The new issue of PSM3, featuring extensive coverage of Bioshock Infinite, is on sale now.
We've finished SSX, unlocked every character and nailed every descent - but the real challenge has only just begun. SSX isn't a game you finish and forget, but a sprawling work-in-progress lived in a kaleidoscope of button presses, blurred thoughts and flinches, but agonized over at leisure.
Every score could be higher. Every race faster. Every combo extended. EA's thrilling stunt racer reboot delivers dissatisfaction like little else - fuelling bittersweet OCD-style replay loops of thrilling depth.
The main solo mode, World Tour, lasts seven hours, yet acts as a glorious tutorial. No sooner does the 'final' cutscene roll than Explore mode taunts you into a fresh challenge: 0/153 drops completed. Each drop is a three-minute-ish track, split into bronze, silver and gold challenges. The original SSX had just eight tracks, and still offered near-limitless replay potential.
Quantity is no substitute for craft, however, and after 20 hours we're unsure if SSX offers the sculpted track genius of its predecessors. In SSX Tricky, we were finding previously unthinkable shortcuts and ramps months after release. Our gut says the gargantuan new SSX must lack such nuance, but most tracks are yielding surprises multiple plays later.
Initially, SSX is intuitive and bewildering. We plump for the new control scheme, holding the right stick down to 'charge' jumps, using the left stick to pre-wind twists. In mid-air, the right stick grabs the board for tweaks - for example, tap right to use your right hand, and rotate the stick 90 degrees to grab the nose. It makes sense, plus you can perform wild tricks without remotely mastering its subtleties.
Tracks have never been so intense, pulsing with ramps, ridges and rails. No sooner do you land than you're jumping again - in the milliseconds of reaction time, combos are made or broken, races won or lost. The seamless transition of thought into deed creates an almost Zen-like flow - over-think your grab or spin, and a clumsy slam often follows.
SSX thrives in its intensity, rewarding skill with seamlessly integrated audio and visuals. Run DMC's iconic 'It's Tricky' hijacks the soundtrack when you land a dazzling Uber move, as flares and scenery glow.
Nail a Super Uber trick and the scenery reforms ahead of you, creating subtle yet useful new ramps to maintain your combo. Imagine PS2's hypnotic-music-shooter Rez - with it's 'union of the senses' - allied to the twitch-shooter, reflex feel of multiplayer Call of Duty... only with fewer robot babies and swearing Arizonan preteens.
Wiping out really hurts - the colours bleed away, the soundtrack crashes and your senses mute. Handily, you can rewind time and keep the combo flowing, but it also rewinds your score, avoiding spamming of key scenery. In races, rewinding only affects you, allowing rivals to surge ahead. Combos aren't multiplied by the number of tricks you perform in a row, but by your 'flow' - the faster and more varied your run, the higher the multiplier. You get more points for one lengthy, stylish grab than three fiddly grabs in one leap.
World Tour features nine real-world regions split into multiple tracks, with a signature deadly descent. They're like boss battles against the elements, and mostly provide welcome variety to the race / trick structure. Highlight? Fitz Roy, Patagonia, gives you a squirrel suit so you can glide, Batman-like, over chasms - it sounds absurd, but it's well balanced, and surprisingly challenging.
Mt Everest is less fun, asking you to tackle thin air with an oxygen tank. It amounts to pressing R1 every few seconds to stop blacking out - more annoyance than challenge.
Veterans will sail through World Tour, and only three tracks out of more than 30 gave us extended problems - look out for Zombies With Jetpacks in New Zealand. Nailing a bronze medal is hard enough, while a gold medal seems impossible.