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SSX 3 (PlayStation 2) artwork

SSX 3 (PlayStation 2) review

"SSX 3 continues EA Sport's success with numerous improvements, increased customization, and an extensive and unified environment. Instead of a World Circuit where events are held at separate venues, SSX 3 takes place on a single mountain with three peaks of varying difficulty. Combine this with the funky fresh style distinctive of the SSX series and you have this third installment's underlying concept. Nevertheless, many of its new features are questionable and the quality and quantity of the up..."

SSX 3 continues EA Sport's success with numerous improvements, increased customization, and an extensive and unified environment. Instead of a World Circuit where events are held at separate venues, SSX 3 takes place on a single mountain with three peaks of varying difficulty. Combine this with the funky fresh style distinctive of the SSX series and you have this third installment's underlying concept. Nevertheless, many of its new features are questionable and the quality and quantity of the updates in SSX 3 are only just enough to warrant another rehash of the SSX formula. In spite of this, SSX 3 provides the edge, the blend, and the stylistic cool for an ultimately uber experience.

Despite the inviting attitude of the SSX series, the third installment takes a sidespin in difficulty. EA Sports presumes that the audience for SSX 3 is players that have prior SSX experience. Though economically accurate in their assumption, this third installment has a focused attention on not catering to an additional audience, notably beginners, despite achieving Greatest Hit status. Still, the gameplay is still solid and there have been improvements, albeit just enough to balance out its faults.

SSX 3 has given notice to the flaws of prior installments by minimizing the loading time the best that it could. Players can now personally travel from event to event by following neon-plated signs, and the designers have taken advantage of this new feature. Entering and exiting an event is now faster, and restarting an event does not force reloading time. SSX 3 also offers a 'session' feature that allows you to transport to specific areas of a course during freestyle and a 'transport' feature that allows you to move to virtually anywhere on the mountain. Whenever the game does have to load, a short scene of your character on an air lift or an air trolley appears to keep us engaged. Loading time is still quite long when entering the next heat in a race, but it is still shorter than before and the restart function thankfully allows players to start over from the current heat in the race rather than the entire race altogether.

The reward system has now been balanced by introducing cash as the main currency. Completing events by winning medals is still necessary to unlock items, access future events, and reach the more difficult peaks, but cash is now the primary means to purchase everything from art and music tracks to clothing and accessories. When freestyling and traveling between events, a player can perform tricks to receive anywhere from $1 to $15. Yes, it's small, but it provides a purpose to even the most insignificant move. In fact, about 10% of all your earnings will probably come from these minor interlude tricks.

The sheer quantity of virtually everything has increased. Four new characters - Nate, Griff, Viggo, and Allegra - join six old-school characters in a free-for-all competition on the mountain. Accessories, gear, artwork, and apparel that fashionably personify each character can all be purchased at the lodge. The number of both events and tracks has doubled, and players can now earn a Platinum medal for greatly surpassing their set time or score goal. In addition, a bevy of secret 'cheat' characters can be unlocked with enough luck. SSX 3 also introduces collectibles, which appear as floating ice crystals, that are scattered across the mountain. Gathering these items indicates your mastery of the mountain and you are thusly rewarded with money, medals, and peak access. Perhaps the only criticisms against the game’s value is that there is no real reason, except for variation or curiosity, to use the other 9 characters and that there is no real ending. While the game takes the time to create a skeleton storyline for each character, there is unfortunately no resolution.

In both SSX and SSX Tricky, players were rewarded with new outfits and gear for performing tricks in a character's "trickbook". Though having to execute the trick with perfect precision was begrudgingly frustrating, the challenges did implicitly teach the controls and game mechanics. These two previous installments also included either a practice mode and/or an in-game tutorial. SSX 3 replaces these features with a message-board MCOMM tutorial that really is not too helpful, which then forces players to actually read the bland and boring game manual. Beginners will have to suffer through the game's lack of one-on-one instruction as they wonder why there's not even a practice mode. Instead of simply showing players how to play, the game's consequential teaching method derives from the player's own desire to work off the game’s price. Although the MCOMM tutorial and the "teach by exploration" style purposely blends the gameplay elements with the world that is SSX 3, it does this only adequately at best. SSX should take a note from the Tony Hawk series, where each installment has a tutorial regardless of the expected audience to attract and guide new players.

I would not have criticized SSX 3's omission of a tutorial so harshly if unnecessary frustration had not been such a glaring problem. Of course, frustration and challenge are one and the same for games that rely on time-driven and minimum-score goals. To its credit, SSX 3 provides enough difficulty to engage any player and at a certain point, such challenges are not only expected but desirable. However, there are too many enhanced features in SSX 3 that serve to aggravate the gameplay.

In an attempt to infuse more hard-edged intensity, SSX 3 replaces the large cartoonish multiplier snowflakes with a comparably smaller yet radically square-shaped X, adding a new 10x multiplier into the mix. While it does make the game more demanding and stylishly extreme, it also makes luck more of a factor when the focus should be on the player's skill. More than either of its predecessors, SSX 3's inclusion of a 10x multiplier practically forces players to hit one specific section of the course rather than its entirety. Missing this multiplier ultimately induces the player to abuse the restart function without end.

