For its thirty years, Ubisoft wanted to show off in good spirits that it thrives on building new IP, other than the usual yearly or known ones like Assassin’s Creed, and so here comes Steep. Just couple of months after its reveal at E3 2016, this merge of open-world experience with extreme sports is finally out, a work completely done by the local French Ubisoft studio in Annecy. Suggesting that they have a serious leaning for snow sports is an understatement as their new game oozes a love for the snowy mountains, and the studio is literally facing the French Alps. Sadly, all these good intentions do not prevent the game from having couple of hiccups.
GoPro product placements powered replays, permanent multiplayer, Salomon and other winter sport equipment challenges, season pass galores and micro-transactions from the first day, Steep has everything you expect from a modern game. It’s been a while since we’ve had an extreme sport game, and if we put aside the 2012 reboot of SSX, there was hardly anything else since. But there’s a catch with Steep: it’s no spiritual successor of an SSX, instead a very different game that hesitates too often between realism and arcade, between solitary exploration and an imposed multiplayer.
Once the long introduction set of missions are finished, you understand that this open world main goal is exploration, tasking you to discover hidden drop zones and areas of interest so that brands can build challenges, races and all sorts of trials. All these events give you in-game credits and experience to level up, and soon enough gain access to different and more challenging peaks of the French-Swiss Alps. What do you with these in-game credits? Well, it’s mainly to buy objects which are purely cosmetic – and my cynicism prevents me from being surprised to find in-game credit packs available for real money. In any case, leveling up does not improve your skill set (like what a usual sport game would do with different ability points), but instead gives access to certain exclusive brand-related challenges and as mentioned before unlock new areas on the maps.
The problem is that within the first couple of hours in the game, you quickly lose attention because of a muddy progression system, with places that unlock in logical ways around the map, while filling the screen with an insane amount of invasive icons, and barely noticeable waypoints. And this is where one notices the first main problem with a map of this size: the UI is absolutely impractical, mainly because of a lack of filters. It is impossible to isolate challenges that have already been completed, or focus on trials types you prefer, and the whole movement and zooming is not intuitive either, which got me annoyed especially since I got personal issues with colors and small elements. But at least, the map serves as a sort of quick travel to any trial, challenge or peak of your choice, without any sort of loading time which is great, but all in all the exploration factor takes a hell of a blow by doing so.
The map though got more than hundred trials to achieve and reach level 25 to unlock all zones. It takes about ten hours to complete most of the events, and a bit more if you’re looking to discover all the key spots, buy all accessories and of course take the time to make some video shoots of your exploits. The trials are great because unlike other games like SSX or Amped, Steep gives you the choice to compete in four different disciplines which are your usual skiing, snowboarding, but also paragliding (which I really hate and don’t understand) and wingsuit. These four sports will also be your main means of transport, other than teleporting to an open area or purchasing a helicopter ticket to cross very long distances.
Now as someone who loves and practice winter sports, I’d like to congratulate the Annecy team for their work on skiing and snowboarding, which probably is the closest to the real thing in terms of realism in both visual and audio sensations. Players can with the right stick slide without changing direction and try to limit digging through the snow, but the whole thing gets complicated when we talk about jumping and tricks (I’ll get to that later on). The two other disciplines are sympathetic, but the wingsuit is a great thrill and can be difficult to master especially in the higher ranked trials, like attempting to go full speed between two trees with less than 4 meters from the ground. Paragliding is the least fun of all, and I mainly used it to move to places otherwise inaccessible with the other sports.
We thus come to the other great paradox of Steep, which constantly hesitates between exacerbated reality and uninhibited arcade. When it comes to tricks, the management of the jumps is at best simplistic. There is almost no real pleasure in attempting incredible tricks, especially since the scoring system can give you a huge bonus by landing close to a “dangerous” zone (like a tree or rock) by doing a simple “melon” grab, instead of actually giving you an extra boost for doing a perfect 1440 degrees spin. Your avatar is able to perform all these aerobatics and jump at ease, land with without breaking its ankles but can sometimes wallow in a straight line because you’re going too fast, and that’s just the silly “G-Force” system implemented here. You see, the game has a sort of “health” bar for your character., linked to the management of its endurance, and reaching the lowest points will have your avatar crash.
But despite all the reproaches, all bugs, worrisome camera angles, the illegible map and an imposed multiplayer, Steep knows how to have fun with its players. Never had I’ve seen a snow so well rendered and the sound of my skis sliding alone made the biggest impact in term of immersion. If you’re a fellow skier like myself, I would even advise you to cut down the voices and music volume, to simply enjoy the ambient sounds. Steep has everything you want from a Sandbox game, but lacks some tools to really assume its full potentials, and if one believes the evolution of the latest Ubisoft titles like The Division or The Crew, one can imagine that the best is perhaps yet to come in the future.
Steep was reviewed using a Xbox One downloadable code of the game provided by Ubisoft Middle East. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC via digital and retail releases. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• These mountains are just astounding
• A huge playground
• Very realistic sensation of skiing and snowboarding
• No loading time!
• A screenshot and video machine
• Very cool between friends (when it works)
• Great soundtrack
• The dialogues are boring and cliche
• So much product placement
• That map UI needs to be redesigned
• Forced multiplayer
• A gameplay neither arcade nor simulation
• Some weird collision problems