SSX is back. There's no neon, fireworks or exploding piņatas, but neither is it the betrayal of PS2's stunt racing classic that early imagery suggests.
The focus is firmly on tricks, racing and fun - bar the moderately pressing challenge of not dying, of course. We've seen more of SSX Deadly Descents than anyone and, as huge SSX Tricky fans, are confident it's going to deliver - barring some natural reservations typical of a game 14 months from completion.
Headline news? It's now focused on a battle against the elements, it offers 200+ real world tracks mapped using NASA topography data, it's going to look incredible andit's in 3D.
Why did the world fall in love with a snowboarding game? Truth is, SSX - a ten year old PS2 game that we gave our first ever 90% score - is a racing, turned tricks, turned exploration game, that just happened to feature snowboarding.
Almost everyone who played SSX fell under its spell of vibrant cartoon characters, bewitching level design, OTT trickery, endless replayability and sheer exuberance. However, great devotion fuels lofty expectation - and SSX Deadly Descents has already met with an, er, icy reception.
Dec 11th, 2010. After 163,036,800 seconds begging, praying and pleading for a new SSX game, it took some fans 58 seconds to lose interest. EA's debut trailer for SSX Deadly Descents left some fans bitterly upset.
Sample comments: "It's SSX: Call of Duty", "It was like biting on a donut stuffed with shit", and "What have they done!". Truth told, our initial reaction is equally uncertain during our trip to EA's Vancouver HQ. The walls are lined with gloomy concept art, and it's only when Creative Director Todd Batty outlines his vision, that the fog lifts.
SWEETER THAN CANDY
"We're looking at this as a reinvention, but retaining what made SSX great", says Todd. "I look at what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek, turning a hardcore IP with hardcore fans into a blockbuster that anyone could enjoy. You could say the same about Batman.
If you look at the evolution of characters (we're shown Jack Nicholson's Joker next to Heath Ledger's), that's where we're going with SSX." Todd hails Skate, and how it appeals to skaters, and non-skaters. "It's an amazing game, and my first though was: wow, I bet skateboarders are going to love this".
SSX has to evolve, argues Todd. "It's 'tricks = boost, boost = speed' formula has been done a lot, so we want to evolve that and create value worthy of a big blockbuster game", he explains.
SSX: DD uses the 'rule of thirds': a third familiar content, a third improved on (via fan feedback etc) and a third is new. "At its core, SSX is a racing game", confirms Todd. "But SSX Tricky got so far from realism, it was no longer snowboarding.
I look at Tokyo Megaplex, one of the most loved and hated levels in SSX history, and my first thought is - where's the snow?" SSX's gritty new art direction is, we presume, aimed at older PS3 gamers.
"Some of my team saw me playing SSX Tricky and thought it was a Wii game," admits Todd. It might sound like a betrayal of SSX's cartoon roots, but familiar characters return (more later), and the new hero will wear far more interesting outfits than the military-style suit seen in the trailer.
GRAVITY IS MY FRIEND
"If we'd taken everything we're doing today and made it in the SSX Tricky style, we'd have had people saying it looks casual" confirms Todd. "SSX had this amazing casual candy bar wrapper, but inside was this amazing hardcore gameplay experience with tons of replayability and depth. We want to deliver what SSX players absolutely love, just change the wrapper, so it sits a little bit better".