The new recovery system is also more irritating than the solution it provides. The only notion of a recovery system in SSX and SSX Tricky was the select button, which allowed the character to instantly return to an appropriate place on the course after falling, getting caught in shrubbery and the like, or simply getting lost. To prevent players from exploiting this function, the player's boost meter would be reduced as a penalty. SSX 3 attempts to solve this problem with a system that allows a player to recover from a fall or in-air collision by repeatedly pressing the square button. A bar appears at the bottom of the screen and if the bar is filled before you crash into the snow, the character can continue without losing too much speed. However, at the same time, SSX 3 does not solve a nagging problem with its predecessors: falling inconsequentially. Pressing the square button repeatedly after every inevitable fall or collision is maddening beyond belief, especially since it often occurs unexpectedly; for instance, holding the up button and then falling for not seeing a minutely small hill. Competing against computer rivals that can knock you over with assassin-like precision when you cannot block or punch them back as easily makes falling that much more aggravating. Moreover, the unavoidability of not only falling but losing your way or colliding into a tree (which you swear wasn’t there) becomes an eye-rolling and grunt-inducing experience when the boost meter is then practically reduced to nothing after getting caught in an inescapable situation.

Most of SSX 3’s modes don't encourage any real mastery of the game. Most of the racing challenges inherently depend not on the actual racing, but on finding the out-of-bounds shortcuts; rails that are difficult to see, find, and enter; and performing tricks to gain boost and "super uber" speeds. Computer characters also use these out-of-bound shortcuts without fail, so players have no choice but to use them as well. Unfortunately for us, humans are not perfect and we will miss the difficult entrances to the shortcuts… restart, restart, restart! As for freestyle events, players will notice that the game awards 4000 to 8000 points for holding one grab for a long period of time, where in the past, SSX gave the most points for wicked grab combinations. Thus, since grab combinations are no longer worth your while, all it takes to win many freestyle events, especially 'Super Pipe', is to hold down one of the Uber Tricks while doing a continuous Misty or Rodeo. Boring and monotonous, indeed.

In fact, much of SSX "mastery" is learning how to somehow cheat the system. SSX 3 includes a combo bonus where additional points are given for stringing tricks together within about 2 seconds of each other. However, the combo bonus is not given if a player performs only one solo trick. Thus, players soon learn to add a very simple trick such as a 180 immediately after performing a high scoring trick just to receive the combo bonus. Moreover, there are a few “Big Challenges” that specifically require a player to score a certain amount of points on a track. Noticing that these Big Challenges have absolutely no time limit, players only have to remain in one place, racking up points for simple tricks and combo bonuses until reaching the intended score. Along with the single-Uber-hold trick and 10x multiplying X, it becomes clear that SSX 3 fails to provide a challenge that does not involve some "cheating" of some sort.

With all these problems, it is surprising that SSX 3 still manages to be complete and fun. As expected, the soundtrack for SSX 3 is even more amazing than its predecessors and fits the game's concept perfectly. Every song matches the environment and the riding experience effortlessly. The sound designers have carefully used each track of every song – the bass, the drum, the vocals, etc. – in a different situation. For example, an ending chord will always play at the end of a run to signify resolution and the bass and rhythm tracks will play during Big Challenges to amplify the adrenaline. SSX 3's collection of music shows variety, style, direction, and a clear point of view.

Players can now spend their cash to purchase songs and create their own playlist, which blends the music and gameplay seamlessly through customization. Each character has a unique voice, and their remarks and reactions fit their personality. Behind the scenes, a radio DJ creatively comments on the events without us ending up pressing the mute button. It could have easily been distracting and annoying, but the comments do not take themselves too seriously and reverberate the somehow seriously-unserious spirit of SSX.

SSX 3 also does not fail to recapture the graphical prowess of its predecessors. Each character model is finished and moves realistically. Even with all the accessories, apparel, boards, special effects, and gear that can be purchased, the game retains a steady frame rate. One disappointment, though, is that the customization system only allows a limited number of appearance options to be equipped for a character before the options bar is filled to its maximum. As much as keeping an optimal speed is understood, why dangle eye candy in front of us when we cannot have them all.

Fortunately, the environments and the weather effects bring the game to life with refreshingly small details such as mist, crystals, and ice. Unfortunately, with the purpose of trying to convince us that the game takes place on a single mountain, every track from peak 1 to peak 3 looks aesthetically similar and lacks the distinct personality that prior SSX tracks had. Previously, each track was held at a different venue and had clear differences in the setup, the environment, and their underlying concept. Of course, the SSX 3 tracks have their differences, but they are either too subtle or too restrained from escaping redundancy. Still, on a technical standpoint, the graphics are spectacular, albeit without the visual breadth.

Overall, SSX 3 infuses enough originality to overshadow its flaws in execution. Some of the added elements miss their mark, but most of the new features energize the SSX series with more vigor than SSX Tricky did. Technically, the game sets a benchmark in fusing the music and sound with the gameplay, and artistically, it is a hallmark of the concept – "Be Yourself". In the end, SSX 3 has a clear distinct vision that holds its own and follows through with absolute and undeniable enthusiasm.

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Community review by draqq_zyxx (September 11, 2005)

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