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Title: SSX 3
Developer: EA Sports BIG
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: June 3, 2003 (USA)
Platform: Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft XBox, Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance
MSRP: $49.99 at its initial release; later relegated to "PlayStation2 Classic" status (on the PS2, anyway -- not sure about the prices for the GC or XB versions) and repriced $19.99.
ESRB Rating: E (everyone); some "comic mischief" (i.e. violent wipeouts, knockdowns, etc.)

Premise

SSX 3 is the third installment in the snowboarding game franchise that started with the original SSX. SSX 3 follows SSX Tricky, and it is a direct sequel to that game. It was followed in 2005 by SSX On Tour.

SSX 3 combines the best bits about the first two games and lets you run with them. This game is much, much bigger than either of its predecessors, though, as there are three different mountain peaks which host the various racing, freestyle, and freeride events, each aimed at a different skill level, although you must complete certain tasks on one peak (such as winning a gold medal in two different race events) before the game will award you a peak pass for the next peak.

Each of the race courses are excellent, and none of them are particularly easy to run through, even after you become familiar with them and get their jump and turn timings down. You can run through each of them singularly, for practice, or enter the game's tournament mode where you have to finish in at least third place for three consecutive heats before you can proceed to the next course. Generally this wouldn't be too hard if the skill of the riders you race against didn't increase with each heat, but because that is the case, the third heat is often the most difficult.

I haven't done too much exploring with the freestyle courses (I suck at navigating half pipes), but I've extensively covered the race courses and they're all expertly designed, especially the backcountry stuff. When you place first in the final heat of a race, one of the other riders (your "rival") will challenge you to a backcountry race. The backcountry courses (there are three of them, one on each peak) are brutal, steep, treacherous places, full of obstacles, but they offer so many opportunities for high speed, massively long jumps, and extreme tricks that the challenge is hard to pass up (and also hard to win) once offered.

There are also transport points and lodges that you can visit before or after events. The transports move you from one course or peak to the next, or from the bottom of a course to the top. The lodges consist of a game options screen, where you can save your progress, purchase or equip new equipment, and purchase higher attributes. You get varying sums of reward money for getting medals in each event, which you can spend on various equipment, such as new snowboards, clothing, and bonus items like a flametrack added to the back of your board, or a pair of boxing gloves if you prefer to take the knockdown option (which does come in handy) during a race over the top. There are over 800 possible items you can swap out, all of which will be visible on your chosen rider during events after you equip them.

Game Control

Generally, the controls utilised are pretty standard button-mashing fare, but as this is a snowboarding game, you're required to adapt to the terrifying speed at which the game moves while mashing said buttons.

Constant twists and turns in the courses make for a very stimulating visual experience. Depending on the skill of your chosen rider, your average movement speed will be around 30 MPH on a straightaway, to 60 MPH going downhill, to over 75 MPH while in mid-air. The speed and acceleration attributes on my rider are maxed out, and the maximum speed I can seem to push it is 75 MPH, which the speedometer on the screen's lower right corner maxes out at.

Using tricks is largely the same as it was in SSX Tricky; all the same tricks are available, it just depends on how you use the control pad during a jump that determines which tricks you'll use. Given that there are eleven buttons total (in the PS2 version of the game, anyway) used for tricking, the varieties you can come up with are pretty much boundless. (Good luck with the pipe and superpipe courses, though.)

Characters

A number of characters from the previous SSX games also appear here, though some of them appear as NPCs only. There is also a number of new characters.

The returning characters:

The new characters:

The characters that appeared in previous games but are NPCs in this one include Brodi, Eddie, JP, Marisol, Marty, Seeiah, and Luther, the beer belly/mullet guy. Each of them can actually be played (although I find the concept of playing as Luther to be repugnant), but you have to enter specific cheat codes at various lodges to get access to them. The celebrity voices from the previous game were not carried over into this one, and all the returning characters have new voices provided mostly by people I've never heard of before, though Bif Naked reprises her role as Zoë.

