While EA recently unveiled the latest entry of its most excellent SSX franchise for the current generation of consoles, today we got an exclusive look at the portable branch of the SSX family tree. The PSP game, entitled SSX On Tour, has been in development for over a year at EA's Montreal studio, and it's aiming to offer an experience that's comparable to its console cousins with some unique extras. We had the opportunity to get an early look at the game, as well as to try out some single-player and multiplayer races. Though On Tour is a little rough around the edges in its incomplete state, we're still pleased by how it's coming along.
The work-in-progress version offered a modest sampling of what the expansive final game will have in store. We were able to try out three tracks: slope style, big air, and race in single- and multiplayer head-to-head via Wi-Fi. We saw the selection of riders in the game, and got a rundown of how the character-creation system will differ from the other versions.
First off, the selection of modes in SSX On Tour is essentially the same as those in the console version of the game. You'll have a unique version of quick play that will let you jump right into a race, but, unlike the other versions of this mode type, your race will tie into your career mode. The career mode plays about the same as the single-player game on the consoles. The single event and challenge modes will let you hone your skills on races or other feats of skill while also testing your prowess on skis. The multiplayer mode takes advantage of the PSP's Wi-Fi capabilities and lets up to four players compete against each other in ad hoc races. A nice touch is that you'll be able to pit a snowboarder against a skier to settle the eternal question of who makes a better racer once and for all. Finally, (although it's not technically a game mode) there will be what is the now-standard Pocket Traxx feature in EA's PSP games, which will let you listen to the game's soundtrack on the go.
The single-player game works roughly the same as the console game; however, the character-creation system in the PSP version of On Tour has been streamlined to accommodate one of the PSP's unique features: unlockables. You'll basically choose a male or female avatar, as in the console game, but you won't be able to customize the characters. Instead, you'll be able to swap their skins to change their whole appearance. The big twist there is that the skins are more than just a cosmetic change. The different skins you come to unlock will actually offer unique performance enhancements, such as a faster speed or improved handling. You'll find 20 different skins for each gender to unlock, as well as 10 skis and 10 snowboards, plus a few extra surprises.
Though there were only three tracks in the version we played, you should expect to find 15 in the final game in addition to more than 100 different events to test your skiing skills. SSX aficionados may experience a bit of déjà vu when trying out SSX On Tour for the PSP, as many of the tracks are based on the ones used in the epic SSX 3 (although they are being freshened up some to accommodate the new gameplay mechanics). The control in the game is actually quite solid, and despite the PSP's lack of two shoulder buttons, performing tricks is pretty easy. As with the console version, you can expect some adjustment time if you choose to try using a skier, but for the most part, veterans of the series should feel right at home here.
Though the work-in-progress game was looking very sharp already, it was missing quite a few of the fluffy special effects that give the series its distinctive flair. The standard array of cool particle effects and lens flares are soon to be added so that there will be the sheen you'd expect from an SSX game. We got to see hints of some of these effects during the multiplayer race. For example, our opponents were marked by a shaft of light so we could keep track of them when they left us in the dust. The environments are sharply detailed thanks to the clean textures. Though there will eventually be more interactive elements around the tracks, there were only a small helping of them that we saw while racing around. Besides the modest assortment of special effects in the current version, the only other blemish in the package is the game's frame rate, which varies quite a bit between modes. When playing by yourself, the frame rate hovers in the 30s and drops once you get other AI or human opponents onscreen. In talking with the reps on hand, we found out that this is one of the key issues that is being focused on as development starts to wrap up. It was hard to judge load times due to the fact that the game was running off development kits.
Based on what we played, SSX On Tour seems to be a good fit for the PSP. The gameplay has made a very smooth transition to the portable console, and despite a few control tweaks, handles well. The modes are solid and the multiplayer is just what the doctor ordered. We're especially pleased with it all, given the modest split-screen options in the console game. The visuals are still coming together, and despite the lack of some of the special effects, they still look quite good and leave us anxious to see how much better the final game is going to be. Our only complaint, as we mentioned, is the frame rate, which could still use some polish. SSX On Tour is currently slated to ship this fall for the PSP. Look for more on the game in the coming months.