It’s been a long time since an extreme winter sports video game has really resonated with gamers. After the genre saw quick success with games like SSX, many companies have tried and failed to get a foothold in the category and capture a bit of the magic some of those early games had. But even with bigger mountains, deeper customization, and more realistic physics, many have fallen like a boarder unable to stick the landing after a 1080. However, I went into Steep, Ubisoft’s new attempt to fill that winter sports game void, with hope—only instead to find myself feeling like someone having fallen into a snowdrift, believing there to be something more solid underfoot when there was not.

Steep starts off well enough, with a quick tutorial that introduces you to the four different disciplines available right from the start: skiing, snowboarding, parasailing, and wingsuit flying. From there, your extreme athlete of choice will be able to explore the Alps via any of these methods or by scouting out locations with their binoculars, unlocking drop zones or challenges that they can then fast travel to by helicopter. By performing various death-defying feats at these spots, you will level up and unlock more of the mountain range’s peaks for exploration until you’ve conquered them all.

As soon as you set foot on your first mountain top, you’ll have to give Ubisoft Annecy some credit. This game looks gorgeous, and each mountainside has character to it. Frozen lakes nestled in valleys serve as ice bridges between crags, pine forests play the role of natural course boundaries, and cozy villages jutting out of rocky cliff sides are ready to welcome you as you explore. And, when your character sinks knee-deep into the snow as you wade to an edge to jump off, or you notice the light reflecting off of cabin windows at different angles as the dynamic day/night cycle proceeds, it’s hard to deny that Steep does a stellar job of making you feel like you could actually be in the Alps.

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The attention to graphical detail doesn’t just permeate the mountain, though. Your athlete is fully customizable, and the more tasks and events you complete, the more gear you can potentially unlock. Helmets, jackets, skis, boards, parachutes, wing suits, goggles, boots, beanies, and more can all be switched on your person. Of course, some items are also heavily labeled with brands like RedBull and GoPro, but they’re some of the most prolific advertisers for winter sports—so while some may find it obnoxious, it’s entirely realistic.

For as polished as Steep is visually, I’m afraid it’s hard to get excited about too much else here. That’s not to say there’s not a lot to do; on the contrary, there are over 100 courses, plus 30 “mountain stories” that give some more life to the area—ranging from ringing a bell in one of the village churches to just following another boarder through a winding path as she recounts some local mythos. The problem is the game doesn’t do a very good job of leading you through all these different challenges, or in giving you a reason to seek them out.

It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but Steep actually opens up its world to you too quickly. After beating the first few challenges and leveling up your athlete, almost the entire world can unlock at once. The fast travel map does an awful job of clearly labeling what events are old and what you just opened up. Most times you have to hover over a point to see if you’ve already set a best time or score to know if you’ve played it or not, because from that bird’s eye view, everything looks exactly the same. There are also no clear goals that you’re aiming for besides win every challenge. There’s some bigger-name competitions going on, but you can stumble on them just as randomly as some no-name experience-boosting challenges. So, you never feel like you’re working towards something—there’s no real end goal.

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Should the thrill of the race be enough for you, though, Steep does try to inject a little replayability into each course to lengthen the life of this experience. First, another way for GoPro to work its way into the game was to be the foundation for a new replay system that allows you to cut together a highlight package, similar to how you would if you were really shredding down the Alps like one of these pro athletes. GoPro cameras are all over extreme sports now, usually attached to the heads and boards of athletes, and offering up new and interesting angles on non-contact sports we wouldn’t otherwise get. So, if putting together a highlight reel of your gaming prowess is something you like to do, Steep has an impressive suite of tools at your disposal here.

Another way Ubisoft Annecy tried to make Steep replayable—and something I found particularly interesting—is the fact that the game is always online and always in multiplayer. Like a real mountain, you’ll see other players taking on the courses as well, and depending on your settings, you can even bump into them. With a press of a button, you can group up with others to add a little more competition to things, giving you purpose beyond just racing once and getting gold. You can also carve out your own path in free roam and then set it up as a challenge to others online, giving you a rough create-your-own course feature that is extremely easy to upload to others.

Of course, there is an issue with this needing to be online all the time: If you can’t connect, you can’t play the game. During my time with Steep, it happened once where I couldn’t play at all for almost an hour, and kept getting bumped back to the title screen. This can be a huge hindrance to the game and its community, especially considering Ubisoft’s history of issues with server maintenance and stability to begin with. The fact I can’t play the game offline at all is unforgivable, showing an overabundance in relying on the social aspects to keep what is clearly a barebones experience interesting.

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Steep’s greatest sin, however, might be its most damning: The game simply doesn’t control very well in most of its categories. I found the wing suit sports to be the most responsive, and therefore ended up trying to curtail the final hours of review time towards those to make what was an otherwise frustrating experience somewhat palatable. Parasailing felt like I had no control whatsoever, praying for updrafts to keep my parachute properly open and moving in the direction of the finish line.

Skiing and snowboarding were the most prevalent sports, and were as fun as wingsuiting—when everything worked. Unfortunately, there were times where I’d be trying to pull off stunts and it’d feel like the controls were locking up. Even hurtling down the mountain with a bat outta hell’s worth of momentum, I’d hit the jump perfectly and instead of performing the twists, turns, and rolls I’d expect, my athlete would almost listlessly drift in the direction I was jamming the thumb stick. The worst of it all would then be when I’d land, thinking I had at least gotten my rider adequately back to center, but instead he breaks every bone in his body as he tumbles head-over-end down the mountain. The rag doll physics were at least humorous, but it felt like the game should’ve just focused on two sports instead of four and tried to perfect those as much as possible.

Steep had a lot of good ideas at its core. Some, like its replay and social features, are a dream when everything is running smoothly. Unfortunately, the game is more frustrating than fun due to its lack of focus and execution in both controls and overall scope. What many were hoping would be a smooth ride down the mountainside instead feels like smacking into pine trees repeatedly. I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of the extreme winter sports genre again feel like they’re left standing out in the cold from this one.

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Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Annecy • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 12.02.16
6.0
The multiplayer and replay ideas that Ubisoft implemented in Steep were great, and the game looks terrific. It’s held back as a whole, though, by listless controls, a directionless world, and an always-online requirement that brings everything crashing down like an avalanche when the servers decide to act up.
The Good Great visuals; the create-a-challenge and multiplayer help keep things fresh.
The Bad Controls feel inconsistent and unforgiving. Always online except when you aren’t and can’t play.
The Ugly Breaking every bone in my boarder’s body when failing to stick a landing.
Steep is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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