Editor's Note – Ubisoft has not made review copies of Steep available to the press until launch day, as such our review will be a little bit late. For now you can enjoy our recent preview of the game and we'll get you a review as soon as possible.
Available on PS4, Xbox One and PC December 5
In this risk-averse industry, Steep is a refreshingly unique proposition. Unveiled by Ubisoft at this year’s E3, this unexpected announcement not only introduced the world to a new franchise but also shone the spotlight on one of the publisher’s least known studios – Ubisoft Annecy. Nestled away in a quiet French mountain town, this team of under 200 has spent the last 12 years quietly working on the multiplayer components of some of gaming’s biggest franchises.
While impressive, single-handedly delivering the multiplayer for many iterations of Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed doesn’t exactly seem to make Ubisoft Annecy the obvious choice to develop a snowboarding game. Yet you only have to take a quick glance at a map to see why the studio is a perfect fit. Sitting in the picturesque French town of Annecy, the towering peaks of Steep’s main inspiration, Mont Blanc, are visible from every desk at the studio.
Annecy is a town that lives and breathes winter sports, playing host to world renowned annual big air competition, High Five and housing the headquarters of world renowned Ski manufacturer, Salomon. With the mountains being such a big part of the team’s day to day lives, it’s hardly surprising that Steep pays homage to The Alps by aiming to deliver gaming’s most realistic take on mountain sports.
As a skiier, the first thing that struck me about Steep is how well it captures the sense of excitement that comes from riding a mountain. Where series like SSX were content with just plopping players onto a snowboard and sending them down a run, Steep wants the mountain to feel like a character in itself, giving you the freedom to explore The Alps as you see fit.
Unlocking new runs and challenges requires players to keep their eyes peeled as they’re zooming down the slopes. While carving my way down a particularly treacherous Mont Blanc run, I spy a new summit glistening in the distance. Propelling myself as fast as I can down the mountain I zig-zag my way down the slope, finishing my event just in the nick of time. As I pull out my binoculars, I soon realise I’ve gone too far down the mountain. With the shiny new summits obscured by a mountain I’d already visited, I step off my board and trudge may way through the thick snow until I find a better view, pulling out my binoculars and granting access to some sweet new powder, thanks to my newly unlocked ‘drop zone’.
Each dropzone contains a wealth of challenges, allowing you to compete in everything from story missions – which see you learning about the history of the mountain – to more traditional race and trick events. The combination of off-piste adventure and more structured challenges adds a welcome sense of adventure and variety to the genre, keeping me eager to explore the mountains around me. Yet while exploring snowy summits on your own terms is a solid mechanic, it’s not just the addition of Ubisoft’s open world which makes Steep feel so unique.
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Hoping to catch all winter sports fan in one fell swoop, on the slopes you’re free to switch between four sports at any time. Steep sees you traversing mountains by ski, snowboard, paraglider or even wingsuit, allowing you to mix up your ride as you chug countless energy drinks like the gnarly bro you are. Each sport feels suitably different, with the slow and graceful paragliding letting you soak in the view as you reach new drop points and wingsuits providing a welcome aerial thrill for those wanting a faster and different kind of thrill.
As you’d probably expect from a game about snow sports though, Skiing and snowboarding steal the show here. With each sport being motion captured by professional athletes from Annecy’s Big Air festival, carving the slopes via ski or board looks and feels weighty and satisfying. This extends to the game’s trick system too, where you use a combination of triggers to grab your skis and boards, and analogue sticks to twist and flip.
Initially I found myself wiping out constantly, causing the developers to look at me with the kind of forced smile that you just know means you’ve cut them to the core. Thankfully for me and the poor developers, after half an hour I’d managed to get to grips with the system, grinning from ear to ear as I launched myself over cliffs with reckless abandon.
Thankfully, the team at Annecy have recognised that different sports and an open world are fairly pointless without catering for different playstyles. As you find new areas and complete different challenges, you’ll find yourself earning experience for different playstyles. If big air is your thing, you’ll level up your Freestyler rank, if you’re more interested in traversing the mountain range and discovering it’s secrets, then you’ll soon find yourself a high level Explorer.
This flexibility not only extends to how you traverse Steep’s world, but also the challenges you choose to do – letting you mould your experience around the sports and playstyles that suit you. While you have to level up in order to be able to unlock certain challenges, you’re rarely made to complete in any activities you don’t want to.
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While the game sadly doesn’t offer any local co-op, Steep is keen for you to challenge friends online for supremacy of the slopes. As well as being able to initiate opportunity to multiplayer challenges, competing with up to three others, the game also cleverly lets you see which route or ‘line’ your friends took down certain slopes. You then have the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward these replays, helping you pin point a particularly challenging jump or just providing a great way to humiliate your mates.
Ubisoft’s first major sports game looks to be the rarest of things – a fun, inviting open world without a hint of violence. Impressively, Steep seems to have captured the excitement that comes from standing on top of fresh snow with your skis pointing down the mountain, offering a refreshing and addictive new take on a well worn genre.
Somehow we’ve managed to get three years into the generation without a decent snowboarding title but thankfully, it’s looking like Steep has been worth the wait.