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Score: 92%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Sports (Extreme)/ Sports (Winter Games)/ Racing

Graphics & Sound:
Wow, I said, as I ran down the first course. Wow, I said, as I ran through the human pinball machine course. Wow, I said, as I snowboarded on the glacier in Hawaii. To sum it up: wow.

The graphics in this game are very, very nice. Every course has lush detail, from signs and trees, to simply interesting places to snowboard. You can tell at a quick glance just what sort of snow is ahead -- hardpack, soft powder, or whatever. The character models are heavily articulated, and move and groove surprisingly realistically. Everything about this game oozes a tight presentation, and it even runs at a high framerate... most of the time. You'll catch some frame dropping every once in a while, especially when there's a lot going on on-screen (like fireworks as you try to pull off a trick). It's a little annoying, but it never trips up the flow of the game.

The sound is tight as well. You can differentiate between the various characters both by their looks and their voices as you shove them out of your way. Very cool. The music is solid, with the tempo picking up as you blast ahead in the race and slowing down as you, well, suck. I found myself tapping my toes to the music as I played, which is more than I can say about any other sports game that I've ever played. The sound effects are generally excellent, especially the snow sounds, but some of them are perhaps a little too cartoony for their own good. As a general rule, though, it's all good here, with a tight audio/visual presentation.

The gameplay is tight, too, and definitely worth the price of admission. Now, I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of snowboarding, but this game isn't really about snowboarding -- it's more of a race-and-trick game that happens to be using snowboards. It works surprisingly well, and despite a few little glitches, it's a great ride.

There are three main modes of play: Race, Showoff, and Freestyle. In Race mode, you try to beat everyone else down the course. In Showoff mode, you have to get as many points as possible by pulling off tricks in mid-air. And in Freestyle mode, you go where your heart takes you; there's no time limit, no score to beat, and no pressure. All three have their place, and none feel extraneous or tacked-on.

It's absolutely crucial that you go down any new course (you only start with one, but open up more as you win World Circuit races) in Freestyle mode first. The tracks in SSX, besides being beautiful, are loaded with shortcuts. Generally, they're near the glass SSX signs, so keep a lookout. After running down a course a few times, you can have a general idea of how you want to race it, and where the places are that can score you the greatest trick points.

You can do one-off races and showoffs, which are a pleasant diversion, but the meat of the game is in the World Circuit mode. When you race in World Circuit mode, you've got to come in the top three in the first two races to get to the Finals. And depending on how you place in the Finals, you get a medal -- gold, silver, and bronze for first, second, and third respectively. Getting a medal on a course opens up the next track, and if you get a Gold, you'll unlock a new racer. And, besides all this, you get experience points to devote to your character.

This must be noted: SSX has four racers (at the start) that you can play with. Each one controls differently, pulls tricks off with differencing amounts of ease, and goes a certain speed. Finding the racer that suits your style is an important part of enjoying the SSX experience. And as you get medals on various courses, you get experience points to add to your character's stats. As you gain rank, you also get new boards, which raise the stats of your character themselves. All of this makes for a very customizable experience, and one where you feel that you're really progressing in the game as you play.

There are all sorts of tricks to pull off, and they usually involve the shoulder buttons and a rotation of the Analog Stick or two. They start off easy, but many of the tricks are damn hard to pull off right. At the beginning of the game, your character can't pull them all off anyways -- they have too low of a trick rating. You get points for doing tricks, but more importantly, you get Adrenaline, which is SSX's version of Turbo Boost. If you repeat a trick, however, you don't get as many points or as much adrenaline, so you've got to mix it up. And in the Showoff mode, there are crystals that double, triple (or even more) your score, letting you get the requisite points as you fly through the air.

SSX has a definite learning curve, but it's not too bad. You'll be pulling off crazy tricks in no time, and zooming around the courses like a pro, which is a good thing -- the opponents' AI is very tight. Many, many races are neck-and-neck, and when you lose, you'll find yourself wondering how you could have shaved off another tenth of a second. Shortcuts are the key to winnning the races, and mastering the tracks is an important skill. You'll still find the game difficult, though, which is a good thing. And although it's easy enough to get a medal on the first Showoff track, it gets a whole lot harder to get hundreds of thousands of points as you continue in the game.

Game Mechanics:
For the most part, SSX's controls are spot-on. The camera is manageable, and it actually works best in the default position, which is a nice change of pace. There are a few issues -- you can get stuck in a few places, and the game won't pop you out like it's supposed to; and tweaking your character the wrong way can make it even harder to do well on the tracks -- but none of it's insurmountable. The controls are simple enough to learn and intuitive once you understand what's going on.

A special note, though: This game has ugly load times; like, first-generation PSX load times. It's a minor irritant, but since the tracks themselves are often more than five minutes long, it's understandable.

SSX is a damn fine racer. With a slick design, a little 'tude, and a lot of fast action, crazy stunts, and secret shortcuts, it's a game in which you'll always be finding something new. It may not be perfect, but it's as close as the PS2 launch gets, and it's a must-have title. Even if you're not a fan of the genre (I know I'm not), chances are you'll really enjoy this game. And if you are a racing or snowboarding fan, why don't you have it already?

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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