As much as we admire the increasingly impressive depths that video games can reach, both on an artistic as well as an entertainment level - there's also an increasing popularity to be found for 'retro'-influenced titles, games that keep it simple and thus offer repetitive but addictive action that can prove a more effective form of escapism than games aspiring to more lofty ideals.
EA's latest in the ultra-cool SSX series takes this cut-down approach to pure gameplay, and offers us (in an almost identical manner to the previous games), a series of outrageous slopes to board down, racing competitors or pulling impossibly-athletic stunts, or both, before offering either a race position or a points score at the bottom. That in a nutshell, is SSX 3, and whilst this is hardly rocket science there's a lot to be said for this well-honed formula, for EA Big's snowboard 'em up is anything but a flash in the pan.
The fact that the game doesn't become sickening after a few hours of gliding along jumping and dodging trees owes a great deal to EA's efforts in varying the challenge just enough to keep things interesting, but not to alter the gameplay. Such changes come in the vastly different and often very eye-pleasing courses, not to mention the new peaks that can be unlocked - different game modes, and a plethora of changeable options such as the character and even the soundtrack.
The excellent graphics certainly help make the action that bit more impressive, with the variety of insane stunts coming to life with great animation, and the courses themselves rich in detail and special effects. An example would be the fireworks as you launch-off a jump, nice touches such as these maintaining the firmly tongue-in-cheek fun atmosphere SSX 3 promotes.
When the graphics, and indeed the much-touted 'free-roaming' gameplay EA raved about really come into their own however is once you've managed to begin unlocking future peaks. This is where the hype suddenly begins to make some sense - the courses become more open, more treacherous, everything suddenly begins to get a tad more 'extreme' and we finally get a glimpse of that avalanche that looked so very cool on the TV ads and in the opening sequence.
Generally speaking, then, fans of SSX are sure to be rubbing their ultra-warm mittens together at the new peaks and courses on offer - whilst 'the kids' are bound to enjoy the excellent soundtrack that will have you humming along subliminally without even realising. So far so good.
As I mentioned regarding the simple-but-fun gameplay, the controls remain mercifully faithful to this ethic too, with the thumb-stick controlling direction and the buttons used for jumping, etc. The handling is surprisingly quite forgiving too, with cornering ability proving sharper than you expect, and the landing of jumps also an easier prospect than predicted.
A few facts and figures that should help owners of previous SSX incarnations make up their mind about this potential purchase, then: one mountain, three peaks, a vast array of courses, tournaments and collectable items. Ten characters (six old, four new), more game modes, more courses, oh and did I mention that the soundtrack features the Chemical brothers and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers? And you can customise your rider. If this is your bag, then what more could you ask for? In short, SSX 3 appeals so perfectly to a certain hip teenage, young-adult demographic that someone at EA probably earnt a serious bonus for this. MTV culture in game format; and we wonder why EA are so far ahead of the competition.
Anyway, suffice to say that, despite this game's snow-chic image, it won't be graffitiing any walls anytime soon. Having said that, its nice to find a game aimed squarely at the 'yoof', that has the content to back-up the style and for this we should be grateful.
Despite the immense variety of activities for the single player to undertake, the split-screen option still rules supreme for no-nonsense fun, especially if you can get your friends suitably drunk before indulging in a few races or stunt face-offs, knocking each other over, and so forth. Great fun.
So there we have it, nothing much has changed, and so much the better, for it is the simple arcade elements that SSX 3 embodies so perfectly, that help make the third as fresh and fun as previous titles. Those who like their games rich and involving need not apply, equally those with poor reflexes and a hatred of loud music might also be best looking elsewhere. For its many fans however, the latest SSX will be frozen heaven on a stick.
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