In almost perfect sync with EA's announcement that it would be pushing up the release date of SSX On Tour, we took our shot at getting an exclusive hands-on look at EA Sports Big's next winter sports game. We thought we'd give the game one last dry run before its final retail release, which is now literally just days away, and focus our attention on the only mode that we haven't really had a chance to check out until now: multiplayer.
EA Canada made the conscious decision during the development process of SSX On Tour to discard the online multiplayer functionality that was originally found in SSX 3. This might seem like a step backwards, but the decision to focus on the single-player game, which has always been the big draw for the series, seems to be paying off so far. Still, even with its unenviable task of having to outdo the amazing single-player experience in SSX 3, EA Canada found time to include a two-player split-screen multiplayer game in SSX On Tour. Though it's not integrated into the tour mode, which serves as the game's main single-player experience, multiplayer game is wired into the mode, and you won't have access to many of the game's signature characters or the different multiplayer events until you have bested them in the single-player play.
So, after a few hours of shredding things up in the tour mode, we took the game's split-screen multiplayer for a spin. By this point, we had unlocked a decent number of event options, and considered choosing from either a straightforward one-on-one race, a trick competition in which each player tries to outscore the other, or a unique new game that challenges each player to try to grind 350 meters' worth of railing first. To be honest, with the game's generally responsive controls and the new, easy-to-use monster trick system, the either/or distinction dissolved rather quickly, and we happily went at it in all three events.
The option to put your rider on skis is one of the most prominent additions in SSX On Tour, so we decided to put the slobs-versus-snobs dynamic to the test and throw a snowboarder and a skier up against each other. It quickly became more a test of the personal skills of each player rather than the inherent strengths and weaknesses of their preferred style, because the controls and handling for both seem nearly identical. Though this seems to make skiers more of an aesthetic addition to the game than anything else, it also levels the playing field and lets everyone pick whichever they prefer without their performance suffering as a result. For what it's worth, the skier took the gold in the racing and rail-grinding events, while the snowboarder absolutely dominated in the trick event. (We are, of course, eager to revisit this ongoing feud.)
Since the series' debut with the launch of the PlayStation 2, the SSX games have always been a bit of a graphical showcase, with lots of huge, sprawling levels and a saturation of lighting and particle effects. SSX On Tour appears to maintain this trend while also introducing a wild new aesthetic that seems directly inspired by the trippy notebook doodles of a high school kid who's a big fan of heavy metal music. Based on our time with both the single-player and the multiplayer modes, we can say that the crisp, effects-laden look of the single-player game translates rather nicely into split-screen mode, though a few sacrifices had to be made for the sake of performance. The frame rate seemed to take a noticeable hit in the version we played, though it was still locked in at a very acceptable 30 frames, and it did not interfere greatly with the game's wicked sense of speed or our overall enjoyment of the experience.
Even without the presence of an online multiplayer mode, we're confident after our time with a near-final version of the game that long-standing SSX fans will have plenty of reason to be excited about the pending release of SSX On Tour. You can look forward to our full review right around the game's release next week.