Release date: 2nd December 2016
Platforms: Xbox, PS4, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch
Steep brings snowboarding, skiing, wingsuiting, paragliding and a whole new approach to the Ubisoft open world formula.
The Ubisoft formula has long been to have players immersed in grand open world experiences. Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, The Division, Ghost Recon, The Crew, the open worlds speak for themselves. You’d be forgiven for thinking Steep was more of the same. Sure, it takes place in an open world version of the Alps (and Alaska) and players discover more things on the vast map as they go, but this is pretty much where the similarities to the other Ubisoft titles ends.
Here they have created a world that is a vast playground. Sure, it’s filled with various challenges and stories for players to engage with but once you’ve done the first couple you can essentially go wherever you want and do whichever activity you enjoy most. The open world is your oyster so to speak. Yes, some of the most fun I’ve had in gaming in years has come from trying to better myself or my friends on the game’s readymade challenges, but there’s nothing forcing me to do these.
The game awards XP from pretty much everything you do. This means that you can do what you enjoy and still level up. There are six separate “styles” that essentially award you XP for different things. You enjoy exploring the mountain sides? Earn Explorer XP. You enjoy doing freestyle jumps and tricks? Earn Freestyler XP. You enjoy doing extreme stunts? Earn Extreme XP. You enjoy ragdolling your avatar down every mountainside you see? Earn Bone Collector XP. It seems whatever you enjoy you can find a way to make this a way to progress your avatar. This means if you really don’t enjoy the challenges, you can pretty much ignore them after you get to level 3.
If you did this though, you’d really be missing out. Some of the challenges are superb fun. I can’t remember the last game in which I sat for hours to try to perfect one challenge. I’ve done that multiple times with Steep. Some of the wingsuit challenges in particular, at first glance, appear to be totally impossible. In fact, even after dozens of attempts some of these challenges still had me stumped. One challenge, La Fileuse, a friend and I spent a solid 3 or 4 hours repeatedly attempting. Why? Because we could see ourselves progressing. Slowly but surely we’d work out how to make the next checkpoint, then the next, pushing each other and learning from each other as we went. When I finally managed to nail the last check point, I was followed seconds later by my mate. Then we set about trying to outdo each other’s times.
The game tracks your best times and scores on various leader boards. When you’re grouped up you have a group leader board that shows how you’re doing in that particular group session, then you have a leader board among your friends on Xbox Live, PSN or Ubisoft Club (depending on your platform). Finally you have a leader board that shows the best of the day, best of the week and best of all time. I can honestly say that this level of comparison is a real boon for the competitive player in me. I push myself to improve scores and times to see if I can get on weekly and daily leader boards. I’ve not managed to hit an all-time record yet (some of the player base is quite clearly insanely good). I have managed daily and weekly leader board credits. My personal favourite is a wingsuit challenge called Spring Water. Here you have to get the highest score over a twisting and bending course, hitting checkpoints along the way. You get a higher score from flying as close as possible to the ground and going as fast as possible. My record score of over 63k is pretty good, but it’s about 9k behind the all-time best. One day perhaps.
Aside from the challenges, there are a number of community creations that will pop up on the map as you search for locations to throw yourself from. There are also “mountain stories.” These are activities that are voiced by the mountains themselves. It’s a little bit weird but a nice way of getting to understand what kind of terrain is going to be thrown at you on a given mountain. Some are fantastically steep and require nerves of steel; others have more gradual inclines but are peppered with ice fields or covered in forests. If I’m honest, I find these activities a bit extraneous as I’ve usually done a few challenges first and have a good idea of what the mountain is due to throw at me. By that point, I’m not really that bothered what the mountain has to say on the matter. It’s a nice idea though and maybe for those players who really enjoy exploring the map will enjoy these activities more.
So what about the sports themselves? How do they play? Well I think a lot comes down to personal taste. I prefer the snowboard and the wingsuit. Skiing is very similar to snowboarding but I find myself getting turned around too often, also I think the jumps and tricks look cooler with a snowboard. Doing tricks depends largely on timing the release of the right trigger just right. From there, it’s down to the speed and direction of the spin you want to put on your jump with the left stick while grabbing the board with left or right trigger combined with the right stick. It sounds complicated and it does take a little bit of getting used to but the reward for getting the controls down is a game with a huge variety of moves.
Wingsuits feel suitably fast and unforgiving. You mess up in a wingsuit and you’re going to get KO’d. Luckily there’s no death in Steep as my avatar would probably have died a few hundred thousand times by now. The wingsuit is controlled by the left and right sticks. The left stick controls pitch and yaw. By pulling back you slow down, by pushing forward you dive and pick up speed. You can turn left and right but need to be wary of losing altitude as you do so. The right stick allows you to twist left and right at speed, ideal for dodging rocky outcrops hurtling towards you at a rate of knots. I’m okay in a wingsuit, I can do well in a few of the challenges such as the aforementioned La Fileuse and Spring Water. There are people out there doing some incredible stunts though and I encourage you to check out some of the Steep stunt vids on YouTube.
The weakest sport for me has to be paragliding. It’s okay if you’re looking to chill out floating over the amazing mountainous backdrop but otherwise it’s just not really fun. In the paragliding challenges you’re often looking to glide up to a higher summit by using updrafts close to cliff edges. I’m sure there’s more to it than this but it’s just too slow for me. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way as my friends who play all find it just a bit out of step with the rest of the game.
The upcoming paid-for DLC is due to add more sports including the Winter Sled, Rocket Wings, Base Jumping and Speed Gliding. The last three of these sports are due to be introduced in the final of the 3 paid-for DLCs, the Winter Sled will land in the second one.
Luckily, along with the paid-for content, Steep is also bringing free DLC expansions to the game. The first of these was part of the Alaskan wilderness has already launched. It’s actually really good too. There’s plenty of new spaces to explore, challenges to try and, for the stunt-inclined, lots more buildings and rails to grind on.
So the big question, is this worth a punt? I got Steep at Christmas thinking it would be a nice game to play between all the other stuff I have to play. I’ve spent more than 86 hours in the game since then. It’s certainly a game you can play between other titles; it can be a total chill-out game; a break from all the fighting and shooting. It can also be addictive as hell as you try to nail that perfect line or outdo that high score. It’s also the first game in almost nine years together that my girlfriend has really found fun. It got to the point I needed to set her up with her own gamertag so she can now keep track of her own progress. I guess I can’t give it a more glowing reference than that.