Those who have been following the site know I love all sports games, well, except the rubber banding defenders in Madden and 2K’s nonsensical coding for three-point shots. Weirdly enough the only snow based games I ever enjoyed were the old SSX titles that were cult classics, though I wasn’t too keen on the newer releases. Even then I only played them a handful of times compared to the literal in-game decades I spent on other sports endeavors. That’s why I was excited about Ubisoft’s Steep when I first heard of it. It looked to be a mostly realistic experience with some arcade tendencies thrown in there. A chance to actually get my fingers in the genre. Luckily enough I was able to get into the closed beta a week ago and then continue my progress in the open beta later that same week. Although I came away from the beta impressed, I’m also worried about the game’s longevity.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Steep’s focus wasn’t on just skiing and snowboarding. There were equal parts dedicated to wingsuits, parachutes, and just plain walking. Ok, maybe there weren’t events pertaining to walking but you could do it all around the game’s world if you really want to. Both betas were exactly the same in content and performance, so from here on out I’ll be talking about the experience as one entity. From what I can tell, Steep has a loose story told over by electronic communication. A friend or trainer talks you through tutorials, missions, and informs you of events happening elsewhere. When I say ‘elsewhere’ I mean something that happens off-screen and is magically set up for your character. So besides the voice over the radio, you won’t really see much happening in the game’s plot, not that it matters anyway. To be fair, it’s a sports game so I don’t expect an 80’s drama where a rich jerk bullies a kid who just wants to snowboard.
Gameplay and shredding that damn mountain is the big deal. The whole journey basically takes place on one huge mountain range. You’ll be able to access different mountains or certain areas as you level up and explore, which in turn provides new challenges and events such as races, point scoring, and specific runs. Each one would vary depending on their mode of transportation used and location. Although let’s be honest, there is going to be a ton of snow and that won’t change. Looking back, most of the tracks blend together but they were diverse enough to offer a genuinely fun experience. One could have buildings and trees down the slope while another could be flanked by cliffs and snowy hills, all of which can be crashed into, unless you’re using the wingsuit, which in that case I just did my best not nosedive face-first into the ground. Naturally, some events will be harder than others due to their steepness and design, but it all seems fun so far.
You could earn up to three stars for each event and achieve high scores to brag about beyond that. The stars you achieve and levels you gain dictate what equipment you are able to unlock/buy. There’s a pretty standard selection of snowboards, jackets, pants, skis, parachutes, wingsuits, hats, and more. Some will even have special designs or brands. Best of all are complete outfits such as a full giraffe costume. Cheese and corniness will be had on these mountains… The amount of stuff to acquire and choose from were pretty plentiful for a beta and I’m hoping that wasn’t even a fraction of the full game’s content.
I’m also hoping that there will be more tricks or moves to perform in the full experience. I only tried doing score runs on a snowboard or skis but I imagine there are only so many things you can do with a wingsuit and parachute. Tricks are performed by utilising the analog sticks and moving them a certain way. Each direction allowed a certain trick to initiate as long as the R2 button is used correctly to jump off a ledge. However, there weren’t that many tricks to perform, though I learned I could do spins, flips, and a few other gnarly moves that probably have a technical name. I guess I’m just getting old… Landing such moves was super satisfying, if only due to the difficulty in pulling them off without throwing myself down the mountain. Expect broken bones, ragdoll effects, and sometimes even a KO sign on your screen when you do hit the deck, and I reckon that’ll be often since some of the game’s tasks demand that you do something silly like jump off a cabin roof. Jackass!
The entire experience can be summed up with going to different markers and making your way down the mountains. That’s why I’m worried Steep will become repetitive if the beta is any indication. For example, a friend and I didn’t feel like doing anymore challenges so we just walked freely up the mountain. Then we decided where to snowboard or wingsuit back down. Essentially we were just making our own fun which is great and all, but that may say something about the content the game offers. Plus, the loose story doesn’t offer much in the way of reward.
What is rewarding are the snow’s physics and sounds. I don’t know why but it was so satisfying just hearing the crunch of snow beneath my feet. It occurred when it should have and was extremely believable. The way it parted in front of me was also very nicely done and when walking/climbing up the mountain, small indentations would appear in the snow. Some nice touches, then.
As usual this is just a beta (no matter how close it is to actual release) and the full game could offer new things down the road. At the moment though it seems like Steep will be good for an hour or so before you find yourself wanting to do something else. That’s not a negative, mind you, as some game’s are perfectly acceptable being fun for an hour at a time. Hardcore winter sports junkies will enjoy what’s on the plate here just from the physics and different equipment alone. There’s definitely something to Steep but time will tell if it finds itself among the cherished snowboarding/skiing games of years past, or ends up in the bargain bin with Cool Runnings video tapes.
Note: An NDA was purported to exist but when consulting the FAQ for the beta we received a 404 error, and when checking in the game’s menu and forums, nothing at all was mentioned about an NDA. Ubisoft made no declaration of such on its site or social media accounts. After failing to read an actual NDA after multiple methods of trying, this article was written.