glide across the snow so fast and fluidly that breaking would not be an option.

So yeah, the snow is great- but what about the rest of the game? How does it look? I’m pleased to say that it meets my expectations- no, it surpasses them. The lighting effects are just beautiful... and the fact that it constantly seems to be sunrise doesn’t hurt. As for the scenery- just launch yourself off of one of the game’s many cliffs and watch all of creation just appear below you, you’ll understand. But the important stuff- the boards and the boarders- they look great. But that’s not enough for a SSX game, oh no. They’re also stuffed to the brim with personality... from Moby’s dreads to that annoying kid’s “doo”... and that’s what makes them stand out.

“MY EARS!”

No, unlike that sentence made it sound, I liked the overall sound of the game. It made the experience all the more intense. And that brings me to my point: “Intense.” The game is not afraid to get so loud that you’ll be reaching for the volume button. And it’s never at the wrong times; you most likely will keep your hands off that dial for 95% of the game. But for that other five percent (most likely during the huge avalanches/rock-slides): be warned. If you can hear anything above the roaring wind and crumbling ground, it will be the beating of your own heart.

The music, while very weird and surprisingly catchy, wasn’t at all that present anywhere other than pause menus. A shame, it could have been incorporated in so many other places.

And the voices are just brilliant. Each character’s voice perfectly matches their attitude- and the warped voices that tell you when you’ve strung enough tricks together to unleash a special trick add just the right punctuation to the combo.

Overall, this game takes some new strides in sounds that will (hopefully) set a precedent for games to come.

“Tackle the mountain!”

As said before, the whole game takes place on one very large mountain, and trust me; you’ll be occupied with way too much to even think about missing the absence of the “level” system. The mountain is divided into three different peaks; you start on the first peak, and eventually work your way through challenges aplenty to gain access to the second and third ones. On each peak, there are numerous challenges to be attempted; Big Air, Slope-Style races, and Super-Pipes are but a few examples of the many types. Of course, this would be good enough, but no, the game makers had to do something else to put your game experience over the top: They had to make the environment impact on your gameplay, too.

The Mountain is alive. You may be skeptical at first, but you’ll believe me when you have to fight your way through that snowstorm that conveniently brewed right over your position or when you have to jump over those trees that had the gall to fall into your path (and in the middle of a race, too! The nerve...!). And no, it’s not at all cheesy, or scripted, because you’ll NEVER KNOW when the mountain is going to have another avalanche or when a rockslide is going to come your way, you have to be constantly on watch for it. Man, once I even finished a race 20 seconds ahead of the pack solely because a tree fell and blocked the 2nd and 3rd-place riders! Mother Nature can be so forgiving at times... but yeah, I’ll admit sometimes she’s cheap...

The only thing that could top all of this is the gameplay itself. And top it it does, spectacularly. Whenever you select a boarder, he/she is bottomed out in terms of stats like speed and turning, but they can still pull off some maneuvers that would make Shawn Murray hang up his boards for good. But when they start gaining stats- WATCH OUT! They’ll be doing stuff that’ll have you scratching your head.

The controls are tight and enable you to pull off the meanest of stunts very easily. The analog stick does not serve as a trick button- oh, no, it serves as a complete rotation button now. Twirl it in any direction and watch your boarder bend the rules of physics and spin virtually anywhere on (and off) his current axis. The shoulder buttons serve as trick buttons; use them in any combination to pull off the basic tricks. This simple combination of analog stick and the shoulder buttons is all you’ll need to upgrade your current gaming experience from “unbelievable” to “out of this world”. But, only if you dare, it is possible to completely break through the thin layer of reality this game still holds and advance it to even NEW heights. You’re not ready.

All you have to do is pull off a few sick tricks and land them... and then your “UBER” meter fills up to the top. The “UBER” tricks have been the main attraction of the game from the start, so it’s fitting that they’ve advanced the system even further from its beginnings. Pull off a few successful UBER tricks in a row to reach “UBER 2,” where the tricks get even crazier, and stretch the boundaries of the imagination. Pull off some successful “UBER 2” tricks in a row to finally get... (Oh, goodness help us...) “UBER 3,” where everything you’ve ever seen, heard, and known gets distorted, and your very perception of reality gets turned up-side down and cast aside, where it finally falls to the ground and shatters... I told you that you weren’t ready...

There are a few minor problems I’ve had with the gameplay, though. One, since it’s downhill and all, it’s easy to fly past stuff you were aiming for. And there are no points that teleport you back a few hundred feet up the hill (like in many other snowboarding games). So, you’ll basically have to wait until you get to the next lodge, and then teleport back to the START of the run that your location was on... very annoying.

Also, it’s a pain in the butt to grind on stuff. Even though stuff like tail-slides are possible, it seems you have to land SMACK-DAB in the middle of a rail to successfully grind it... and that’s also very annoying...

But those problems mean next to nothing on the grand scale. SSX 3 is at the peak of its genre (Heh... peak, I made a snowboarding joke), and, if more gamers decided to get out and experience snowboarding once in a while, it could even be viewed as a great game... period. It’s fresh. It’s new. And it kicks 12 different kinds of butt on a daily basis.

Overall: 10/10

Rating: 10

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