When it comes to videogames and snowboarding, I find myself in a unique position. Most of the hardcore skiers and riders I know don’t really play videogames, and if they do, it’s a casual game of Skate or NHL. On the flipside, most of the people I know who are really passionate about videogames don’t ski or snowboard, and if they do it’s usually once-a-year at a local hill. So really, my complaints about why Ubisoft’s extreme sports title Steep isn’t a great videogame will go over the heads of skiers and riders looking for a fun game to play involving their favourite sport. On the inverse, trying to tell my fellow couch-dwelling pals who prefer their sports experience to be digital won’t understand why I prefer to go outside in -20 degrees celcius weather and play in the snow all day rather than doing it on my PlayStation.
What I’m trying to say is Steep doesn’t really have an audience that will care about its flaws. If you’re a skier or rider that wants a decent way to pass the time between closing and opening you’re going to dig this game. If you’re a gaming enthusiast that hates going outdoors you’re also probably going to enjoy this game, as it is the best snowbarding/skiing sim on the market—despite multiple issues. Keep that in mind when reading this review. I’m basically a unicorn, and my opinion is that of someone who is deeply immersed in both cultures.
First things first—in Steep, players can ski, snowboard, wingsuit and paraglide. However, after about 15 minutes of doing the latter, players will likely get bored and go back to the former. The wingsuit sections involve blasting down a mountain at high speed, gaining points for close calls and avoiding deadly features at the last second. Other than increasing their score, or besting that of other human players, that’s about it—the wingsuit sections get pretty boring pretty quickly. On the plus side, the motion blur and sense of speed is fantastic, and while the fundamental mechanics get rather tiring, the aesthetics and feedback are great.
The paragliding sections are terrible. I won’t even get into that.
Getting to the heart of the game, and the feature players will spend most of their time playing: the skiing and snowboarding. Players are able to free-ride over varying terrain in a giant open world full of peaks, chutes, drops, parks, and other terrain. The only problem is, there’s no real difference between any of these areas. The snow is the same everywhere, jumps are deep powder, the glades are deep powder, the sections in town are deep powder—you get the point. Because of this, even though each unlocked area looks different, it still rides the same. Combine this with a very limited trick selection (no jibbing, no bonking, no sliding) and it leads to fatigue and boredom, especially in the terrain park sections. Why bother hitting a park jump when you can do the same trick off a natural feature? There’s no sense of progression or reward when all the tricks are the same on every section of the hill. Corking out spins or tweaking grabs feels great, and Ubisoft handled the control scheme rather well, but it’s so limited that it’s hard to praise. Dropping a cliff into a steep pillow line is an entirely different feeling to snapping off a groomed park feature, yet in Steep, it all blends into the same thing.
On to my next complaint then. Steep is very much an Ubisoft game. By that I mean there are a ton of needless features crammed into the game to ostensibly increase the depth and progression. Along with that, there is a plethora of on-screen pollution to distract and dilute the “pure open-world freeride experience” they were going for. Icons, mini maps, and a million little markers constantly flash across the screen in a noisy mess. “Go here next! Beat this score! Unlock this area!” It’s all too much, and feels forced into the game because that’s just how AAA titles function these days. Character levelling and unlocks can be fun if the sense of progression is natural and rewarding, but the levelling system means very little considering my blank-slate character can do the exact same things, regardless of his level. Of course, players can unlock all sorts of equipment and cosmetic upgrades, but this also has no real point. Every deck rides the same, whether a directional, torpedo shaped powder board or a true-twin park board, so there is no real point in changing.
Oh, it’s also always online, and a sort of MMO, which is kind of neat. If the gameplay wasn’t so basic and boring, competing with other random players online might be fun. The mountains also talk to you, because every game needs cheesy voice acting and cinematics.
At the end of the day, Steep is a decent game. It does enough right that simply sitting down and blasting off natural features tweaking out a huge method is fun. However, all the unnecessary mechanics forced into the game to make it longer and deeper only bring the experience down and make it feel like a game designed with a checklist in mind. Even with it’s formulaic approach, Steep is a gorgeous game, and the controls are pretty tight, but for $79.99 CAD you’d be better off grabbing an actual lift ticket and riding a real hill, or spending the same amount on old copies of SKATE and SSX.