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Proudly unveiled at E3 2016, Ubisoft were clearly trying to do something different with Steep for while there have certainly been a slew of snowboarding games before it, the market has for the most part been dominated by the SSX and Coolboarders series, which with their fantastical edge and colourful characters, gave players all the thrills and spectacle of snowboarding without any of the broken bones, especially for those gamers who only wish to feel the cold when they go to the fridge for another beer.
With Steep, Ubisoft have essentially found the next natural evolution for snowboarding titles by making this a sandbox game and essentially giving players a whole winter playground to explore and experiment within. At the same time, they go one better by allowing players to not only snowboard these mountains but also ski, paraglide or wingsuit, able to explore the peaks and slopes of the Alps.
It’s a stunning world that Ubisoft have crafted for their players, complete with jumps, villages and ruins to play around with while you can also jump from a number of balloon platforms setup around the map to really maximise the use of the wingsuit as these courses often see you flying through rocky crevices and ski lift pillars. Like with the Ski / Snowboarding options there is a real sense of speed and realism to the gameplay while high jumps will impact your character with G-forces that has to be recovered from or risk wiping out.
Designed as an online game, you can encounter any number of players on the slopes who you can issue challenges to or just go exploring with and it’s kind of refreshing to see other people zipping about the slopes and not have that the fear that your suddenly going to be clubbed for your gear. At the same time if you’re more of a solo gamer you can still go at it by yourself. How you choose to play the game is really up to the you and it’s a refreshing sense of freedom more so when at the same time you have the option to switch to any of the sports on a whim. You can even choose to walk around the mountain ranges to get to that exact starting location you want or perhaps because you just feel like wandering around and exploring your surroundings on foot.
Right from the start the whole mountain range is available to explore with the option to fast travel to any point on the map or any of the events which unlock as you earn medals from time trials, hitting check points or beating trick scores. This ability to fast travel really streamlines the experience, making it easy to do what you want rather than having to trek back up the mountain at the end of each completed run. At the same time it’s equally quick to restart an event if you mess up which is especially helpful for those gamers looking to complete a perfect run. Exploration though is a big part of the game with the option to discover new runs using the binoculars as you explore the slopes.
The weakest of these four sports are the paragliding sections, which lack the speed of the other elements, and while there might be some enjoyment to be found in floating around the mountains slowing the game to a crawl like this really is kind of a come down. More frustrating is the fact for all this illusion of freedom you will eventually hit the point were your forced to complete these sections in order to unlock the next set of events. It would have been great to have made these parts optional but sadly this is not the case. The wingsuit sections can also be unforgiving at times, especially with the points being scored on how close you can glide to the ground. Precision really plays a big part and while you get a feel for the controls, it can lead to a fair amount of trail and error, which some gamers might not seem as being worth the effort.
While there is no option to create your character from scratch with the player instead being given a selection of interesting yet interchangeable male and female characters to choose from. These are really just the base though for you to dress up with the huge selection of outfits and equipment, which surprisingly don’t add anything to your performance other than making you look like the most fashionable organ donor on the mountain when you wipe out for the umpteenth time. Still, amongst the usual neon patterns and stylish designs there are a few humorous costume pieces such as the animal outfits that your rider can don if the urge grabs you.
It’s this humour element which really highlights one of the issues with the game: Its mixed tone. For a while you might be able to dress like a snowboarding ram, racing alongside the mountain completing, stories which often play out with you following a ghost snowboarder down the course while you’re subjected to new-age tunes that are supposed to be the mountain talking at you but which will no doubt have you hunting for that mute button instead. On the surface, Steep presents itself as a serious winter sports sim, but it never seems to be able to figure out what tone the game is supposed to be taking, especially when you’re being hit with these segments on one ride, while another has you riding into evil snowmen or hunting for a singing tree (yes, really) and while it might not take anything away from the gameplay, it’s certainly distracting.
The difficulty of the events are for the most part fairly-balanced with the scoring events achievable through practice and familiarity of the courses though during the play testing for this review I never managed to figure out the technique for the half pipe, and judging by the amount of resetting players around me on this section it would appear that I’m not alone. Equally frustrating are the time trials whose requirements are so tight its often frustrating to try and hit the required medal times, which saw me often putting them off as long as possible.
Despite the game having its flaws, many of these can be worked around or at least easily put off, leaving you to enjoy the stunning open world that Ubisoft have created with this game. Unquestionably a game-changer for extreme sports titles, even if perhaps it doesn’t provide the same arcade style action that players got with the likes of the SSX / Coolboarder series, this is still a lot of fun with the sense of freedom to essentially go anywhere and do anything a worthy trade.