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Critical Reception: EA Canada's SSX

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to EA Canada's snowboarding franchise reboot SSX, which reviewers describe as "one of the most empowering experiences in gaming."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to EA Canada's snowboarding franchise reboot SSX, which reviewers describe as "one of the most flowing, empowering, transcendently Zen experiences in gaming." SSX currently earns a score of 82 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. David Houghton at Games Radar scores SSX at 9 out of 10. "During our first couple of hours with it, our relationship with SSX was as much of a rollercoaster as the frozen rails -- manmade and not -- upon which we rode," he begins. "SSX goes from being a painful, frustrating, crash-happy death-o-thon to one of the most flowing, empowering, transcendently Zen experiences in gaming." Houghton continues: "The game gets off to a fast start -- and thus beat the living hell out of us when we began playing it. But at the moment it all clicked -- the moment of that first beautiful synergy of muscle-memory control and understanding of the game's physics -- the payoff for our perseverance was a feeling we rarely get from games." The core gameplay remains true to the series. "SSX, at its roots, is all about physics-driven snowboarding," Houghton explains. "In lieu of accelerators and brakes, there's just the speed you can build and control through your physical interactions with the environment, augmented by a boost function earned through successful trick-based combos. Events are split between races and trick competitions, in which having equal parts audacity and skill to keep an insanely long combo rolling is vital to success." "In this new SSX there is also the addition of Deadly Descent events, in which you simply have to make it to the bottom of a particularly long back-country run as a brutal natural hazard tries its best to kill you," Houghton adds. "A couple of these, alas, provide the game's only real bum-notes through being overly hard for the wrong reasons: either boosting the challenge via too many contrived fiddly control demands or somewhat unclear track layout." "While it doesn't top SSX 3 in terms of that game's vibrant sense of place, and is occasionally hampered by being hard for the wrong reasons, SSX is a vast, deep, beautiful and nuanced blend of showboating adrenalin and sharpened intelligent play," Houghton praises. "It's a demanding game, but its rewards are immense, providing a feeling you won't get anywhere else in gaming." GameSpot's Carolyn Petit rates SSX at 8.5 out of 10. "From its inception, it has been about snowboard racing and tricking on a superhuman level," she notes. "But this SSX sets a new standard for the series, with a varied and dangerous world, a more incredible sense of speed, and competition on a massive scale. This is the SSX game fans of the series have been longing for, and the heart-pounding thrills to be had in conquering these mountains are sure to turn many newcomers into fans as well." The risk-versus-reward trick system proves especially compelling. "Do you do simple ground tricks to maintain your combo and keep building up your score multiplier?" Petit asks. "Or do you play it safe and stop tricking to cash in the combo with your current multiplier? It's a balance you constantly need to maintain to get the best times and highest scores, and it's so rewarding to stick the landing after pulling off an especially risky trick combination." In addition: "The action really heats up in the robust multiplayer modes," Petit says. "The Explore mode lets you aim for medal targets and compete against times and scores set by friends on any of the dozens of runs around the game's globe. [...] Deadly descent events here challenge you and your friends to see who can travel the farthest; when you make it to the bottom of a run, you're sent right back up to the top via helicopter to continue racking up distance." "Still, the absence of a traditional simultaneous multiplayer mode is conspicuous," Petit admits. "You can create a global event that's limited to just friends or friends of friends, but there's no option to create an event that places you and your friends at the starting line simultaneously." "Whether you just want to relax and carve some sweet powder in the Rockies or you prefer a grueling struggle against the terrain and the elements, SSX has you covered," Petit writes. "It improves on its storied predecessors in every way, with outstanding tracks, intuitive controls, amazing visuals, a diverse assortment of challenges, and fantastic multiplayer options that may have you competing with your friends or the world for a long time to come." Edge Magazine gives SSX a score of 5 out of 10. "The void left by SSX since its prior outing in 2008 has been slowly filled by a shift toward the realism pioneered by EA's own Skate, a response to the increasingly gimmicky takes on extreme sports by brands such as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater," Edge writes. "It's interesting, then, to find EA partially resorting back to zany form for this latest entry, albeit with a greater sense of mortality to your powder trip and a few pages taken from Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit's online playbook." "The campaign, taking in ‘deadly descents' across real-world locations such as Patagonia and the Antarctic, also serves as a tutorial for the game's big ideas," Edge describes. "Alongside the expected score attacks and races, there are now challenges that involve the likes of oxygen meters, wingsuits and ice picks. "Such inconsistent variables dilute the series' simple thrills as often as they enhance them. Headlamp-based runs in the dark are particularly frustrating, because your spins and tricks disorient your field of view. But when one of these ideas works, it really works: gliding freefalls in wingsuits and the reverse-camera avalanche stages are thrilling bite-size blasts of originality." Other new mechanics aren't successfully implemented, however. "This new SSX's most ambitious design decision -- giving you the power to rewind time -- also proves its most damaging," Edge's writer notes. "It's a concept that's worked well in other games, from Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time to Race Driver: GRID, but here it feels like a concession to stages that are too unpredictable to conquer first time out the gate and too sprawling to memorise. All too often, you'll plunge unavoidably to your death and be forced to rewind with icy-grave-given hindsight." "In looking outside itself for inspiration, SSX has found a worthy infrastructure to establish an online community and culture," Edge concludes. "But this same approach has found the brand veering away from some of the fun and fireworks of yesteryear, leaving its more seductive silly side out in the cold."

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