It’s been a while since we’ve had a good snowboarding game come around this generation. No, Mark McMorris Infinite Air wasn’t it (not even close), and SSX doesn’t really count, despite the fact it’s backwards compatible with the Xbox One. We’re talking about a true experience that really makes you feel like you’re taking the mountain by storm and feeling the rush as you speed down it – and Steep comes pretty close in its attempt.
Ubisoft’s effort takes a much different approach to extreme sports games. Rather than giving you a series of pre-set courses, it demands that you explore at your own pace across a huge mountain-filled area, discovering new spots with the help of your binoculars and then taking the world by storm, using either a snowboard, a set of skis, a paragliding kit or a wingsuit.
There are pre-set challenges in each area where you don’t really have much choice, but that’s not a bad thing, as you’ll get acquainted with all of your tools right away. Perhaps the ideal choice is the snowboard, as it offers slightly better maneuverability than skis – although to each their own. The wingsuit is used quite often as well, as you’ll fly your way through a number of courses, getting as close to the ground as possible for bonus points without crashing – unless, you know, you want a Wile E. Coyote-style moment where you go “poof” into the ground.
But you can also set your own challenges to send off to others within the game, should you find an unstamped course that you feel would keep them on your toes. Steep does really well when it comes to sharing these, as we tackled a number of these and came away impressed by everything you can put into place with one. In fact, they add a bit of longevity to the game long after you’ve conquered everything else that the mountain has to offer. You can also race against friends at any time (always a treat, provided you don’t all crash into things), or challenge the best times they post on a particular course – and there are some that will keep you coming back for more.
The gameplay, however, is a mixed bag. That’s not to say that Steep doesn’t play well, because it does. The snowboarding and skiing feel very natural, and even without the large plethora of tricks that you’d find in, say, SSX Tricky, it’s got a realism level that’s hard to shake. The wingsuit, too, is magnificent, as you’ll fly your way through a number of downhill courses and swear that you can feel the wind blowing on your face. The only weak area is the paragliding. It’s too slow to be considered any sort of entertaining. Sure, the views from up high are spectacular, but this feels more like an activity that would be right at home in something like, say, Pilotwings, and not necessarily a game of this nature.
Also, we couldn’t help but feel there was a lack of progression within the game. You can earn new gear, sure, but there’s nothing that’s genuinely “new” after a few hours of play. There are new courses, to be sure, but you’re mostly doing the same thing as you go down them, no matter what your choice of transport may be. There would’ve been benefits from opening up new tricks to unlock, or being able to personify your rider with style changes that would have opened up their type of play in a subtle but noticeable manner. What we wouldn’t have given to see Eddie from SSX pop into a world like this.
But there are some touches in the game that are still worth checking out. The custom replay engine, for example, is gold, as Ubisoft teamed up with GoPro to use some great “extreme” angles, like a head-mounted camera that looks ridiculous when you’re going to a triple flip. Being able to share these replays is nice as well, as you can pretty much make your own skiing/snowboarding film if you’re good enough. Granted, you won’t reach Warren Miller status, but you can try.
And that leads us to the game’s visuals, which are wondrous. Being able to see out beyond the slopes as far as the eye can see is something really cool, and the exploration factor really pays off here when you discover golden new areas that you can call your own. We would’ve liked a little easier navigation when it came to the world map (it’s hard to peg down certain challenges with its setting), but overall this is a stunning-looking title that takes advantage of its hardware. Plus, the animations are superb, whether you’re trying to keep your stance after a rather tricky jump, or going head first into a rock following a crazy run in your wingsuit. (It’s neck-snappingly good – and, no, nothing’s wrong with us.)
The audio’s pretty good as well. The sound effects are pretty sweet as you coast downhill, and the music choices aren’t bad, though we do prefer SSX’s groovy soundtrack compared to these pretty good selections. That’s just personal preference, though – you can probably use something like Microsoft Music or Spotify to blare your own soundtrack and have a field day. (Go with something along the lines of Primus or Five Finger Death Punch – those are our preferential picks.)
Steep has its small share of problems that keep it from reaching legendary status, like the SSX series. But it also has something those games don’t – an open space that you can literally call your playground, whether you’re alone or with friends. The gameplay, while simple, is easy to grasp and fun to get into; the presentation is quite cool when it comes to recreating the thrill of extreme sports in the mountains; and the extras are abundant, with lots to do even if you’ve gotten a gold medal in pretty much everything. If hitting fresh powder is your thing – or you’ve always had a yearning to let out your “extreme” beast without risking injury – then Steep is just the rush you need this holiday season.
RATING: Four out of five stars.
Disclaimer: A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.