Game Review: SSX

For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360

From: EA Sports

ESRB rating: Everyone (mild lyrics, mild violence)

Price: $60

When EA Sports first unveiled its rebooted "SSX" - complete with gritty, humorless overtones and "Call of Duty"-esque cutscenes to complement the otherwise familiar snowboarding action - the groans that met it halfway were fierce enough to send the studio into retool mode. Many months later, what we ultimately get - colorful, cheerful, loaded with impossible tricks and exaggerated physics - is a good approximation of how the first proper "SSX" game in nearly seven years should look, play and even innovate.

Except, of course, when it isn't. Don't holster that groan just yet.

Under the right conditions - on a wide mountain with room to trick creatively and in an event centered purely around racing or accumulating large trick scores - "SSX" sings as beautifully as ever. It's blazing fast, stringing tricks (either with the new, stick-centric method or a scheme that approximates classic controls) is extremely easy, and exploiting the mountain for one incredible combo after another is blissfully fun.

But for every time "SSX" gets it perfectly right, there's an instance where it inexplicably flubs it.

Some runs, including a handful that lead off the single-player campaign, take place in tight runs overcrowded with ramps and grindable lines. Botch one jump, and it's too easy to ignite a chain where your rider is haplessly missing opportunity after opportunity while you simply wait for a clear patch of snow on which to rebuild the deck.

Much worse, however, is when "SSX" throws you down a mountain that's plagued by bottomless drops around and even within it. Annoying though the chains of missed opportunities can be, they pale in comparison to the non-thrill of pulling a spectacular big-air trick, only to land on a ridge that slides you into a pit you couldn't foresee when originally taking off. "SSX" includes a limited-use rewind feature, perhaps as penance for the cheapness of such turns of fortune. But even then, your momentum is disrupted and your score dinged.

Though the race and trick events are occasionally undermined by some unreasonably inhuman A.I. Opponents, "SSX" frustrates most during the new survival events, where the goal simply is to complete the run. Your rewinds are severely limited here, and the mountains tend to be severely broken. That means lots of cheap falls, which means lots of trial and error. Surviving these runs is a simple matter of memorizing the layout and riding sensibly instead of tricking out, but when was the last time you played "SSX" with a desire to ride sensibly and predictably?

Fortunately, should you be so inclined, you can enjoy most of "SSX's" highlights without engaging its lowlights.

With respect to its story track, "SSX's" showcase features are the Explore and Global events, both of which provide non-linear access to every mountain range and let you hop around the globe as you please. The in-game currency and experience points systems, which allow you to upgrade every playable rider and his or her gear, apply across all modes, so you aren't missing anything (except some annoying cutscenes and chatter) by outright skipping the story.

The Explore and Global events also comprise "SSX's" clever asynchronous multiplayer, which functions like a social network for "SSX" fans. You can challenge other players' scores (which appear persistently in the menus or in ghost form), create Global Events that thousands of players can enter, form and track rivalries, and even drop geotags on a course and challenge other players to find a way to reach the spot where you left it. The longer it stays untouched, the bigger the payout.

The downside of asynchronous multiplayer? It comes at the expense of the traditional stuff. You might spot friends on the slopes if you're playing the same Global Event at the same time, but if you're hoping to race friends directly online - or even offline via splitscreen, as was an "SSX" staple once upon a time - you're out of luck.

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