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March 5th

Extreme Sports | The lost gaming genre

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General News

I don’t know if it’s just me, but on the frontier of video game evolution, it seems as though there is no longer any room for the extreme sports genre.

What once was a genre that stood up to the AAA powerhouses and laughed in their faces, is now a genre that seems to dominate the Indy market with no significant player base. Disappointing to say the least, coming from a man that if wasn’t introduced to the extreme sports genre, would most likely not be playing video games to this day.

Back in the good old days of the PlayStation there was a title that stood tall above its competition. A game that captured the spirit of extreme sports and transferred it into the virtual world with such perfection that even the person with absolutely no sporting pedigree could engage with seamlessly. Can you guess what it is yet? 

For those that didn’t, I was referring to SSX which is actually an acronym for Snowboarding, Surfing and MotoX. Something that I have always questioned since all of the SSX games are snowboarding games and do not feature the other 2 categories whatsoever. I have since come to learn that some of the characters featured in the SSX series have back stories relating back to other sports.

So what was it exactly that drew me in? If you are as old as me and you played these games, I wouldn’t have to explain but we are knocking on the door of 2 decades since the definitive title in the series was released (SSX 3) so for all you Millennials out there, SSX 3 was the complete package when it comes to total gaming design.

The age-old argument in the SSX community is that you either thought Tricky was the best or you thought SSX 3 was better. I’m with the Latter. I think most people who would argue Tricky was better probably never played SSX 3, there was no comparison in my opinion.

Everything from the Graphics, Level design, trick list and soundtrack were amplified to sheer excellence, brought to us by the masterminds at EA BIG when they were still a thing. Nothing since then has come remotely close to topping SSX 3 as the pinnacle of extreme sports video games.

To this day it is a game I can hop into casually and have great fun with and without the need to set up my old PS2. Currently you can purchase SSX 3 on the Xbox store upscaled and enhanced which means 60fps with crisp graphics, improved aspect ratio and lightning-fast loading times. It was everything I could have needed to get my dose at the time. Sadly, for all that goodness, it started to become apparent that I needed something more in the modern era. An era of online multiplayer, huge communities and progression charts.

I quickly found myself alone on the mountain of SSX 3 playing with what was in the early 2000’s an engaging, realistic but ultimately artificial NPC system. Sure, the nostalgia was through the roof but the feeling that grew on me was kin to buying a vintage automobile. It may look beautiful, but the internal components are not to the standard of what we expect in the present.

You’re probably thinking, hey, wasn’t there an SSX (2012) release for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360? Yes, yes there was, but was it as captivating as the previous title 9 years earlier? No, no it wasn’t. It’s a difficult thing to fathom. Having almost a full decade to reinvigorate the series you would have thought it could have evolved the way the GTA series evolves with every title. Sadly, the geniuses at EA BIG couldn’t find common ground with the big wigs at EA’s main base of operations and the sub-division was swallowed. Leaving a whole new team to pick up where BIG left off. Short story is – it didn’t work… entirely. On the surface, it ticked all the right boxes, but the direction that it went in became comparable to a yeast extract. One that you either love or you hate. Some of the major changes was the removal of the fictional “open world” we were given in SSX 3, the darker tone the game took and the introduction of real-world locations. I actually embraced the changes and when purchasing the game on the day of its release was quite happy with the result. However, for all the die-hards – I understood their pain. The formula just didn’t mix well amongst the larger player groups and sometimes that happens.

The dilemma the 2012 release left me with was that it filled that lonely hole I had when I played the enhanced SSX 3. If only they just remastered SSX 3 with the online and community capabilities of the current gen version. Well 9 years later and I’m still waiting. Waiting eagerly like a dog waits at the window for its owner to come home from work.

Digging very deeply into this matter I have since uncovered a few minor interviews regarding what could be in the future but nothing of any substance. It seems at this point that I’ll be waiting at the window wagging my tail for foreseeable future. 

