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Tom renews his relationship with the word "uber".

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

I'm not interested in snowboarding. Couldn't care less. Blokes strapped to planks of wood tearing down a mountain in the freezing cold? Sod that. But like most "extreme" sports, the world of videogaming has given it a home well worth frequenting, and EA Sports BIG is the housekeeper of choice. With SSX Tricky, BIG refined its "mentalist" approach to what happens after a boarder makes a jump and delivered some of the most diverse and entertaining courses ever to appear in a title of its type - with more depth to explore on every axis than Turing might uncover in a hypercube.

And as my illustrious boss pointed out on one of his depressingly regular jaunts overseas, SSX 3 is a game I'm certainly very excited about. Being the undisputed office king of the series, it was with a mixture of pain and excitement that I edited Mr. Reed's comments on the game last month, which I've been verifying to varying degrees of orgasmic joy since my preview disc arrived last week.

Have they peaked?

As the man said, SSX 3 is much more open than its predecessors. Rather than picking from Race and Show-Off, players are expected to slalom their way down one of three actual peaks on a big ole' mountain, stopping off at various challenges along the way, and unlocking "tickets" to the other two peaks GTA-style by completing enough objectives successfully. At the moment, these are split into several categories; some are basic races, some are three rounds of Tony Hawk-style high score setting, and some are races mixed with high scoring, where a podium position is by no means guaranteed by being first past the post - a combination much desired by this writer in outing number two or, uh, Tricky to its friends.

In-between these challenges you're darting around a fairly Spartan mountain, freestyling to your heart's content and picking a path to challenges. Venturing off the beaten track will reveal huge drop-offs offering bigger jumps, but you'll also have to dodge the odd avalanche, which sends the screen a-juddering as though the cameraman is riding a mechanical bull. As with previous games, you build up a "boost" meter in the bottom right of the screen as you play, and the more tricks and grinds you perform in the "menu" area (if you like), the more you'll have to play with at the start of said challenges.

And although tricks aren't literally the name of the game this time, they are still one of the most important aspects, and like its predecessor, SSX 3 offers you no way of avoiding them. If you were more into the racing than board-clutching diagonal flips then you're going to have a problem. This time there are three levels of "Uber" trick to perform by filling up your boost meter and then holding square and a shoulder button off a jump. These board-waving moves are a joy to behold, but they're nothing compared to the Super Uber tricks, which have your chosen character twisting, juggling and bonking that board like he's never going to hit the ground again. Exploring the extremities of the trick system is going to take a while, with a huge number of combos available, and given EA's propensity toward massive great half-pipes, you're going to clock some high scores.

Super uber duper

That is of course if you can get your head round how to do so. As with previous games, you can bank bigger totals if you manage to do something unorthodox, like come off a jump into a diagonal flip. Obviously it's harder to gauge the landing on these, but that's part of the challenge - what perhaps shouldn't be part of the challenge though is making sure you're doing the correct thing with your left thumb. Here at EG, we're strong believers in control schemes which rely on either the D-pad or the thumbstick. Give us a choice, sure, but don't force us to use both unless it's for something menial like changing weapons or equipping visors. Although we're quite used to it after (many) hours of practice with Tricky, SSX 3's reliance on analogue for general navigation and D-pad for exotic jumps still seems a bit too convoluted.

However, SSX 3 seems to be equipped with a little round directional meter which pops up when you grab hold of the D-pad, showing you the exact direction you're pointing it in preparation for a jump. It might not sound like much, but in a game with four trick modifiers, boost, jump and two control sticks to pay attention to, numb thumbs don't often tell the truth - this little meter is an excellent way of making sure you're about to execute the trick you're after in the manner you had in mind. We hope it's not just a little preview code "temp".

Aside from pulling uber, super uber and presumably ridiculously uber tricks though, you can also look forward to a darn sight more grinding. And even the odd handplant. Although there were still a few areas where we managed to break the game with our grinding exploits, the tracks have once again been meticulously designed to accommodate massive grinds, with rails snaking their way through the skies. It might simply be that we're better at the game these days, but we found them a lot easier to stick to than we did in Tricky, with our riders swaying side to side with the momentum rather hair-raisingly but rarely coming unstuck. On one track, we could grind from just beyond the start, do a flip over a gap and then continue our grind under a rocky bridge, before gliding across the snow to an uprooted tree and using it to propel ourselves onto a skyline network of curvy rods that permeates every last section of the level. We've been playing that one more or less constantly today, and we're still finding new ways to complete it.


The amount of set-pieces in the level design is another boon over SSX Tricky. Of course Tricky had the rickety rope bridge, the constant procession of fireworks and things like that, but SSX 3 has cable cars to jump, trains roaring past just in time for you to explode through banks of cardboard boxes perched atop one of the wagons, and cranes lifting rails as you grind them. Even the more static tracks seem to retain and perhaps even outdo the craftsmanship of their Tricky counterparts, from simple half-pipe arenas and grinding courses to longer, more elaborate tracks reminiscent of their predecessors, with banks of snow arching round and back on themselves and jumps which take you through clouds and canopies of foliage into the murky, timber strewn forests below.

Obviously you'd precede any such jump with one of those swirly green "speed up your trick" power-ups, which make a return alongside the usual speed increase options and spinning multipliers. There are more pick-ups than ever in SSX 3, including simple cash pick-ups for use at the "Lodge", where you can equip characters with different hats, jackets, boots and boards and accessories, adjust your "ubertrick" configuration, and buy improved attributes and even new tunes for "Radio BIG" with your spoils.

As you'd expect for an EA title, the range of superficial changes to SSX 3 is almost as vast as those elsewhere. Things like a PDA, which lets you check the map screen and your "messages" (often challenges from rivals), and of course the requisite glitzy menus. SSX 3's are smoother and more distinctive than ever. Much like the visuals in fact, which retain the style of Tricky with smoother, higher poly models and subtler animations, not to mention a whole boatload of new ways to crash to the ground, with the board flying every which way. Sometimes you'll even try to pull yourself up and then flop to the ground unconscious, wasting even more time - suggesting there's some rhythm to the rhyme of pain this time around.

An avalanche of new!

For more of a feature-based overview of SSX 3, you should also take a look at Kristan's observations from Camp EA. With that and this in mind, it isn't hard to see that the game is shaping up nicely, but then we'd expect nothing less from this series. With just over two months to go until the game's simultaneous multi-platform release on October 24th, only 1080 Avalanche looks set to compete. Anybody who tells you otherwise is taking the piste.

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