As someone whose winter sports experience amounts to nothing more than one windy afternoon at High Wycombe dry ski slope nearly 20 years ago, you might think that a game like Steep would not be of much interest – this is, after all, the problem most games in the genre suffer from, their lack of appeal to anyone not a ski or snowboarding junkie.
However, Steep is a winter sports game unlike any other, it is not the spiritual heir to SSX Tricky that many were hoping for, but instead an entirely different beast, a giant alpine sandbox with breathtaking scenery that is crying out to be explored.
The enormous mountainous open-world that Ubisoft have created is Steep’s unique selling point, a condensed version of some of Europe’s most famous slopes – Mont Blanc a mere snowball’s throw away from the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa – ready and waiting to be explored in a variety of ways, be it ski, snowboard, wingsuit or parasail.
The graphics and mechanics of each different discipline are done brilliantly, giving every mode of transport its own unique feel and one that seems fairly realistic – jumping from a mountainside dressed only in a wingsuit is suitably terrifying while slowly gliding across vast valleys using a parasail is extremely tranquil – those feeling ungenerous might even say a little dull.
Each mountain has new areas to be discovered, each with a range of various different challenges from racing to pulling off tricks, even including tasks that require you to wipe out in the most spectacular way possible. Thrown into the mix are the slightly bizarre ‘Mountain Stories’, missions which surreally involve the mountains talking to you as you complete often slightly trippy challenges – this really is a game unlike most others.
There are a few notable flaws to Steep, however, one of which comes slightly as a consequence of one of the game’s greatest strengths, the vast and completely playable open-world. As a result of this, the map soon becomes cluttered with the huge range of different challenges available and choosing easily which event you are after is a fairly hit and miss process – although this is somewhat offset by the complete lack of loading time as you move around, allowing the player to instantly and satisfyingly traverse between different drop zones wherever they are on the map.
The game can also feel like it lacks a little direction, progressing up the levels does very little bar unlocking various cosmetic changes to your rider, such as a new board or a crazy costume, and while the ability to just ride around anywhere you like is liberating at first, after a while you start to feel like a bit more of a purpose to things wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
These are however fairly minor gripes, because the positives to Steep certainly outweigh its negatives – it is ultimately a game that looks fantastic and offers something to both the winter sports fanatic and the snow-ambivalent alike – its picturesque mountains have a way of drawing you in that is both very satisfying and rewarding, whether you opt for a death-defying flight in a wingsuit or a more leisurely descent on a snowboard. Steep can be strange at times, but it is definitely worth it, its huge mountainscape will have you dusting off your virtual ski boots and hitting its slopes time and time again.