SSX 3 Review
SSX 3 delivers a rush like few racing games or action sports games have ever achieved.
The convenience of being able to quickly re-spawn on the track, either automatically or at the touch of a button, gives rise to one minor issue, and it conceals another one. For better or worse, since you can't actually injure yourself or get knocked out of a race (let alone get straight-up killed because you landed on your head from a 200-foot drop), the reset option all but eliminates the sense of danger you'd otherwise feel racing down these slopes. The game has an intimidating look to it but feels more like an interactive roller-coaster ride. An optional, more-punishing penalty for screwing up would have been cool. Also, the auto-reset conveniently kicks in whenever you go somewhere you're not supposed to. The game's environments do offer multiple paths, but the choices aren't limitless. Sometimes you'll be reset on the track for venturing where it looks like you should have been able to go. Considering the game beckons you to find shortcuts labeled "out of bounds," it's too bad that the real out-of-bounds areas can't be made noticeable until you run into them.
SSX 3 also features the same sort of combat previously found in the series. You can attempt to block incoming attacks, and you can punch to the left or to the right in an attempt to knock down the other riders. This can be pretty satisfying, and it also rewards you with more boost. Unfortunately, the rider on the receiving end might not appreciate a clobbering, so he or she will often try to get you back. That is, if he or she manages to catch up to you!
In general, the computer-controlled snowboarders provide a satisfying challenge. Too bad you never get to race against more than five of them at a time, and that the freestyle and free-ride sessions are devoid of other boarders. There's no gross rubber-band AI to be found during the race events, as there is in some other racing games. This means that if you're blowing the competition out of the water, they won't magically appear right behind you in the last few seconds of the race. In a similar vein, you will be unable to catch up to the competition if you're racing terribly and fall behind. The game's open-ended structure and relatively simple starting events work well to keep the game easy, at first, but there's plenty of replay value and long-term depth for those aspiring to be experts. Unlocking all the events isn't so tough, but getting a gold medal in all of them is. Doing so rewards you with lots of unlockable goodies and still more cash, which can be spent on things like hidden characters and outrageous outfits once you're satisfied with your boarder's stats. SSX 3's trick system also has a bit more depth than before, thanks to the ability to execute handplants by using one of the face buttons. There's also the ability to execute manuals by using the right analog stick. Along with air tricks, manuals can be linked together in continuous combos. Though pulling off individual tricks is easy, this is still the sort of game in which you'll find yourself getting more and more proficient the longer you play. More likely than not, you'll want to figure out even more complex strings of tricks and more ideal paths to take down the slopes.
The option to play against others online may stretch the lasting value of the PS2 version of SSX 3 even further, though it's pretty straightforward. It lets you challenge only one other player at a time in any of the game's standard race or freestyle events. A quick match option allows you to quickly find a random opponent, but it may be even faster just to jump into one of the player lobbies and challenge someone, done simply by highlighting their name and pressing a button. Players' stats are recorded (you can play unranked games if you wish, though), and you can carry over your character from "conquer the mountain" to the online arena--here's where you can show off whatever fancy outfit you've purchased, for instance. There's a fairly significant loading time as an event is loading up, though the actual matches we experienced were relatively lag-free; the controls may be slightly more sluggish during online play, but compensating for this wasn't difficult. The game provides USB headset support in case you want to talk to your opponent, but after a match, it doesn't afford you with the convenience of being able to challenge that same player for another go-round, instead dumping you back to the main menu of the player-matching service. From there, it's back to the lobbies for more. Online play in SSX 3 certainly works, but since it's pretty stripped down and limited to two players at a time, it's probably best suited for expert players and their bragging rights.
SSX 3 is an incredible looking game, especially on the Xbox and GameCube, where it runs at a higher resolution, and the colors are richer and more vibrant. Regardless of the platform, SSX 3 presents some of the most convincing-looking snow effects ever seen in a game (the snow actually glistens in the sun, and it's practically mouthwatering), and you'll intuitively be able to recognize certain types of snow. Sometimes it'll be thicker or thinner, thus becoming more or less advantageous for reaching top speeds. While some of the ubertricks are completely preposterous, the boarder animations look great overall. Really, however, it's the scenery that never ceases to amaze. Each of the three peaks has its own style. You'll know it when you're on peak three, for instance, and you'll practically be able to feel the thinner air. Of particular note is the fact that each version of the game occasionally seizes up a little, mostly occurring during transitions between main sections of the peaks or between the peaks themselves. These occasional frame rate issues are hardly a problem, though, as much more often, SSX 3 runs extremely smoothly and looks extremely good. You might be a bit put off by the presence of a few advertising spots for sport utility vehicles and soft drinks, but it's more or less what you'd expect to find in a sponsored racing event.
The game sounds remarkable as well. The celebrity voice acting from SSX Tricky is gone, but that's no big deal, since the character voices are still appropriate. Some of the characters' one-liners and the banter between pairs of them can be pretty amusing. Meanwhile, the sounds of the boards on various types of snow, as well as the assorted ambient effects, are all appropriate. The music, however, is truly one of the highlights of the experience. Featuring an eclectic yet cohesive soundtrack of dozens of songs, from The Chemical Brothers to Jane's Addiction, SSX's musical score is perfectly suited to the game. It's not just your typical licensed soundtrack, however. The music subtly changes, depending on your performance and what exactly you're doing. If you catch major air, the vocals might cut out, and the percussion might go muted, only to kick back in with a major bang the instant you make your landing. The way the soundtrack layers in with the racing is very well done, and it contributes heavily to the intensity and excitement of playing SSX 3. You may edit the playlist, if you wish, and may also choose whether or not to listen to the game's DJ, who presents the various songs like a good disc jockey would. He's not abrasive, in the slightest, and will "magically" provide some contextual tips about whichever event you're about to take part in.
SSX 3 delivers a rush like few racing games or action sports games have ever achieved. The game's new, open-ended structure, excellent audio, enhanced trick system, and improved graphics combine to make this a superlative sequel to a series that's always had high standards. Regardless of whether you've played SSX or care much about snowboarding, you'd be doing yourself a favor by checking this game out.