Whilst not completely blind to the alternatives I have in the last couple years found myself occasionally dropping into Ubisoft’s STEEP, which if you were to ask me, is the closest current gen game to get anywhere near the SSX series. The predecessor to the Shaun White Snowboarding game, STEEP elevated extreme sports video games to become the golden standard. This standard was only achieved because there is literally nothing else in the way of competition at the time of its release. This could be said about the genre as whole right now, people are just not drawn in by this type of game anymore. I go on this simply by what is currently in fashion on twitch and I for one am getting quite sick of the constant repetition found in trends these days. There needs to be changes!

I think where STEEP and Shaun White Snowboarding went wrong was that it didn’t tackle the needs of the average casual gamer. It became bespoke to the extreme sports enthusiast and a niche for people who already enjoy extreme sports. Advanced control schemes and simulation style gameplay replaced the arcade style pick up and play simplicity of SSX. Don’t get me wrong, extreme sports is something I am deep rooted too and personally love the simulation style that you find in STEEP. It separates the weak from the herd as it were, but where does that leave you when 99% of people playing online won’t touch the game with a 10ft barge pole. I believe that success lies in the middle. A recipe which (by all information) I have to go on will hopefully be practised in the 2021 release of Riders Republic – a brand new extreme sports video game.

Let me just say that currently as I am writing this blog post. Riders Republic was supposed to of been released (now delayed until late 2021) and at the point of its original release date only had one cinematic style trailer for people to go by. It’s fair to say that Ubisoft’s marketing budget was not stretched when it came to the pre-release PR of Riders Republic.
Now being delayed until the end of this year, hopefully the one video we have will not be the only one. Good news is from what we have seen, it looks to take the premise of STEEP; huge open worlds, wide variety of sports and competitive online multiplayer, whilst somehow being intertwined with the ridiculousness and the spunk of SSX; Over the top design, arcade style, mega fun time. I guess only time will tell how this will reflect when people first pick up the pad to play.

In my very strange dreams of the past, I once imagined a full mountain race in SSX 3 with as many people playing as the graphics engine could allow. It now appears that something along this line will be a reality by the end of the year and I’m hoping I’m not the only one who’s interested. One thing that STEEP didn’t do well was bring all of the player base together. There was no hub, no decent way to communicate. The PvP elements were subject to terribly limited matchmaking Lobbies and any real-time co-operative implementation was done poorly. The best thing about STEEP’s multiplayer was going to the deepest depths of the map and just by chance catching somebody also freeriding in the vicinity. With only a few thousand in the active player base it gave you a true sense of the scale of the STEEP world. It was just a shame that when you do encounter someone in the hundreds of miles of map that you couldn’t even gesture them or send them a hello without inviting them to a party/private chat. If they can’t improve on this for Riders Republic, then all hope is lost quite frankly. Fortunately, from what is being said on Ubisoft’s website. There will be a community free roam hub for riders to group up and get ready. The co-operative and communicative elements will also be enhanced. They are claiming up to 50 riders will have the ability to race in large scale events which soothes me to my inner core. I’m just hoping that they can deliver in the gameplay aspect. I’m not saying they should ditch all the simulation elements that they can drag over from STEEP but I think for the sustainability of the game going in to the future the gameplay must have a pick and up and play style.

It’s a weird comparison but The Fall Guys game released in 2020 had a large-scale competitive element which could be extrapolated and transferred appropriately to the large-scale game modes apparently coming to Riders Republic. If this can be implemented correctly, I think Ubisoft could be on to a surprising winner. A game that is fit for the modern era of gaming with the Archaic remnants of the SSX spirit hidden within. Please UBISOFT. Make this one work. 

About the Author...

Abi

My name is Abi and I'm brand and media executive here at My MOD. I have a degree in Film, TV and Digital Production which speed ramped my passion for content creation and digital design. I love playing games like The Sims, The Legend of Zelda, Tomb Raider and anything that's going to give me a good story. BUT, do not rely on me to get the shots in on COD.