Steep Review

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Review of: Steep Review
gaming:
Eric Hall

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3.5
On December 7, 2016
Last modified:December 7, 2016

Summary:

Whether you're speeding across the Monte Rosa in a wing-suit, or casually riding down the Ortles, Steep is an enjoyable winter playground. And, with a few tweaks and fixes, both minor and major, from Ubisoft Annecy, it could eventually develop into a great one.

The extreme sports genre has fallen on hard times over the past decade. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater has devolved into a joke, while the likes of SSX and Skate haven’t released new entries since 2012 and 2010, respectively. The amount of games that flooded the marketplace since the start of the century likely led to this decline, but if any publisher is keeping up with whatever demand there is, it’s arguably Ubisoft. The French giant has been responsible for bringing us the critically acclaimed Trials series, and now they’ve shifted their focus to a more realistic direction with Steep.

To get this out of the way now, if you’re going into Steep expecting something similar to EA’s iconic SSX franchise, you’re going to be disappointed. Ubisoft Annecy’s winter sports title is more interested in depicting the extreme action in a realistic manner. The studio also wants to let players decide how they want to approach the game. Set in a massive open-world version of the Alps, you’re pretty much given free reign to ride the mountains as you wish. Whether you’re more into doing tricks or just exploring the wilderness at your own pace, you’ll find plenty of opportunities here.

Rather than just focus on one specific style of winter sporting, Steep offers up four different ways to approach the mountains. The most recognizable style comes from either skiing or snowboarding. There’s not much that differentiates these two sports, at least in the world of the game, so you’re pretty much getting the same experience regardless of preference. Thankfully, there are plenty of chances to either speed down the mountain or explore uncharted locations. Besides being a nice way to relax, you’ll want to spend time on riding all over the Alps, as you can only unlock new drop zones by discovering them in person.

For the more extreme athletes out there, the game also offers up two different aerial-based activities. For the daredevil buried in all of us, the wing-suit is an exhilarating way to get your kicks. Generating ridiculous speed, the wing-suit is Steep at its most extreme. It’s not particularly helpful for exploration, but when it comes to racing or creating time trials to be shared online, it’s hard to beat the sports’ style of action. If you want a more easygoing way to travel through the air, then maybe paragliding will be more your speed. Moving much slower, yet somehow unwieldy to control, the gliding apparatus is perfect for taking in the sights of the Alps, whether you’re doing it to scout new drop zones, or just trying to take a pretty picture.

Utilizing the four different sports, players can characterize their playstyle through six different skill trees: bone collector, explorer, extreme rider, freerider, freestyler and pro rider. By doing various activities during your time in the Alps, you’ll build up experience in each one of these techniques. For instance, the more time you spend crashing and burning, the higher your bone collector level will go up. However, if you’re more interested in actually landing tricks, than your freestyler level will climb. These arbitrary attributes may seem obnoxious, but since you don’t need to focus on one specific area, and the fact that you’re pretty much always accumulating points, means that these are more unnecessary than anything else.

There’s more to Steep than just mindlessly riding massive snowy hills, though. There are two different types of missions found in the game. Challenges are your standard extreme sports fare, which encompasses everything from races to freestyle competitions. And while there’s no narrative found, the other type of mission, Mountain Stories, offers up some interesting narration. Tying in with the exploration aspect of the game, missions can only be unlocked by either reaching a new level, or by finding them on the map. If you find yourself with nothing to do, feel free to explore the map in search of a new batch of challenges.

Of the two, Mountain Stories provide the more unique experience in Steep. Once you agree to take on one of these missions, you’ll get a narration from an entity that I believe is supposed to be the mountain itself. It’s a little odd, to say the least. Following that strangeness, you’re given a challenge that’s typically different from any other story. One of the earliest Mountain Stories just wanted me to follow around a fellow athlete while paragliding, which opened up a beautiful view of the horizon, while a later challenge wanted me to locate a singing tree. Again, the narration that accompanies these Mountain Stories is a little silly, but the missions found within them are more interesting than you would expect.

