Despite always being interested in giving it a go, I’ve never been snowboarding.
I’ve never been skiing, wingsuiting or paragliding either, and after spending considerable time with Ubisoft Annecy’s latest release, the open-world action sports title Steep, I don’t think I ever will.
You see, when it comes to video games I’m quite a reckless person. The type that often rushes headlong into battle before making sure I’m well enough equipped, or brakes late into corners whilst gleefully trading paint with fellow racers. If I were to ever adopt that same approach when hurtling down a snowy mountain with a board strapped to my feet, I would almost certainly die. Painfully, might I add. In Steep, you don’t have to worry about things like that. You can jump off a cliff, plummeting 100ft before landing on a craggy outcrop, and at worst have to restart your run should you knock your character out. At best, you might be rewarded for it. Despite not having to fear death though, a huge number of Steep’s events require you to reel in your enthusiasm and adopt a more measured and careful approach. For some people that might be a bit of an issue, which is understandable when you consider that the rest of its events are often bat-shit crazy.
Steep can come across as a little schizophrenic. One minute you might be required to hurtle through a dense forest in a wingsuit, accurately passing through checkpoints along the way with just one screw-up standing between you and a gold medal. Next, you might engage in a freestyle snowboarding event, where performing crazy stunts during massive jumps will more often than not see you crash and burn due to the mass of g-force upon landing. Then, to follow that up, you could possibly take on a mission to find and eradicate ten evil snowmen that are plaguing the local area. It’s a somewhat serious and challenging sports game that sometimes wants to let its hair down and tickle you with its zaniness, which is fine once you’ve got on board with it, but initially it just leaves you a little confused.
When you’ve finally made peace with Steep’s eclectic nature, you find a game that’s not only addictively enjoyable, but also absolutely bloody huge. Switching between the four disciplines available as and when required, a steady stream of events, challenges and missions unravel before you as you level up, discover new starting points and explore. It makes for an engrossing gameplay loop, challenging you to push yourself to the limit and then beyond as the difficulty ramps up. Many players, like myself, won’t be happy until they’ve achieved gold medals on each and every event they encounter, rewarding them with the highest tier of rewards including customisation items for their character. Usually it requires countless retries to hit that perfect run, but thankfully, restarting an event is a painless and instantaneous process achieved by simply holding the triangle or Y button down for a couple of seconds. It’s the little but impactful touches like that that keep you playing, rather than downing your pad in frustration.
That’s the thing with Steep though, it can be very frustrating, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s enough content on offer for you to be able to pick and choose what you do without feeling short-changed. Personally, I just couldn’t get on with paragliding. I found it useful as a method of exploration, enabling me to reach parts of map not yet explored to unlock new starting points and the like with ease, but I found the events focused on it inexplicably challenging and mind-numbingly dull. Instead, I doubled down on snowboarding, with the occasional bout of wingsuiting thrown in for good measure. However you choose to play you’ll not find yourself at a loss for things to do, especially if you group up with up to three online friends, creating your own challenges to send to each other and sharing discoveries as you play.
There are a few genuine issues with Steep that will have you cursing from time to time though, perhaps the main one being that it doesn’t explain many of its game mechanics to you very well. Upon starting the game you’re given a brief tutorial which covers the basics of snowboarding and little else, but beyond that you’re essentially expected to figure things out for yourself. It doesn’t explain how to manage the effects of g-force on your your character, for example, or how to successfully pull off tricks when paragliding. It leads to a shaky first few hours as you try to get to grips with everything on offer. When skiing or snowboarding, getting stuck on obstacles when crashing into them can also be an issue, often causing the camera to go a bit crazy. And finally, whilst Steep’s mountain view map allows you to easily access starting points and events, it quickly becomes quite cluttered, making finding specific ones a bit of a pain.
All things considered, it’s easy to recommend Steep. Winter sports fans will love the diversity of disciplines and events. Action game fans will be immersed by the vast open world and missions that demand you explore. Both will love the sheer amount of content on offer and the sublime visuals. It’s not perfect, but it’s unique; accessible, but challenging. If you fancy spending some time flying around craggy mountains or crashing down snowy slopes, though admittedly there’s not much competition, Steep is your best choice. Whether played alone or with friends, it’ll meet your extreme sports needs and more without the risk of breaking an arm or a leg.