Each of the characters have their own various styles and subtleties, much in contrast to SSX Tricky, where no distinction was made between individual rider boarding styles. Thus far I've played Elise, Kaori, Allegra, and Zoë (I have this weird hangup about never playing male characters if female characters are available), but even at their base stats, they each play differently. Elise, the tall girl who models when she's not snowboarding, tends to go for higher jumps and slower turns while in mid-air. Kaori, the petite Japanese girl, moves very quickly in mid-air, but sacrifices some speed for her petiteness. Allegra seems to be a combination of the two, not only in ability but also in appearance. Zoë is easily the best character to start out with as even her base stats seem to put her ahead of everyone else when piloted by a capable player. She's the only boarder I've been able to get a platinum medal with (I got it by finishing the "Gravitude" course on Peak 3 in 2:33!).

I've formulated a strategy for winning races that works with any of the available characters, whatever their base stats -- don't do tricks during races unless you have no other choice. Just glide over ramps and hills, and take every "out of bounds" shortcut you can find. This way, while your five opponents are tricking on every jump, you can easily move past them by not tricking, as you move more slowly during tricks. I tend to do jump tricks only when there's a Trick Boost power-up to go with it, or when I need to perform a really high jump, such as the steep ramps that make up most of the "Ruthless Ridge" course on Peak 2. Most of the race courses are built with a ramp right before the finish line, and it's generally alright to trick on those, too, unless you're in a neck-and-neck race with another rider.

The whole friends/enemies scheme from SSX Tricky was removed, so now you have to worry about all the other riders because your rider has no friends. This makes getting knocked down or landed on a much more common occurance.

Sound

The in-game soundtrack consists of about 30 songs (most of which fall into the "radio punk" or "radio techno" genres, but with a few notable exceptions), looped randomly, which can get a bit repetitive at times (and downright annoying at others), but overall are appropriate tunes to include in a snowboarding game. The soundtrack was also released as a separate CD, and it namedrops various über-popular "alternative" acts like Queens of the Stone Age, Fatboy Slim, MxPx, and The Faint. It also includes some lesser-known bands, such as Overseer, Swollen Members, Placebo, and Röyksopp. A number of exclusive remixes are available on the CD, as well. The default sound setting uses an in-game DJ to cue up the songs, but he gets really annoying really quickly. Mercifully, EA included an option to disable him. The soundtrack can also be swapped out for an "ambient sounds" setting, which is barely noticable during gameplay, and far less annoying than some of the songs on the soundtrack. (Particularly the tracks by Finger Eleven and MxPx, but then that's just my opinion. Feel free to discount it.)

The aforementioned DJ replaces the commentator that would call out the name of whatever move you were doing (i.e., "Backwards goofy swiss cheese 360! Yeah!") and announce whatever round you were in, etc., in SSX Tricky, where he unfortunately could not be disabled.

Here's a rundown of all the bands that appear on the game's soundtrack, in lesser or greater degrees, listed randomly: Caesars, Kinky, X-ecutioners, Swollen Members, Overseer (who also provides the in-game menu music), Queens of the Stone Age, Felix Da Housecat, Fischerspooner, Deepsky, Dilated Peoples, Fatboy Slim (who covers and makes an absolute mockery out of Five Man Electrical Band's "Signs"), Autopilot Off, Thrice, The Faint, Placebo, K-Os, MxPx, Finger Eleven, Powerplant, John Morgan, CDT, Black Eyed Peas, Röyksopp, Audio Bullys (sic), Andy Hunter, N.E.R.D., Jane's Addiction and Basement Jaxx.

Graphics

The graphics are fairly standard for a modern video game; 3D-rendered scenery and models. The scenery is beautiful and no two snowflakes are the same. The characters and other moving parts are at the lower end of the 3D graphics spectrum (unless they're moving slowly), but given that most of your views of the characters are from above and behind, and that they're constantly in motion, the detail given to them is not particularly remarkable.

Conclusion

All in all, this is an excellent game. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed either or both of the previous two games in the series.

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