Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Annecy
Official Site: Steep
Release Date: 12-02-16
Where To Buy: PlayStation Store, Xbox Store, Local Retailer
Steep is one of the most unique games in the genre of winter sports that I have ever played. With mountainsides that are visually stunning, the game boasts four different sports- snowboarding, skiing, wingsuit flying, and paragliding for the player to choose between at their own leisure during open rides down the mountain. There are, however, a number of challenges throughout the game that requires the use of one specific sport, each challenge offering varying levels of difficulty and enjoyment.
Because Steep is an open-world sports game, most of your experience shredding snow across the mountain is entirely what you make it, and Ubisoft Annecy’s “Ride Your Way” motto only solidifies this aspect of the game. Despite the unique concept and the freedom to create your own play style, Steep sadly misses the mark on several levels that become increasingly obvious as you play.
Since the PlayStation 2 days, I (like many gamers) have been looking for a title to fill the void that the SSX franchise left behind. Not many games have been able to duplicate that level of excitement for a snowboarding, or rather any winter sports game. SSX garnered a cult following and redefined the winter sports genre in the process, and while it isn’t fair to be searching for elements of SSX in Ubisoft’s latest title, it is a comparison that is difficult to avoid given Steep’s shortcomings.
The first of these ‘shortcomings’ is the tricks system. Regardless of the challenges that players take on, the game rewards narrow avoidances with obstacles like trees and shacks, as well as the ground itself if you are wingsuit flying. You are also rewarded for performing and nailing complicated tricks. The problem is that no two jumps are alike, and landing them properly can be unpredictable, not to mention the G-force meter is far too sensitive.
Snowboarding is perhaps the most difficult sport when it comes to sticking tricks. Gone are the days when you can learn new moves and, depending on your timing, can comfortably stick them each time you land. It is so extreme that “perfecting” one jump and landing combo actually elicited verbal cries of triumph. With Steep, the gameplay is also incredibly finicky and stiff, and sometimes downright frustrating depending on the sport. Snowboarding and skiing are fluid and fast paced, and essentially use the same controls. Paragliding, on the other hand, is painfully slow and completion of challenges within this sport is dependent on finding air pockets to get from point A to B. With all of the sports, though, you never get the same thing twice, and that level of uncertainty and inconsistency undermined a lot of the enjoyment that sports like snowboarding had to offer.
Your individual play style also develops early on in the game. For example, I knew within the first couple of hours of playing that I was not a fan of paragliding (skiing was a close second); and though I was convinced of my snowboarding expertise because of those veteran SSX days, I found that my skills lent themselves more to wingsuit flying and narrowly avoiding obstacles. I also quickly realized that I was a big fan of racing other players down the mountain and trying to beat their high scores. Whatever your preferences may be, though, they have the ability to dictate your enjoyment of Steep for better or worse, because each challenge offers experience points. Experience points then unlock new peaks and Mountain Stories. New peaks have more challenges, which give you more experience, and so on.
I say all of that to not-so-simply demonstrate that Steep can be a frustrating cycle. If you are skipping out on all of those paragliding challenges because they aren’t your thing, you obviously are not going to get the XP needed in order to progress and unlock new parts of the game that you may want to see. That alone puts mild limitations on the game’s “Ride Your Way” mantra that may have been appealing to gamers in the first place.
This may sound like a laundry list of complaints, but rest assured that Steep also gets a number of things right. For instance, the graphics are undeniably beautiful. When the sun is high, its rays catch the banks of snow in the most breathtaking and realistic way, and paragliding is the best way to see views of the mountain from every angle.
Speeding down the mountainside, whether it is on skis or snowboard is intense and memorable, most of the time offering an exhilarating experience as you narrowly dodge trees and jump from high peaks. Steep’s biggest “claim to fame” is its open-world concept and the massive freedom that comes along with that. If you are bored doing one challenge over and over again, the game offers the freedom to move on to the next one and the next after that.
Even that has its downside, though, because after a while they all feel similar and a strong “been there, done that” attitude in the player becomes overwhelming because Steep does very little to keep these challenges feeling fresh and fun. For an open world game, after a few hours, Steep starts to feel quite empty and it loses the momentum that was felt in that first hour of gameplay.
The music in Steep is an excellent companion to have while carving your gameplay experience. Each track- from heavy metal to electronic- offers the perfect mood and accompanies each sport really well. Depending on the mood, the music can pump you up and make even your most basic tricks seem greater and more exciting than they actually are.
While it lives up to its name as an open-world sports game, Steep is at its strongest when players are not engaged in the many challenges around the mountain, but rather exploring the peaks and switching between sports at their own leisure. Steep suffers from a few hiccups, yes, but there are plenty of great experiences to be had across the four sports and the expansive mountainsides. Unfortunately, those great experiences are not memorable after you turn the game off.
Gameplay: Unpredictable and inconsistent
Graphics: Excellent. Every view is absolutely beautiful
Sound: Music is the perfect addition to riding around the mountain
Presentation: Game does what it needs to, but could be better overall
- Large Open World
- Monotony Across Challenges
- Tricks System