Pizza, french fries, pizza…
Extreme sports games used to flood the market, now they are a novelty at best, but in 2016 (especially at the end) there are a trio of games landing across multiple platforms looking to revive the genre. Steep is the latest, and quite honestly the most robust of the bunch, which is not surprising as it comes from Ubisoft. It features a large open-world with four different types of game play to switch between, and plenty to see and do. While it might be the most polished, it is also taking home the title of being the most convoluted. Still there is something special about Steep, once I managed to peel back its confusing layers.
Steep opens up by dumping players into its massive world, with tutorials on each of the game’s four types of traversal. There is snowboarding, skiing, the wingsuit, and even parachuting, all of which have their own dynamics, and can be switched between on-the-fly. Controls are great right from the start. While it doesn’t attempt to mimic realism as much, it also doesn’t go full arcade; striking a nice balance in between. Controls do what players expect them to do, and for the most part the game is easy to pick up and play.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $39.99
Keeping with tradition nowadays, everything in Steep earns XP, which goes to leveling up and of course unlocking new skills and gear. Skills level up as players perform tasks, so landing tricks will increase one stat, while exploration will increase another. Gear also plays a large role, and serves as the main carrot on the proverbial stick for players to push forward. New items, snowboards, hats, and much more can be unlocked, giving players a chance to customize how their rider looks. It is novel, but it works.
The world of Steep is massive, and there are many areas to tackle. Discovering new drop locations can become an addiction, and the instant restart mechanic makes challenges much more bearable over time. Being able to start a run completely over, or from a specific point in my run is a nice feature, and one that helps the tedium of some of the more difficult challenges.
There are two main types of challenges in Steep, time trials and tricks, the former being the most enjoyable. Navigating the mountain feels great, but the trick system implemented here is where the issues arise. While not broken, the trick system feels stiff and cumbersome at times. Pulling off simple tricks feels like a hassle, and I would wipe out doing the most elementary of moves. Thankfully, the instant restart is there, otherwise the game would be an exercise in frustration.
Of course, Steep’s biggest problem is that it trips over its own size. There is so much to see and keep track of in the game, and the developers have done a poor job of breaking it down. The menus are slow and clunky, on top of being confusing. It is almost impossible to tell which challenges have already been completed, and some of the traversal to the simplest of areas is a chore. The world is vast, but navigating any portion of it quickly becomes frustrating thanks to poor design. Steep is one of those games that could have been immaculate, if a few more design decisions were made with the player in mind.
Visually Steep looks great. The powder reacts and deforms great to all the traversal methods, and the frame rate behaves most of the time. PS4 Pro owners also get a nice, sharper visual look, but Xbox One still looks really nice. This is a good-looking game. It doesn’t come without blemishes though; there are plenty of weird, open-world glitches to be found. Trees to fall into, and weird animations galore. Not always bad, but mostly always entertaining.
Steep is a great game marred by odd design decisions that drag it down a few notches. With some tweaks and band-aids this could easily be one of the better games of 2016, but the nagging issues found here are enough to make me not want to play it for more than an hour or so at a time. That said, with so many other great titles hitting this time of year Steep is likely to be forgotten, but if they manage to solve its issues, and it gets a sort of fresh launch early next year, definitely keep your eyes out for it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.