"SSX 3 predicts a cold summer for the land down under"
SSX was one of the first games to use the EA BIG label, basically defining it as an extreme game as opposed to the other label, EA Sports. It was also one of the PS2 launch titles and gained a moderate response from the gaming public. Last year came Tricky, where the entire game just felt like one big party and in 2003 we have SSX 3, the best one of all. It takes the best elements of Tricky and SSX and provides quite possibly the best snowboarding game ever made.
SSX 3 contains two main game modes; Single Event and Conquer the Mountain. Single play allows you to race any of the tracks and circuits which you have unlocked in conquer the mountain mode. Unlike previous SSX games, SSX 3 has a somewhat career/story mode. Although you don't follow the trials and tribulations of the characters like you will in a game such as Tony Hawk's Underground, you do help them along their way.
Conquer the mountain mode features three peaks, each of which have increasing difficulty as you move up the mountain. Peak 1 contains fairly stock standard tracks with lots of jumps, easy corners and no huge gaps but peak 2 is a culture shock. Once you reach here you will feel comfortable with the game and then it will batter you and knock you around until you can't take any more. To gain access to the higher peak you need a peak pass which is obtained by either collecting enough prize money or finishing one of the other objectives. For instance if you finish all the race objectives on Peak 1 then you can access peak 2. By far the easiest way is to build up prize money but it will take a bit of time.
Some characters have returned from the original SSX and Tricky but there are a few new ones. Elise is back (although not voiced by Cameron Diaz) and it appears she became the champion of the tournaments in Tricky. At first after choosing your character they will be fairly stock standard, with minimal abilities. As you win races or tournaments you gain prize money and this prize money can be used to buy attributes. The first few hours you play of SSX 3 will be spent learning Peak 1 and gaining prize money to build your character up. Second time through I reached Peak 2 in about half the time it took me in the first instance.
The love/hate relationship meter is also back for SSX 3 so if you beat down one particular competitor to many times, they will go out of their way to knock you off your board or cause the on screen character other grief.
There are a variety of different races and tournaments in SSX 3. Typical races where you have to be the first to the finish, races where your rival who thinks he "owns" the peak takes you on and the peak race. The peak race is probably the best section of all in SSX 3. Basically you start at the very top of the current peak, and race your way down to the bottom with the requirement of beating the record to progress. These races take about fifteen minutes to complete, but you can pull off some serious tricks on the way down. Also the peaks are interconnected, so if you're at the top of peak two, it is entirely possible to board all the way to the bottom of peak three.
As well as this SSX 3 features trick tournaments including a new mode called big air. Although some of the tracks featured throughout the mountain contain some stunningly huge jumps, big air challenges you to gain a massive point score in a short amount of time. There is also super pipe which is like the snowboarding trick event featured in the Winter Olympics. Players ride side to side in a pipe performing tricks to gain points.
On the way down the peaks you can move between different events, with numerous signs provided to help you. Visiting the lodge will allow you to improve your character or buy clothes for them, ala The Sims and transport will take you to anywhere you want to go on the peak, as long as its unlocked. Or if you wish, you can just continue down in free style mode performing tricks. Control wise the game caters for new players and veterans. It is entirely possible to button mash and pull of some sublime tricks, but for those who want a bit more then that there are some "pro" controls. When these are enabled you can't turn while ducking but can perform tricks with the left analogue stick.
The tricks have had a major overhaul since SSX Tricky. There are three levels; what I term basic Ubers, Ubers and Super Ubers. To be able to perform Uber tricks, you have to successfully complete five basic Ubers. And to perform Super Ubers you have to successfully complete five Uber tricks. However there is a catch. Should you not perform your Super Uber before the timer runs out, then you will have to perform five Uber tricks again before you get another chance, this can be very frustrating especially when nearing the bottom of a peak. Timing is everything. The tricks are still as over the top and insane as Tricky and the Uber tricks are actually identical to the ones featured in Tricky.
Taking a leaf from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, SSX 3 also features various goals to complete. If you happen to be boarding down a peak and see a glowing green light, riding into it will activate a goal to complete such as helping a skier find his lost belongings. Completing these goals and others (such as collecting snowflakes on each course) will unlock various extras such as character art, posters and collector cards. It also adds a great deal of longevity to the game, you may be still playing long after you have conquered all three peaks.
As mentioned before SSX 3 isn't broken up into tracks like the previous two titles in the series. Instead it is set on a mountain which is infinitely more successful at immersing you into the SSX universe then the other two titles. The peaks are all heavily detailed and feature very different environments. The bottom of peak one, is actually a metropolis city and you will be racing and grinding through skyscrapers and other city buildings whilst the other areas contain much more snow and dangerous conditions. You can be caught in a blizzard, and you can also be caught in an avalanche. Usually for graphical effect, but sometimes it alters the course in a hazardous way. For instance new boulders for you to avoid, caused by an avalanche.
Visually SSX 3 is one of the better looking games on the Playstation 2. It features some great graphical effects, fast sensation of speed and only very rarely encounters slow down. The character models and peaks are highly detailed and vary depending on which peak you are currently on. Sound wise, this game is superb. Although the sound effects and character voices can get a little repetitive, the soundtrack is fantastic. It features a wide variety of songs, each very suitable to the type of game SSX 3 is, such as Do Your Thing by Basement Jaxx (A club mix). The only down side is that to create your own play list, you have to "buy" the songs with the money you earn in the game. It does offer some for free however..
SSX 3 multiplayer is offered on the same console and also online. We will examine the online multiplayer of this title in an upcoming article about Playstation 2 online in Australia which will discuss how the system is going, what titles are available and coming soon and how the current titles play.
SSX 3 is one of the better games on the Playstation 2 to date. If you loved Tricky, you will simply love SSX 3. Although SSX 3 has changed the series dramatically, it still feels like one giant party on your TV screen and is a heck of a lot of fun to play. So if the temperature is soaring outside Down Under in the coming months, play some SSX 3 for a refreshing cool change.