The regular challenges lack the creativity of the Mountain Stories, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth checking out. Typically, these missions come down to one of two types: time trials and freestyle events. The time trials are the more enjoyable of the two simply because racing down the Alps is a blast, no matter what the sport is. Dodging trees and gliding around snowbanks is a treat when you’re skiing or snowboarding, but the real thrills comes from the speedy wing-suit. Not only do you typically need to dodge cliffs, trees and buildings while flying through the air at a ridiculously fast speed, but in order to ace these missions, you’ll need to fly as close to the ground as possible. These moments of intensity are some of the best examples for why Steep should exist in the first place. It’s flavor of daredevil action has become an anomaly in the current gaming landscape, and I had forgotten just how exhilarating these races could be.

It’s the other side of the challenge structure of Steep that I take issue with. Even if the game is not trying to be like other extreme sports titles, a strong trick system has always been a cornerstone of the genre. And while I appreciate that Ubisoft Annecy is not specifically focused on this aspect, that doesn’t make up for how cumbersome the system here is. How it works is that when you’re getting ready to go aerial while skiing or snowboarding, you need to hold down the shoulder button. Right before you leave the ground, you then release the button in order to gain air. During that same window of time, you can either move the analog stick up or down to do a flip, or left or right to a spin. From there, you can grab your board/ski for a different trick. Sounds simple, right?

At least, it would be if there was more consistency to it. I’m not sure whether the window here is incredibly brief, or if doing tricks is just broken, but even doing simple spins is seemingly a 50/50 possibility. It often felt like a crapshoot as to whether or not my rider was going to do anything at all when he went up in the air. Sometimes he’ll do a nifty trick, other times he’ll just sit there like a dolt. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to repeatedly do a challenge because you’re trying to cobble together a good run using a borderline broken system.

If that wasn’t obnoxious enough, the off-kilter physics of Steep make things even more challenging. To be fair, at least 75% of the time, everything reacts in a realistic manner. If you go flying into a building, you’re going to get fucked up. It’s the other 25% that’s extremely noticeable when it doesn’t work, though. Landing tricks, again, if you manage to actually do any, is inconsistent, as you can land with your board/skis completely level, but still wipe out. Other times, you’ll barely make a flip, while also landing on rocks, and your rider will shake it off like it’s nothing. It’s such an odd issue to have in the game that I expect it to get patched at some point, but for now, it’s worth pointing out.

The open-world provided by the gigantic map of the Alps created by Ubisoft Annecy is the main selling point for Steep, but I’m not sure it’s as great as it could be. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy just cruising down a peak until I reach the end of the map, but like fellow Ubisoft property The Crew, this massive area feels almost completely lifeless. You’re not going to see any animals milling about, nor are you going to see any NPCs enjoying the various lodges scattered around the map. The burgeoning online population helps fill out the world, but I just wish there was more life and variety within the map itself.

Furthermore,┬áthere are a litany of smaller bugs and oddball decision choices that should have been corrected. On the glitch side of the problem spectrum is the slowdown that occurs in certain races and the fact that your rider can sometimes get stuck on building and other objects. C’mon guys, let’s crack down on this stuff.

As for weird design decisions, why can’t I pause a race or freestyle session without having to start the whole thing over? Is it because of the always online nature of the game? Or why can’t I properly filter the map in order to mark off previously completed challenges? It’s little, nagging issues like these that should have been really cleaned up prior to release.

As it stands right now, Steep is a good game that just needs some tweaks in order to become a great one. The foundation is set, as whether you want to chill out or tear it up, you can find a drop zone to do it from. The colossal rendition of the Alps from Ubisoft Annecy is an excellent, and stunning, playground for the winter warriors out there. The studio just needs to hunker down and fix the nagging flaws that are currently plaguing the game. Whether it’s a big issue like the frustrating trick system, or something smaller like the inability to mark off completed challenges on the world map, these are things that can be fixed. Ubisoft has shown the ability to learn from their flaws in subsequent products, and hopefully that’ll be the case here as well.

This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided for us.

Steep Review
Good

Whether you're speeding across the Monte Rosa in a wing-suit, or casually riding down the Ortles, Steep is an enjoyable winter playground. And, with a few tweaks and fixes, both minor and major, from Ubisoft Annecy, it could eventually develop into a great one.