With EA's SSX On Tour release on the horizon, we finally had the chance to get some hands-on time with a work-in-progress version of the PlayStation 2 iteration of the game to get a feel for the single-player experience. Though the core game retains the elements fans want out of an SSX game, there have been some neat additions to liven it all up. So far we like what we see, as SSX On Tour appears to be avoiding the standard sequel pitfall of repetition.
When you first fire up the game you'll be treated to a snappy intro that shows off the slick art style that's heavily influenced by line drawing. Once you get to the actual mode-selection screen you'll find three basic modes to choose from: the tour, quick play, and extras. The tour is the single-player career-style mode where you'll create a virtual self to hit the slopes so you can become the best of the best. The version of the game we tried finally had the character-creation feature implemented, so we were able to see how it works. On the whole, the system is pretty light in comparison with the detail-oriented madness of Fight Night or Tiger Woods, but there's still some meat there.
You'll pick a male or female rider and choose whether he or she will ski or board. From there you'll go to the persona screen, which lets you pick a symbol and core look for yourself. Once that's sorted, you'll be able to tweak you character's build, height, face, and facial hair. After you've settled on all of the above, you'll be thrown into a race against old-school SSX-er Elise. It's a fast, breezy competition that can be won without too much trouble. The mellow nature of the race lets you pick on the other skiers on the course, as well as try out the new trick system to begin learning your way around the game.
After you've proven your "skillz" against Elise, you'll be treated to a fairly familiar mountain layout that lets you select from a number of different courses, and you can participate in assorted events. Your goal in the game, as in life, is to both increase your personal level of hype and grow in ranking so you can access medal competitions. From then on it's up to you to decide how to progress in the game. You'll be able to choose between shred events or proper medal events. The shred events are fast skill-based challenges that start out offering doable tasks, such as reaching a set number of points in four jumps or racking up a set amount of airtime over the course of a run.
But once the honeymoon is over, plan on working your thumbs off as you try to keep up with the events. The medal events are in line with the medal races seen in the previous games and will offer good workouts. As you progress through the game, your options will grow considerably with each area you come to, offering a number of different events. As you wrap up your, hopefully, illustrious career, you'll find that your choices narrow some as you are led to the mother of all races to prove you are the king of the mountain.
The control in the game is as tight as ever and should be easy to pick up for vets or newcomers. We've finally come to terms with the handling of skiing and are generally pleased by how it feels. Of course, skis will never replace snowboards in our hearts, but they offer a nice alternative. The new trick stick folds into the core mechanics nicely, and, as with all the trick mechanics, it strongly tempts you to show off while you race. As always, you'll want to practice moderation, as no matter how cool the trick chain you're doing looks, everyone looks like a dork when he or she wipes out.
The game's visuals are shaping up nicely. We're quite taken with the new course layouts, which offer good challenges and great expansive feels. You'll undergo the standard awkwardness as you try to get your tricks on as you navigate the new courses and try to suss out when to showboat and when to stick to racing, which is all a good thing. We're especially fond of the dramatic undulations we've come across a few times. We're also very impressed with the smart layout of objects to grind along the way to the finish line, as well as by the hidden goodies to discover if you go off the beaten path. The destructible environment works well, although we invariably found ourselves slamming into an immovable object or two, which kept us humble during our runs. The level of detail and lighting on display are both nicely done and are especially impressive as the time of day and weather changes. The special effects, such as the particles and the moody slow-mo that can be seen when you bust a noteworthy trick, are used to good effect and help suck you into the action nicely. Best of all, the crazy, seamless gameplay from SSX 3 returns, letting you go on some sick load-free runs.
The audio is on par with the previous games, but with a few teaks. The effects and voice are nicely done. The ambient touches for large competitions are satisfying and help give you the feeling that you're surrounded by folks. The music offers a pretty significant departure from the previous entries in the series thanks to a broader selection of tunes and genres. While we can't delve too deeply into specifics at the moment, suffice it to say that SSX On Tour's soundtrack manages to be as good as its predecessors, despite the changes in genre.
Based on our time with SSX On Tour, we're pleased by the work that's gone into the sequel. There's a good amount of new content thrown into an already addictive mix of old favorites from the previous games. With strong visuals, tight gameplay, and a good dose of the old SSX magic, On Tour should please fans of the previous games. Yes, it's a downer to not have online multiplayer this time out, especially given the cool additions to the game's formula, but it's still good to see another SSX hit. SSX On Tour is currently slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox.