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Why I love SSX

Rich McCormick lauds the inner zen of EA's stuntboarder ahead of its 360 resurrection

Forty feet above potential death, wind whipping my face as chunks of ice snap free around me, I find a moment of gorgeous, golden silence. SSX is - despite neon colouration, hyperactive tricks, Escher-esque courses and the constant squawking of both your rider and your DJ - about little pockets of peace.

My happy place is at the very top of SSX 3's Peak Two. Its peaks are hubs, and home to some very different tracks. At the pinnacle of each you find three swathes of 'backcountry' - unstable areas of unpacked snow, untouched by the insane snowscaper that's carved and sculpted the rest of the tracks.

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Backcountry courses are studded with sharp rocks and huge drops, plus weak points that trigger avalanches. They're SSX at its most primal and, when navigated properly, offer the biggest adrenaline rewards.

The second peak's summit - 'Ruthless' - is a muted mixture of slate grey and steel blue, at odds with the pastel pinks and luminous greens further down the mountain. Where the lower tracks signpost their twists with colourful chevrons, Ruthless forces riders to rely on instinct.

It opens with a blind leap. There's a ridge of snow ahead, and then... nothing. I launch off and twirl toward the ground. I'm onto the slope proper: terrain at this early stage in the course rarely gets shallower than 45. A minute of slalom moves, picking up speed, and I see a strange expanse. Up ahead the track stops. I crouch, arrange my rider's body with the d-pad, and wind up.

It opens with a blind leap. There's a ridge of snow ahead, and then... nothing

A LIGHTER NOTE
The SSX series is proud of its soundtrack. Tricky sold itself with Run DMC; On Tour raided the punk archives to lend the game a rockier vibe. SSX 3's soundtrack is varied - a spot of hip hop, a dash of electro - but it's a near-constant companion, buzzing away in your ears no matter the situation.

But up at the top of the mountain, I know my speakers are about to go quiet. I launch from the lip of Ruthless' first real jump. The music fades out. I can hear the wind, but I can't see the ground: partly thanks to atmospheric conditions, and partly thanks to the antiquated draw distance. I hang for long seconds, spinning and yanking at various parts of my board, before gravity takes over and I begin my descent to the slope below.

The snow bursts into view - spattered with trees and rough boulders - and I smash into the powder, the reconnection making a hiss so satisfying I carve hard right and chart a new course down a side-track. Just to hear that sound once again.

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SSX games can spare these moments of disconnection because the rest of the time is spent in perfect contact with the mountain terrain. The first game in the series understood the relationship between board and snow better than any boarding before it.

Cool Boarders' snow was retextured plastic; Tony Hawk's concrete constantly fought the player, dragging away their speed. SSX's surfaces are by turns slushy, icy, powdery, dense, cloying, and frictionless. Inuits are meant to have thirty-odd words for snow - SSX has thirty different types, and doesn't need words to explain them. It relies on its sensational feel alone.

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