Available on PS4 (version tested), Xbox One and PC this winter
At every E3 Ubisoft, unveils a big new game at the close of its press conference. This year it was Steep, an extreme sports snowy adventure that sees players ski, snowboard and parachute their ways across the beautiful French mountains.
Usually these unveilings get a raucous reception from the audience, setting Twitter ablaze. Steep was different. It failed to garner much excitement from those in attendance at its reveal playing it has done little to change my opinion.
Steep gives you free reign in an open world environment across the Alps and Alaska. You can choose whether to don a pair of skis, a snowboard, wingsuit or paraglide your way around the powder-white planes. There will be plenty of challenges around the mountains where you can try and beat your fiends and improve your own scores, too.
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In the hands-on session, we got free reign across a small snippet of the Alps with a series of challenges. The first thing that immediately impressed was how quickly the game can snap you in and out of any location. The technology appears to have been taken straight from The Crew: press a button to bring up the world map, move a cursor to where you want to go, press another button and you’re there immediately. It’s been improved vastly over Ubisoft’s open-world racer and brings a much greater immediacy to moving from mission to mission.
First up is a downhill race. On the snowboard, I pass through a marker to begin the mission, and instantly three AI racers join in, each representing the different times needed to obtain a bronze, silver or gold medal. The instantaneous nature of everything is nice, not having to pause to setup a race, or wait for the game to load the scenario a la Need for Speed is great. However, there still remain plenty of issues.
For starters the actual race wasn’t very fun. Slipping and sliding between the trees and mountain cottages is fine, but nothing more. At any time you crash, you can hold the Y button to restart the entire thing. This is OK at first, but if you find yourself concussed at the final turn, you’ll soon start begging for a rewind button like Forza Horizon does so well, instead of an entire restart of a three-minute race.
After the race (which I didn’t know that, once you cross the finish line, the game keeps on going, so I head face first into a tree), I jump into map-view and try out a squirrel suit race.
This was a bit confusing: I'm told to stick to the race line to score points. However, the way points were rewarded felt completely arbitrary. Random numbers were being rewarded to me no matter how close or far from the race line I was. Also, thanks to uninspiring and sluggish controls, the racing felt as limp as it did while snowboarding.
So far, so not so good. I try out a trick mission. Finally, something I can sink my teeth into. I love SSX Tricky and have been dying for a sequel for years. Here’s a place where Steep can finally shine. Nope. Once again controls and a lack of ‘pazazz’ let’s this personality-vacant experience down.
The downhill begins and I hit the first ramp, right trigger is to jump. I find out that you rotate the right stick to do flips, left stick to try and land on your feet. How do you do all the grabs, tricks and all the insane stuff we’re used to seeing in these games? Right trigger.
That’s it, one button for all the grabs. So every jump becomes a monotonous series of hold right trigger, rotate right stick, grab right trigger gain, stick the landing. There is no control over trying to gain combos and pull off the best moves like you can do in every other board game. It’s dull.
My major problem with Steep is that it’s all a little too serious. As a kid I used to love SSX Tricky, Tony Hawk’s and Tony Hawk’s Underground. In those games, the only thing that mattered was going as fast as you could for as long as you could, maintaining your score combo while doing the most risky tricks to get a multi-million score while an outrageously-good soundtrack blasted through your CRT. None of that is present in Steep.
It lacks any sense of personality and does nothing to make me want to play more of it. It presents itself as a ‘groundbreaking new genre’, but SSX tried doing this in its last outing and failed because the audience doesn’t want a serious snowboarding game.
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It’s too vanilla. Lacking the personality of Underground and the complexity of Skate, it lies in an awkward middle ground that fails to deliver any real engaging experience.
Normally, Ubisoft’s big game reveal at its press conference is at least 18 months from launch. Steep is coming out in 2016, leaving little time for the major work it needs to happen. I don’t think this will be a game that many will take to heart, let alone be inclined to the Alps.