Steep needs no storyline. It needs no larger than life characters or fantastical course layout. Steep is to SSX what Skate is to Tony Hawk. It’s about finding that perfect ski line and smashing the medal targets for each course. It’s about dominating your friends during an online session. And most importantly. It’s about losing yourself in the open-world of the Alps.
If you hadn’t figured it out by now, Steep is a far throw from the antics of SSX. It’s about the winter sports of Skiing, Snowboarding, Paragliding and Wingsuiting, and for that, it manages to create some of the best alpine escapism I’ve experienced in a game, and if you really want to immerse yourself, there’s a first person mode, which looks great, but made me nauseatingly dizzy.
Starting off simple, you’d be forgiven in thinking that Steep is just a leisurely slide to the bottom of each course. Sure, this is the main crux of the game, but it gets pretty hard pretty quickly and it does it so perfectly. The pace of ramping up the difficulty is wonderful, that is, if you don’t rush off to the more advanced mountain ranges. By the time you progress to the harder courses, you can fly your wingsuit through a craggy cave and tight holes (steady on Greg) and you’ll do so with the greatest of ease. OK, so I’m being kind. It’s bloody hard, but Steep nails that ‘just one more go’ mechanic.
There are a variety of events to take part in, and for the most part you can choose to tackle them in any of the four sports. Each course and challenge is built around getting to the bottom in the fastest time possible or by scoring enough style points. There are some zany ‘Stories of the Mountain’ which inject some humour and a bit of narrative to the game, but Steep rarely strays from that real-world experience.
Rather than hide events away until you’re a high enough rank – although there are prerequisites for some – events must be found by exploring the mountain. Stumbling across them as you blast down a slope, or stopping at key points in order to whip our your binoculars to scout for hidden base camps is all part of getting lost in the wilderness of the Alps.
Some events are so open that you can navigate to the finish line via any route you see fit – with the exception of hitting checkpoints – so it’s quite easy to get lost during each course. Thankfully there’s a helpful white line guiding you roughly in the correct direction – it is only a guide though – following it will rarely reward you with a gold medal.
Travelling around the Alps is easy. There’s a 3D mountain map that allows you to jump to new events, which are labeled so you can see where you need to go next. First you need to scout each new location or unlock them by accruing enough XP. Scouting is done by pulling out your binoculars to search out areas that look like they could be drop zones and then you simply get close enough for them to unlock – it’s a more manual version of the towers of Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. You can also use your binoculars to fast travel to any location that you see.
The map can be a pain in the ass though. I constantly wrestled with navigating the mountains to find where I should head next. It desperately needs the option to flick through each event rather than aimlessly dragging your pointer about. There’s also no filter option. Ubisoft is hardly a stranger to open-worlds full of things to do so it bemuses me as to how they’ve got the map of Steep so wrong.
The map is far from useless though and the most useful mechanic is the ability to display trails, either your own or ‘trails of the day’, you can then warp to any part of the trail – ideal if you made a wrong turn.
While there are opportunities to bust out some tricks, they are relatively safe and far from the over-the-top antics of SSX. Each trick could easily be performed by a pro. As you trick and zoom down the mountains at speed, you must constantly battle G force, hit a rough patch of snow/rock/ice or land a trick wrong and you’ll be exerted to extra pressure that will, if continued, throw you off your skis or board and ragdoll your rider down the mountain.
Taking to the air via wingsuit or paraglider, you can scope out each mountain to spot new events or hidden basecamps. There are also some activities, but these are damn tough and will take perseverance if you want to master them. Wingsuiting is particularly fun and fast, the hard courses are exhilarating as you fly close to the ground and through cave networks. Paragliding on the other hand (even after you work out the flying mechanic) is just rather dull.
Similar to larking about online with mates on Forza Horizon 3, Steep is equally as much fun, although setting challenges for others wasn’t something I had much interest in, so unless a mate was about, I pretty much played on my own which rendered the need for being connected online useless, and yet you need to be connected to Ubisoft’s servers all the time – if they’re down, then you won’t be able to play.
Other than visual customisations, there’s nothing you can do to change your rider. There are no stat boosting equipment or skills to equip as you gain XP – the clothes and skis you start with can take you from the easiest slope to the hardest – it’s all about finding that perfect line and having the skill to navigate down the slope.
While stopping short of a full simulation, Steep captures the alpine life of hurtling down a ski slope without the expenditure (and more importantly) the risk of breaking a few bones in the process. It will certainly appeal more to those who holiday in the snowy regions of the world.
Paragliding is the least intuitive of the sports. Only by straying from the white guiding line and having an understanding of how the wind manipulates the parachute, will you be able to conquer this mode. Even when you do, it’s the weakest of the four sports – with fussy controls and a slow pace – if you mess up you will be in for a long haul back through the course.
Rather than snuggle up to SSX for warmth, Steep has instead jumped into bed with Skate, which if you enjoyed, you’ll sure find comfort in the icy embrace of Steep’s many slopes. No over-dramatisation, no over-the-top tricks, Steep is just pure fun.
Thanks to Xbox and Ubisoft for supporting TiX