I have been an avid Skier longer than I have been a gamer, which is really saying something considering I owned an Atari 7800! So when a snow-sports video game is released, you better believe it peeks my interest. Fortunately, it turns out Steep is brilliant fun. It breathes life into a niche genre that has been waning in quality for well over a decade.
To pigeonhole Steep as just a skiing/snowboarding game sells it short. It’s probably better described as an alpine extreme sports game, as also included are Wingsuiting and Paragliding. Set in the French Alps, there is an almost limitless range of snow covered mountains to explore. The loose premise is that as a budding extreme sports star, I’m trying to get noticed by Red Bull or Salomon and get epic action videos trending. After an initial guided intro, which explains how to choose an event, score points and customise my rider, I was left to my own devices.
Flagged across a beautiful 3D visualisation of the French Alps region are markers. These allowed me to choose from various events and immediately fast travel to them. Each marker is an event for one of the four disciplines- Skiing, Snowboarding, Wingsuiting and Paragliding. The interface looks great but is a bit clunky to use once there are a dozens of events to choose from.
The simple yet brilliant design decision in Steep is that events aren’t locked away behind other events. I could choose to do what I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted. The events are fast with simple goals such as points targets, time challenges or just skill based. They are all online and have live leaderboards which alerted me when my top score had been beaten by another player.
But the game is as challenging as I let it be. If I wanted to do a Wingsuit event and found it too hard, I didn’t have to bash my head against the wall to get to the next event. I just selected ‘Skis’ or ‘Paragliding’ from the radial menu and cruised off down the hill to do something else instead. No problem, no stress. As I traveled around the Alps, I discovered and unlocked new ‘Drop Zones’ which are essentially fast travel points, which opened up even more events.
Skiing and Snowboarding are the two disciplines most people will spend time in and Ubisoft have nailed the balance between Sim and Arcade controls. Tricks and jumps are all triggers and sticks, and feels very intuitive but also forgiving. The sensation of carving through powder is effortless, and for someone who has skied round the world, I can attest. Ubisoft has even captured that moment to moment change from thrills to tranquility that only alpine sports offer. The crunch of fresh snow, the clink of poles and whistle of the wind is all immersive as heck, the environment and sound design is dead on. That said, they have also captured the mad feats and mental speed the top Red Bull stars are capable of. Throwing myself off a 60m cliff face felt controllable and the tricks were easy to pull off. Figuring out how to do the technical tricks is a bit more trial and error, but finally stomping a landing after a ‘Doubleback Rodeo 1440’ feels like an achievement.
Wingsuiting is to my mind one of the craziest sports ever created and after experiencing it in-game, I’m still of that opinion. Mental…. The advantage of not dying when I crashed my ‘squirrel suit’ was of huge benefit to my confidence, allowing me to keep trying to fly an event. Points are scored by flying down the mountain face, as close to the ground as possible. Its actually really hard, with quite a steep learning curve managing the somewhat unpredictable controls. Paragliding is the complete opposite being far more slow and safe, with points being awarded for finding lift or updrafts to gain altitude. Its the dullest of the sports on offer, however floating above the mountains with some chill-axing tunes (Yes I said ‘chill-axing’) in the background, has a certain appeal.
Steep is an always online experience, so at any moment another gamer could go whistling over my head in a Wingsuit, or land a massive jump right next to me. The options to party up are super intuitive and finding friends to ride was really easy. All the ‘randoms’ I came across seem to love the game as much as I did and understood what Ubisoft are trying to achieve – a huge online-alpine-playground. Sharing lines and videos of epic tricks is built right into the menu systems, but I gotta be honest I didn’t really use the functionality very much. Some gamers may have an issue with Steeps lack of drive to push the player forward and level up.
Except for getting new cosmetic gear or unlocking a couple of new mountain peaks, there is no overall end-goal. The real fun of Steep is just being in the snow and mucking around. My only real complaint worth digging into is the soundtrack, which for extreme sports games has, and always will be, crucial. Steeps lack of quality licensed music tracks is a big missed step. In a 3 hour game session, I would hear the same song way too many times.
To be clear, I am a Skiing and alpine sports nutter in real life. But I’m a gamer too and I can say with confidence that Steep is brilliant fun. It controls well, looks and sounds wonderful and is a perfect chill-out game, that lets gamers do whatever they hell they want, when they want.