Retrospective: SSX 3

Flying solo.

SSX 3 was ostensibly the first game in EA's legendary snowboarding series to feature online play. I say "ostensibly" because whenever I bothered to string an ethernet cable across the room and connect my PS2 to the EA mothership, my reward was an empty lobby. Nothing could have been more fitting. SSX 3 is not a game about community or friendly competition; rather, it shows us the bliss of achieving greatness in solitude. It was among the last games of its kind.

Present-day games are practically considered broken unless they come with a global leaderboard, so that once you do some awesome thing a score table can pop up to inform you that 75,343 people have already done that thing more awesomely than you. Online multiplayer turns us all into amateur party organisers, cajoling friends and doing timezone math so that perhaps all your acquaintances can click the same "join room" button at approximately the same moment. Then there's the LittleBigPlanet create-and-share movement, which expands a game's world in large part with a sprawling wasteland of user-generated chaff.

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The natural setting of SSX 3 was a bold departure from the fantastical tracks of the first two games.

Streaming-music advocates talk about an always-on, always-accessible "celestial jukebox", and by the same token, we're all playing in a celestial gameroom now. Yes, that has obvious, marvellous benefits, but it also serves as a constant reminder that each of us is just one star in the vast online firmament.

In contrast, SSX 3 casts you as a superstar, existing on your own lonely plane. Its triple-peaked mega-mountain is filled with stretches of untamed backcountry, where there are no crowds and never more than one competitor. The upshot is that you spend much more time by yourself in SSX 3 than in its predecessors, SSX and SSX Tricky. The third game is a more reflective experience that captures the isolation of winter sports.

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Unlocking the entire mountain allowed you to take epic runs from the summit of Peak 3 through the city at the foot of Peak 1.

Look, this isn't Myst. There are crowds at the big events, of course, and in most races, you jockey for position amid a field of six competitors. But even in the heat of competition, SSX 3 pushes you to get away from the bustle and seek your own path. Only novices stick to the standard route. Huge signs marked "OUT OF BOUNDS" invite you to ride off the beaten track, where there are no grandstands and the snow is less manicured. This is where a true snowboarder should live, the game suggests, and if you can improvise your way through the rough terrain, you'll leave the field in the dust. Solitude equals success.

Accordingly, this is a quiet game - or at least quiet at the right moments. The developers curated a phenomenal soundtrack that mixes alternative, hip-hop and electronic music with a few other genres peppered in there for good measure. Not all of it has aged well - if I never hear Basement Jaxx's "Do Your Thing" again, I still won't be able to get that godforsaken tune out of my head - but for the most part, it holds up.

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