The game is abslutely not the most realistic portrait of the sport ever, but it certainly is the most fun
On the third installment of this fantastic series the greatest snowboarders of the entire world are invited to compete on a snow-covered paradise that has been put together over a chain of three massive mountains, a wonderful resort for those seeking excitement and adventure. On the game's main mode, called "Conquer the Mountain", gamers will have the opportunity to choose among many different characters, each one featuring a unique visual and a very detailed profile that shows some of the game's great humor. The decision of which character to use, though, will be made solely on looks since all of them start out with all of their stats in the lowest possible level. That opens up a lot of room for customization and abilities enhancements as you are starting from the ground up.
Each one of the game's three peaks offers a certain level of challenge and naturally it is your job to make your way from the lowest and easiest peak to the highest and most dangerous one. There is a total of twenty six events scattered across all peaks, and those events are mainly divided into Race and Freestyle, the latter consisting of performing cool tricks and combos in order to beat your rivals' score. Getting medals in all tracks of a certain category of events unlocks a run through the entire peak, starting from the very top and going through all of its checkpoint areas and slopes where players need to either beat the clock or score a certain amount of points. It all eventually culminates with a thirty-minute race going from the top of the highest peak to the town that lies on the first peak's bottom.
The game is not about medals and character customization, though, there is so much more to it. When exploring the mountains and its many courses players will be able to find collectible items hidden in the landscape, some are placed in very obvious places, but others can only be found by finding shortcuts and alternative paths. If you are not in the mood for serious competition there is always the option to take on free rides through the peaks. With no rivals to bother your character you will get the chance to face some small challenges that offer a great variety of gameplay, those little ordeals range from performing a certain type of tricks as they are called by the game, or going through the entire slope without ever falling to the ground. The challenges are very inconsistent in their difficulty level as you will find some ridiculously easy ones close to very tough trials. Yet, just like collecting the icons on the landscape, beating all challenges is a must for those who look for full completion or players who simply want to extend their gameplay time in a bunch of hours.
The real magic of the game and the cornerstone of what makes SSX 3 so fantastic is the fact that all of the events (racing and freestyle) are cleverly connected within the mountains themselves by checkpoint areas that provide both a shopping facility to buy stats upgrades and new outfits with the money you earn from competing, and a heliport that serves as a transport to any area within the three mountains. So players can either take quick transportation, or ride their way to the events by following the signs located along those buffer zones until they reach their desired competition area. The natural way in which all those mountain runs are connected adds a whole layer of atmosphere into an already fantastic package, giving SSX 3 an open world quality. Another tiny detail that helps bringing all the peaks together into one cohesive overworld is the Radio BIG, a radio station that delivers news from all over the mountains and its competitions, including private matters of the characters' lives. Unfortunately, though, there is a big shortage on spicy gossip so chances are the news report will get repetitive pretty fast.
SSX 3 controls like pretty much every single snowboarding game out there. There aren't many buttons to be pressed, but those who actually do something are extremely intuitive and getting into the game is extremely easy, even if its learning curve is extremely long. Pressing forward will accelerate, and the opposite direction will quickly reduce your speed, the A-button is used for jumping while the D-pad, C-stick and shoulder buttons are all used to perform mesmerizing tricks. As an interesting gameplay twist the game heavily rewards players who perform tricks during races via a boost meter, so an activity that would otherwise be a waste of time when speed is all that matters, becomes an absolute must when the competition gets extremely serious. By performing tricks players will slowly fill the boost meter, and when the meter reaches its very top players will be able to raise the boost to another level by performing a certain number of tricks. The practical difference between the distinct boost levels is that on its most basic level the boost meter will diminish as you use it, but on its third level you will be able to speed up for a full two minutes without ever having to worry about the meter.
As if there wasn't enough complexity below the game's simple surface, SSX 3 also boasts a very deep combo system that takes a long while to be mastered. Basically, after every single trick a visual timer will be triggered and if another trick is performed within that short time period a combo will be started and the total points you will get from those moves vastly increases whenever a new trick is tied to the combo. As usual with all sports games of the kind, the bigger the combo is the more risky it is to add another trick to it since a stumble will cause al those accumulated points to be washed away right in front of your eyes, so a good balance between risk and reward is required for the game's most difficult challenges.
The game's stunning quality doesn't stop here, though, as it extends into its technical department. Its graphics are absolutely mesmerizing, and EA's artists were able to squeeze an outstanding variety of scenarios into the package even if the game's setting is a white group of mountains. The character models are as sharp as they could possibly be and the sheer speed with which they go through enormous tracks makes you wonder how they were able to achieve that with such a tiny amount of load times. It is true that the game has a short number of racing tracks, compared to a good number of freestyle slopes, but those seven racing courses are so brilliantly crafted with tons of alternative paths, and very well-hidden shortcuts that even the most experienced players will be eventually surprised when they traverse a brand new route. As a consequence the very properties of the course, summed with all collectibles and extra challenges drive its value through the roof on a single-player experience that can easily last for over thirty hours.
When you are finally done with "Conquer the Mountain" there is still a lot to SSX 3 because the game offers a solid two-player mode, which never ceases to amaze despite its naturally inferior frame rate. A small issue with this particular mode is that the character's stats are directly taken from the single player mode, which means that if you have only played and upgraded one character then you will have a very uneven roster of choices. To make matters worse not picking that specific upgraded character and evening out the field will cause the second and third peaks to be locked when the time comes to choose where to race. So unless players find time and patience to use and upgrade all characters on "Conquer the Mountain" the multiplayer experience will be slightly harmed by a very bad design choice.
To go along with the game's astonishing visuals the aforementioned Radio BIG also offers a great variety of good tunes to be played during your descent, and even if the vast majority of songs do not fit your tastes you will probably acknowledge that those songs just add to the amazing rush that is going down the fast trap-ridden slopes the game offers. However, those who can not stand the tunes will always have the chance to turn the radio off and enjoy the environmental sound effects of the angry peaks. The small amount of voice acting is very well performed, and the lines are delivered with a lot of humor.
Overall, SSX 3 is possibly the greatest snowboarding game of all time. Electronic Arts was able to create one of the most exciting sports game of the decade and the team went above and beyond putting together a fantastic group of courses and challenges, and wrapping them up in a totally connected overworld giving even more personality to an already unique series. The game, with all its huge jumps and over-the-top scenarios, is not the most realistic portrait of the sport, but it certainly is the most fun.