Replay Value: 9.7
I have never gotten into snowboarding; not because the whole idea of speeding down a mountain slope while performing dazzling tricks doesn't sound alluring, but rather due to the fact that my real-life experiences in the sport consist of me falling down every 10 seconds or so. In short, it's just not very fun when you suck at it. Therefore, it's pretty satisfactory when a game like SSX3 comes along, letting you live out your dreams by pulling off that BS Backflip 360 Kort Martial to Late Stalefish you always wanted to be able to do. As you can probably guess, SSX3 continues in the same tradition as its predecessors, offering unrealistic but exhilarating gameplay. This time EA has spiced up the formula a bit: instead of travelling around the world for new courses to race through, on today's menu we have a huge mountain that is made up of three interconnected peaks. This does wonders for the whole snowboarding atmosphere, as later on in the game, you'll be able to slide down the entire mountain in a marathon race. No breaks; no loading times - the feeling of cohesiveness is truly awesome.
During the beginning of the Conquer the Mountain mode (there's also a Single Race option available - shades of Gran Turismo, anyone?), you only have access to Peak 1 though, and you must prove your skills there in order to acquire passes to Peak 2 and 3 respectively. At first, you might be a bit taken aback by the freedom of choice you have at your disposal. Starting out in one of the freeride sections, you can choose to either just mess around in the powder snow, or head directly to a race event, Big Air challenge, Slopestyle race or whatever you feel like doing. The goal of these competitions is, naturally, to finish in the highest ranked position as possible. The medals don't play as big a role as they did in SSX Tricky. Instead, your most sought-after acquisition in SSX3 is prize money, which has a lot of uses. In the special lodges located at various places down the mountain, you can use the cash you've earned to buy and increase the attributes of your rider, or just spend it on unlocking concept sketches, character art, and songs for your custom playlist instead.
Most of said songs being worthy to blow away a fat wad of cash on, because the soundtrack to this game simply rocks. From The Caesars to Dilated Peoples, to Placebo, SSX3 has a little something for just about anyone. And thanks to the option of editing your own playlist, I won't have to endure another second of hysterically bad "punk rock" performed by MxPx. The addition of a GTA-wannabe DJ might irritate some people, but I think he contributes to the whole illusion of actually being there. Besides, he has the decency to stay out of tense race situations. Sound effects are extremely well done, and there's DTS support for those of you able to enjoy that. The graphics might not look like a huge improvement from Tricky, but if you look carefully, there are a lot of subtle, atmospheric touches like a nice soft glowing look in certain caverns and glistening snow, probably borrowed from Microsoft's Amped. There are a couple of not-so-subtle environmental effects as well, including a mean avalanche and a raging snowstorm.
Since EA decided to go with this whole coherent mountain design, it was probably a wise move to nix the more outrageous course designs from the previous games. A giant pinball machine look-a-like would most likely have fit in as well as a kitten in a room full of Dobermans. Or something like that. There's still a certain amount of fantastical additions to the courses though. As you're grinding down the barrel of an anti-aircraft gun, triggering it to fire and subsequently blow out a huge chunk of a rock wall - thus leaving open a shortcut for you, there's no question that it's an SSX game you're playing. The courses are a bit more sensible now, but still with a fair share of ramps, leaving a lot of room for the trademark crazy tricks.
The system with the boost meter and uber tricks is still intact, while uber grinds and "super ubers" add more depth to the rather complex game mechanics. Other tweaks to the controls include a handplant move, which comes in handy during the Superpipe events, as well as a recovery button that you can tap repeatedly in order to regain balance after a failed trick attempt, or a severe bump-in with a trackside object. Which brings me to a small complaint I have; namely that the freeform nature of the environment also brings along a larger risk of the player getting stuck between a signpost or a rock formation. Or just falling down an endless gap because you thought you were heading for a shortcut, which turned out to be a classic example of an "invisible barrier". Thankfully, there's a button that lets you return to the race track, but it drains you of boost power and takes you out of the "zone" you were in. Still, the controls are receptive enough that you hopefully won't encounter too many of these situations.
SSX3 might not be the best choice for people craving extremely realistic sports simulators, but for the rest of us, this is the best snowboarding game ever. With the huge variety of game modes, this game will last a long, long time. And when you're done with humiliating the computer A.I., you can go online with the PS2 version and race against human opponents. Only for a head-to-head match, sure, but it's a great alternative to headache-inducing splitscreen action. EA might not have reinvented the wheel with this one, but the huge amount of fun you'll get out of it kind of makes up for that. Uber satisfying.