It doesn’t seem all too long ago when extreme sports games were incredibly popular. Tony Hawks’s arcade fest of skating, everyone’s favourite snowy SSX, Skate’s take on thumbstick tricks, it was almost a saturated market. Nowadays however, it’s a rare sight to see such a game. In an attempt to revitalise the genre, Ubisoft Annecy brings us ‘Steep’, a snowboarding, skiing, paragliding, wingsuit-ing explorathon.
With plenty choice in terms of discipline, it’s tricky to find your favourite style of careering down an almost sheer cliff face. It’s not so difficult however to pick your least favourite, the paragliding. It’s not necessarily bad, or poor in design by any means, it’s just that, due to its very nature, it struggles to keep pace with the others in terms of thrill and excitement.
After you’ve gone through the tutorial, you’re probably in for quite the shock as to how intimidatingly large the playable area is; after all, it is an Ubisoft game. Of course with such an overwhelmingly large area to explore, there’re bound to be plenty challenges and events to stumble across. Sadly this brings about the first, and most significant issue with steep; being the mountain overview. Whilst the level of zoom that you can accomplish is fairly impressive, it pales into insignificance whilst trying to select an event. Not only is moving the pointer too slow and incredibly ‘sticky’ when you near a point, but due to the mountainous nature of mountains, the camera is constantly moving up and down. It feels as though you’re continually fighting against the zoom in button. As if this weren’t irritating enough, it’s rarely clear from a distance as to whether you’ve completed an event or not, meaning you’ll end up camera-wrestling a lot more often than necessary.
Whether you pick an event or just delve straight into a plummeting descent, one of the first things you’ll notice is just how inviting the snow looks. The slopes genuinely look fantastic, untouched drifts, jagged rocky outcrops and dense forestry all litter the landscape and are begging to be explored. Be it by snowboard, skis, wingsuit or paraglide, you’re free to explore and compete however you wish. On top of being able to switch between these at will, you’ll also level up the different disciplines by tackling things however you want. If you enjoy simply sightseeing and exploring the Alps through binoculars, you’ll level up the ‘Explorer’ style. ‘Freestyler’ rewards accuracy in terms of pulling off tricks, ‘Bone Collector’ lets you at least gain something from the many horrific crashes you’ll put yourself through; lastly ‘Freerider’ seems to be a mix of everything.
Whilst the tutorial could do with a little more focus on how to control your character and a little less on the many ways to share your experience with others, you’ll eventually start trying out some tricks. Using the thumbsticks and triggers, you can perform grabs, spins, flips and more. Combining tricks inevitably rewards more points but also increases the chances of a rough landing. I do wish the trick system went a little more in depth with the landings, as at the minute, you just release the buttons and the game sorts everything out for you automatically. As such, it doesn’t really give any feedback in terms of what you did right or wrong.
Due to the lack of a campaign, besides some odd moments where the mountains get all spiritual and start talking to you, it’s safe to assume that Steep largely relies on its multiplayer offerings. The game constantly tracks your runs, allowing you to both create challenges and also go back and view replays from a seemingly infinitesimal amount of angles and filters. Whilst it’s nice that you’re always put in the same world as other players, there are of course some issues with this. For one, it somewhat ridiculously relies upon a constant online connection to their servers. Meaning that if your connection (or Steep’s servers) have a wonky day, you won’t even be able to play the game. Another reason being, that there’s really not a lot to be gained from playing with others, besides discovering drop zones together. If I’m honest, I’d rather have the option to play alone and forgo the extra loading times.
If you need a change of pace from flopping helplessly down the side of a cliff, you can delve into the character customisation. Provided you can get past the distractingly blatant GoPro and Red Bull advertising, there’s a fair share of tinkering you can do. On top of being able to unlock new wingsuits, snowboards and the like, you can also purchase new attire with Steep’s in game earnable currency. After spending just a few hours on the game, I already had more than enough money to purchase at least a few different things for each slot; making it a refreshing change from the norm.
Steep can be a great amount of fun in short bursts, spending a quick half hour blasting your way down a perilous incline is a feeling absent from most games today. Issues do start to rise after spending a while with it however. Attempting to complete and clear events from the map becomes infuriating, the ambiguous trick system continues to confuse, and the unashamed Red Bull and GoPro product placements are a little too much. Keep your playtime low, and go in with a relaxed ‘I don’t have to complete everything on the map’ attitude however, and it might just keep you coming back.