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SSX's "missing" multiplayer: a stroke of brilliance

EA Canada proves there's life after online racing

If you're endowing your game with a multiplayer mode, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. The first question is a blunt one: are you doing it because players actually want it, or because most of your big competitors offer it? The shelf directly behind me suggests that too often developers fool themselves on this count. Studios like Irrational might have the clout to remove multiplayer from the equation, but most games include it as par for the course.

The second question follows on from the first, and the answers can be lazier still. What can we do to make people want to play our game's multiplayer? Bursts of left-field creativity aren't unknown, but most developers trade on established formulae - look at online games that are massively popular, and borrow the aspects that are most easily transferred.

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As a general practice it makes sense, using tried-and-tested concepts to attract that elusive mass market appeal. But in the long run it's a depressing gesture - creating a chain of online modes that all feel faintly like Call of Duty. In an industry obsessed with squeezing Prestige and perks into every genre imaginable, SSX feels fresh and different.

Call of Duty on snowboards would have been an obvious pitch (Borderlands on snowboards is slightly less obvious) but SSX's online is something far braver. First of all, it doesn't even have multiplayer. In the realm of ticking-all-the-boxes, the lack of head-to-head in an online snowboarding game seems disastrous. But once you free your mind of sheep logic, SSX's alternative is remarkably clever.

Whether you're refining the art of a speed run or trying to set a new high score, games like SSX are all about perfection. Mess up too much in the first twenty seconds, and it's unlikely you'll claw your way back to the top. Playing alone, the immediate reaction is to reset (or rewind) the level and try again. Online, you usually don't have any such option. Where's the fun of sticking things out right till the end, even when you know you don't have a chance?

Creating a system that fits the game's strengths, SSX's online modes are entirely asynchronous. If you want to compete with friends, Explore mode acts as an extension of leaderboards - pointing you in the direction of records that have been set recently, and letting you single out rivals for ongoing competitions. Beating a friend's high score nets you more than just glory: getting to the top of your Friends List leaderboard will also earn you a shed-load of points and XP. Once you're at the top of the board, you can simply sit back and let the points roll in. Every time someone fails to beat one of your records, this will count as a Ghost Win - putting even more fictional cash in the coffers.

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In addition to buying better boards and gear, you can also bet these points online. Global Events mode lets you buy-in to a huge number of tournaments, each of which have a short-term expiry date. Your performance in these events is ranked between bronze and diamond, with the players at the top end taking home a bigger chunk of the winnings. The beauty of this mode is that there's very little room for fluke - if you're consistently good enough to get into the top few tiers, you'll end up raking in a huge quantity of points. The Wager mode in Black Ops always felt a bit too tame, but far bigger numbers are promised here. If you're in the mood for betting millions on the worth of your skills, SSX won't disappoint.

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