Steep – Review
PS4, PC, Xbox One
Every year without fail, Ubisoft saves a surprise announcement for the end of their E3 presentation. Usually, it is a new entry in one of their existing franchises but this year was different, it was a brand new IP. What is even more surprising is that it was for a winter sports game, something that Ubisoft has never tackled before. Well that game, Steep is now available and despite this being their first extreme sports title, Ubisoft has done a bang-up job of recreating the thrills involved with snow sports.
Steep is a different take on the extreme sports genre. It is neither as technically minded as the Skate series but it isn’t an over-the-top arcade experience like SSX either. It sits comfortably in between those two extremes, giving players a simple, yet surprisingly deep, control scheme for all of the disciplines on offer. That brings me to one of the key differences that Steep offers, the ability to swap sports on the fly. On the ground players can either ski or snowboard and in the sky there is the option for a wingsuit or a paraglider. Each of these can be accessed at any time and all are exciting to control. Skiing feels the fastest option, Wingsuits are exhilarating, Snowboards are for the tricks and Paragliding is for those that want a more leisurely pace.
The other major selling point for Steep is the huge open world that is available, right from the start of the game. The world is a wonderful recreation of some of Europes most famous skiing spots and simply traversing this heady mix of snow and mountains is a joy that cannot be understated. Some of the best gaming moments in Steep come from simply starting at the top of a peak and reaching the bottom, up to 15 minutes later. Cruising down gentle slopes, tricking off village rooftops and speeding down a narrow crevice all make up a typical run and all are wonderful to participate in.
Of course, there is quite a bit more to Steep than simply exploring a vast mountain range. There are a wide variety of events and challenges that are available to test your skills and cause you to rage. These events are likely to cause people frustration because a simple fall or missing the right line can mean the difference between failure and a gold medal. But the joy of nailing that perfect run is fist pumpingly good and more than makes up for the occasional anger attack the game will cause you. These sections are reminiscent of games like Trials and Trackmania in that you will find yourself spamming the reset button quite a bit until you nail the event.
Steep also offers a host of community features. Considering the mountainside is really just one big community area these features make a lot of sense. Players can create their own challenges, mark points of interest and group up with other riders all with the press of a few buttons. Videos of runs can also be created with a surprisingly competent video editor that offers multiple camera angles and speed options. These videos can then be then shared with the community, once again with a few simple taps. It is clear the developers have not only thought long and hard about the right features to include, but how to implement them in a friendly and easy to use manner.
Steep is a gorgeous looking game as well. The mountains are wonderfully detailed with lots of little flourishes that impress. The riders themselves also look great with detailed features and extensive clothing options. The real star of the looks department however, is the effects. Speeding through a ravine on a wingsuit is amazing to behold. The sense of speed that is conveyed thanks to special effects on screen really adds to the exhilaration. The same goes for the snow effects as players speed down the mountainside. Excellent work by Ubisoft’s animation department all round.
There are some issues, however. While the game generally looks great there are a few instances when pop-in rears its ugly head. We played Steep on a console so it is quite possible that the pop-in is non-existent on the PC version. There were also instances of frame rate drops, especially when grouping with other riders or racing against the AI. Once again not a major problem and one that could potentially be fixed in a future patch. Finally, the camera can get pretty wild on occasions, especially when going slowly near environmental features. This was perhaps the most annoying of all the problems as it usually happened when I was about to join an event, making the starting more problematic than it should be.
In all honesty, however, these complaints are relatively minor and do little to detract from what is a refreshing change of pace for the extreme sports genre. The joy of discovery, the thrill of a perfect run and the wonder of the European alps are all represented wonderfully in Steep making it one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It is very possible that this is the start of another Ubisoft franchise and that thought isn’t disappointing at all.