Doing 1080s In A Winter Wonderland
HIGH Gorgeous snowy mountains to explore on the ground or in the air.
LOW: The mountains are filled with forgettable missions and events.
WTF: The first person GOPRO camera view is so out of control it’s unusable.
It’s that time of the year. Holiday decorations, cold weather and of course, snow. Just in time for the season, Ubisoft has released their new winter sports extravaganza, Steep.
Steep is set in a giant open world based on the Alps, and the land is filled with huge mountains, icy lakes and snow-covered cabins. Exploring this world is one of the best parts of Steep, and I had a few options to choose from because it allows players to snowboard, ski, walk, wingsuit and paragliding. These movement modes can be swapped between at any time.
No matter what the player chooses, all of them are animated quite nicely despite a few hiccups here and there, like seeing my character trudging through snow that wasn’t there on a wooden walkway. That said, the animations and movement in Steep are generally impressive, and having the ability to fast travel and restart without hitting a loading screen makes it easy to get around.
…And players will want to get around. The snow is bright and white, and the landscape is gorgeous and sharp, and even distant mountains seem to have a great amount of detail. Steep has a day/night cycle, and when the sun lowers and the moon rises, the winter wonderland at night looks even more incredible — I found myself frequently taking screenshots.
While Steep is beautiful and exploring is good for a time, the gameplay lacks personality and a sense of purpose.
The main loop is exploring the map, finding a “drop point” and then unlocking it by using binoculars. Once unlocked, drop points open new events to play and can be used to move around the map. This is a useful feature since it lets players skip long treks back up a mountain after snowboarding down, but simply unlocking points quickly became dull and the events that the points unlock don’t make Steep any more exciting.
The events ask players to do things like win a race or score a lot of points, and they’re presented with little fanfare. A few events — very few — try to be funny or do something strange like having a mountain spirit talk to the player, but those are the exception to the rule. I did like the fact that most events let the player choose between snowboarding or skiing. While they never feel terribly different, having the option is nice. Unfortunately, the ‘big points’ events highlight one of the biggest problems I had with Steep— the trick controls are awful.
To do a trick the player has to hold down the right trigger, then as the player reaches the edge of a jump, they release the right trigger and then push one of the sticks in a direction to rotate. To grab the board the player has to hold a trigger. What ends up happening? A lot of mashing triggers and flicking sticks. It never feels intuitive or natural, and even after a dozen hours I was still having problems with basic jumps.
Maybe I was doing the tricks wrong, but if so, I blame that on Steep. The game gives little feedback when jumping. Or tricking. Or crashing. Or whatever. I would wipe out numerous times and not know why. When I was randomly able to pull off a successful run and get a gold medal, I just felt confused and thankful I could move on.
When not on the mountain, there are customization and progression systems, but they’re mostly focused on earning money to buy new clothes and equipment. The player also gains experience to unlock new events, but that’s about it. Steep wants to be skill based, so nothing that’s unlocked or bought actually changes a character’s stats. It’s a nice idea, but such a design takes away any real reason to level up.
I should mention that Steep offers seamless online multiplayer integration, but like another of Ubisoft’s properties, The Division, I rarely saw large groups of players and never found it to be something worth digging into. Players can group up with other players and friends to do events or just free roam, but if the core game isn’t entertaining enough on its own, I don’t see much reason to drag friends into it.
All in all, Steep is a gorgeous game that was never able to keep my attention. On paper it seems to have everything it needs to succeed — multiplayer, a big world to explore, lots of things to do, different ways to play — but wandering the mountain and taking part in generic events lacks excitement and personality. I doubt I’ll remember it exists in a year, which is a shame because that moonlit landscape is just breathtaking.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Ubisoft Annecy and published by Ubisoft. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One and Windows PC. This copy of the game was obtained via a code provided by Ubisoft and reviewed on the Playstation 4. Approximately 13 hours of play were devoted to the game, and Steep was not completed. Multiplayer is seamlessly integrated with singleplayer.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Teen and contains Language. There’s some mild language, occasionally characters will say damn, hell or shit. Some crashes can look violent, but players never “die” instead, they just get knocked out and no blood is ever shown.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles are provided to the player. Sound isn’t very important outside of one specific mechanic — when looking for drop points, players are instructed to listen for a “crystal shimmering” noise. Without this noise it can be hard to locate points.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.