SSX 3 follows the highly successful SSX Tricky game, and although the high paid well known voice actors (David Arquette, Macy Gray, etc.) are gone, the gameplay has improved so much that it's hard not to call this the best snowboarding game on the PS2.
Like the other games in the series, SSX 3 features a variety of characters who can increase their physical abilities and snowboarding skill via winning events. No character is better than any other, it's all personal preference. For the most part events are divided into race or trick competitions. In all the competitions you are competing not only against regular computer opponents but against record high scores and times as well. A 2-player mode complements the game nicely, splitting the screen so both players can play at once.
The big difference between SSX 3 and other games in the series is that all the events take place on one mountain, and you can go from the top to the bottom in one run if you like, passing through various event venues along the way. It can take 20 minutes just to get from the top to the bottom, and there are no load times along the way. Some of the final events have you do just that, trying to obtain a very high score.
Individual events include races, trick competitions on a obstacle filled course, a big jump with tricks competition, and for the first time a trick halfpipe. Control has been modified a little from Tricky, adding in the ability to chain your tricks together by riding on one end of your board, and the point system is modified which rewards you for doing many tricks chained together. In between the stages there are also mini challenges and cash bonuses that can be picked up.
The soundtrack to SSX 3 has a good mix of mostly electronic and rock-influenced tracks, and it fits the game very well. Radio news breaks in occasionally talking about your recent wins, other recent performances by top competitors at events you're near, and weather conditions -- it really adds a nice feel to the game.
While SSX On Tour came out after SSX 3, SSX 3 is still probably the best overall game experience in my mind. SSX On Tour doesn't allow for free exploration, instead taking you right to the events, and the trick control system is a little more difficult to use as well.
I'm not a big fan of sports games, and I love this game. Even if you don't like snowboarding, this game truly transcends the genre and is worth picking up, even more so than later SSX titles. EA Big really got everything right in this game.