Waking up on Saturday mornings to play Coolboarders or SSX Tricky is a pastime that I'll never forget. Even as someone who has never stepped foot on a snowy mountain, those games were fun beyond their years.
So when I first heard of Steep, I was quite curious about it. Is it the spiritual successor to those classic games we've always wanted? Will I be able to return to the days of pulling off ridiculous tricks that would kill even the most professional of riders? Is it any good?
After spending some quality time with Steep after its X Games-themed DLC, well, let's just say it's complicated.
A faithful ode to riders
Let's get the most important question out of the way: is this SSX Tricky or Coolboarders with 2018-level technology? Sadly, no. But we're not putting Ubisoft down because of it.
Steep does offer a trick system, but it prefers to err on the side of realism more than anything else. You'll be able to do flips, twists, turns, and grabs, but don't expect to get enough height to pull off 20 of those things in a single jump.
Instead, it's all about the ride. It's about exploring the beautiful vistas of the Alps (and, as of the X Games DLC, participating in freestyle competitions in Alaska). It's about finding the best lines, jump points, and slopes to get the best time in a race or the most points in a freestyle run. It's about mountain life, period.
Steep attempts to legitimize the winter sports genre with a realistic approach.
Steep does all of this beautifully thanks to a huge, highly-detailed map — which looks and performs great in 1800p and HDR on an Xbox One X, by the way — on which you can explore every nook, cranny, crevice, and crack. Whether you're basing from a shallow incline or racing down the steepest drop you've ever seen from the peak of the mountain, you can go exactly where you want and conquer the beast in your own way.
And I loved that it wasn't just about snowboarding, either. Steep gives love to skiers, paragliders, and even sledders. You can fly down the mountain in a wingsuit, too. And there's a variant of that wingsuit with a rocket attached to your back. This is the Buzz Lightyear simulator I've always wanted.
Tricksters will find the most fun out of the snowboard and skis, as the other sports are more about traversal and exploration than anything else. Steep can seem more shallow than it lets on in that regard, but this clear separation of priorities actually adds the depth needed to appeal to any type of player.
Although Steep attempts to legitimize the winter sports genre with a realistic approach, Ubisoft took care to ensure the control scheme was intuitive. I don't know how or why moving the analog sticks in opposite directions results in rotating your board, but it was easy to remember and easy to execute. Using the left and right triggers to perform grabs with your left and right hands also felt really natural.
Older games in the genre were more akin to fighting games, tasking you with remembering button combinations to execute specific tricks, but because Steep is firmly planted in the realm of realism and doesn't have dozens of static animations to trigger it took no time at all for me to start pulling off cool moves. This also gives you the feeling that you're always in control of your rider, which is an important part of immersing you.
While beautiful, Steep does have its fair share of issues. I personally found the physics system to be a bit inconsistent. The game uses a g-force mechanic to simulate the effects that high-impact landings have on your balance, meaning you have to reel it in a bit between tricks to ensure the rest of your ride goes smoothly.
I like this approach, but I found that the system is a bit too restrictive and sometimes made absolutely no sense. At some points, I could pull off a monster jump and continue roaring down the mountain with no break in my momentum, speed, or balance, and 5 minutes later my rider would go nuts on a routine, textbook pillow jump.
Be patient with this frenetic experience and you will find a very rewarding game.
Managing the system wasn't all bad — it takes just a few seconds to get your rider's head on straight and all you have to do is, well, not crash — but I would have enjoyed myself a lot more if I could rely on predictable g-force patterns. There's no way to turn it off, so mastering the g-force system will be a big part of mastering the game that is Steep. Again, not a bad proposition, but those looking for a more casual experience will want to consider this before deciding to jump in. (And even if you can't get a handle on the mechanics, those who like watching train wrecks will love witnessing crashes every now and then.)
Pacing can also be an issue with certain fringe sports. Paragliding sounds cool, but the slow floats to the ground are flat-out boring (unless your idea of fun is taking in breathtaking setpieces, in which case, rock on). Sleds give you a nice change of perspective and a different sense of balance, but you'll frustrate yourself trying to find even cruise-level speed down some of the more moderate lines.
I'd also being a disservice if I didn't mention the game's careless onboarding process. After a brief tutorial showing you how to change sports, navigate to different parts of the mountain, and pull off a few cool tricks, Steep kind of throws everything else at you in one fell swoop. Immediately upon finishing the tutorial, my map was populated with tons of little icons I didn't understand. I never got a clear sense of what I should be doing, nor how I should do it.
And I had to learn about some of the game's more complicated systems by diving into menus and doing outside research. I didn't even get a single pop-up explaining the basics of g-force and why it mattered. That's a big oversight for a game this unique. Those who aren't immediately turned off by this frenetic experience will find a very rewarding game, and I can't really blame the rest who will want to shut it off after 5 minutes.
Everything's better with friends
Steep can feel a little empty at first. After all, you're on a huge mountain, mostly alone, and — at least, at first — you have no clue what to do. There's no career mode, nor is there a single player campaign. You are just dropped onto a mountain and told to ride.
As such, the game is essentially a massive collection of races and challenges. There are lots to do in Steep in that regard, but none of it feels particularly meaningful. Heading into the menus to check off challenges one by one tends to get pretty boring after a while.
It wasn't until I realized that Steep is a game meant to be played with friends that I understood why Ubisoft designed it this way. Just as with a real trip to the mountains, Steep is meant to be a game where you get together with your peeps and shred the slopes, collecting tons of gear for your character and competing with your friends to see who can look cooler going down the mountain.
Steep is a game meant to be played with friends
Unfortunately, I didn't have the benefit of playing with friends during my review period. The game does drop you into a shared world with other riders, and you'll see them carrying on and doing their own thing from time to time. Some of those folks will gladly invite you to a riding session, and that'll be your ticket to finding friends to enjoy the game with.
But I'll warn you that the community has seen better days and it doesn't feel like the sort of game that's budding with user activity. Some of my sessions were completely empty, and the ones which weren't had people who were seemingly dying for interaction as I received nonstop invites from others.
The people you find on Steep at this point are likely to be diehard fans, though, and because the community is more tight-knit you'll find a passionate group of folks who are more than happy to get new players up to speed. None of this is a direct knock on Steep, but it's worth mentioning seeing as how the game places a huge emphasis on playing with others.
Steep attempts to keep people coming back with regular content, including new challenges, gear, and events. In the case of the X Games DLC, they even added authentic winter sports competitions such as the Superpipe and Slopestyle. That level of support is a testament to Ubisoft's commitment to making its "games as a service" strategy work, but some of the aforementioned issues haven't helped Steep make the impactful comeback that Rainbow Six: Siege and For Honor were able to.
- Beautiful open world.
- Freedom to ride wherever you want.
- Intuitive control system.
- Deep customization options.
- Frustrating physics system.
- Some winter sports feel like afterthoughts.
- Not beginner friendly.
- Relies too heavily on multiplayer.
But if you're someone who doesn't need a huge community to play with — and if you can come to grips with the intricacies of realistic riding — Steep will feed your lust for extreme winter sports just fine.
Steep X Games Edition is out now on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
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This review was conducted on an Xbox One X, using a copy provided by the publisher.
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