It is strange that after such a long drought we get two similar-in-concept snowboarding/winter sports games at almost the same time.
Steep, however, is a unique game and concept all its own after you play it awhile. Steep is a game consisting of four extreme sports: skiing, snowboarding, wingsuit flying and paragliding.
Not only are there four sports, there are a variety of event types from racing to extreme runs, with an interesting scoring system to boot. And to top all of that off, Steep has a huge open world to explore with literally hundreds of events to partake in.
There's a lot to love about Steep, with a few drawbacks along the way as well.
The first thing you'll notice about Steep is that the control scheme is decidedly simple and easy to pick up. What you'll find out after playing the game awhile is that there's a lot of depth to the controls as well.
You are able to pick up the game and play at a reasonable level of skill, but to truly master all that Steep has to offer means you'll put in some time on the mountains or in the air perfecting runs.
The controls make a lot of sense in loading jumps and then having to switch to controlling rotations and grabs with both analog sticks. There's a real skill in timing your tricks, which you'll be able to pick up on pretty quickly. However, mastering timing and getting the best possible trick scores will take some work, and the same goes for putting together a strategy for figuring out the best lines for a run. In short, you've got the recipe for a perfectionist's nightmare.
Both skiing and snowboarding are pretty similar in execution -- and having both in the game seems more a novelty than an actual functional difference at times. The execution of skiing vs. snowboarding really rests on speed and agility. Skis are obviously faster and better for timed events whereas a board will serve you better in getting higher trick scores.
For most events, you can pick your method of madness to head down the slopes, which adds some strategy at the front of a run.
On the other hand, both paragliding and wingsuit flying are complete opposites. Paragliding is a way to really enjoy the beauty of Steep and is a much more deliberate (dare I say slow) way of getting around the game. There's strategy to the runs you'll use for paragliding, and the tricks you can pull off take some mastering, but paragliding is definitely the weak point of the four sports represented -- even though I think there's a chance I may end up appreciating it more down the line.
Wingsuit flying is an almost completely unique experience Steep offers. No other game I have played has quite nailed this like Steep, and there's a lot of strategy and quick stick reaction skills necessary to get the absolute best runs.
When using a wingsuit, your goal is to either complete runs with speed or have the most extreme runs, passing close to terrain objects for an extreme run. It could be due to the sheer novelty of the wingsuit experience, but I am finding it to be my favorite part of the game.
Jumping off of tall objects and flying near and through mountains and forests is just an amazingly cool experience no other game quite offers. Add to that the GoPro-powered first-person view that you can watch replays of or control your player with, and you get a real sense of speed and danger few other games have ever offered.
In fact, the skiing and snowboarding portions of the game really capture the beauty and speed of the terrain has to offer via the GoPro cameras in the game.
The gameplay itself does have some flaws I have to discuss. First, the physics are generally good but you will find yourself getting stuck from time to time. This will effectively end runs and is frustrating when it happens.
Another thing that is frustrating is sometimes the controls don't do what you expect them to. I'm getting older for sure, but I have sometimes done things correctly only to have a trick not play out as it should. I suspect there's a small bump in the physics somewhere that makes the game think my rider has hit something (and he may have) that prevents the trick from playing out. Regardless, this crops up once in a blue moon and makes you wonder what the game is doing.
The other thing I think will frustrate players is the overwhelming nature of the game. It's huge. There are literally dozens to hundreds of events per mountain, and there are seven total mountains. The open nature of Steep means you are never truly "finished" and there's oftentimes no real end goals except to complete runs and rack up points.
Some of the runs can be repetitive or completely forgettable as well, which I think means the game could be "too" big. But at the same time, you cannot beat the sheer variety Steep offers when it comes to winter sports gameplay.
And the exploration is something some people are just not going to care for. Having to identify and then get over to other peaks requires some ingenuity or helicopter tickets that, after your first 10, are going to cost you real money. This aspect of the game is particularly tedious, but something that also adds to the overall novelty of the experience.
The Other Stuff
Steep is a beautiful game and it's presented with a cinematic flair that other extreme sports games haven't quite figured out. The addition of the GoPro visuals just makes for an incredibly interesting visual experience with the game. The fact the folks at Ubisoft were able to nail the GoPro audio to an accurate level really drives in the immersion.
The soundtrack is standard and not the best you'll ever hear, but it fits what you are doing on screen.
The online/community aspect of Steep, where you compete with other players and group up on the mountain to do runs, is where a lot of fun will ultimately lie for players of the game. Personally, I think Ubisoft is making a mistake not making the scores to beat a more visual part of the experience.
It feels like the game wants you to be super connected at times, but at others it hides what are probably its best aspects in the period before you even drop into a run. If I could fix one thing about Steep, this would be it. Having other riders' scores play a prominent role in the experience would add to the competition aspect of the game.
There is a story of sorts in the game, which involves some mysticism and the mountains talking to you. This whole bit seems out of place, especially when you end up having to destroy evil snowmen who are apparently taunting a rider on the slopes. To me, the story would've been far better grounded in reality -- since the game itself tends to stay grounded in reality most of the time.
The other big complaint about the game is that it is online only. There is no way to play the game apart from being connected to the Steep servers. This hurts the long-term value of the game but also can mean you want to play the game but the servers are down and thus cannot. Companies really need to rethink the online only model.
Steep is ultimately a unique experience that offers something extreme sports fans will enjoy. The variety of things to do in the game will keep you going quite awhile if you find the action enjoyable.
The gameplay itself hits a comfortable middle ground between punishingly realistic and way over the top like an SSX. The things you can do are not quite on the level of a game like SSX, but I've done a few things I don't think humans are actually capable of as well. In that sense, the game strikes a good balance between being realistic but fun, appealing to casual gamers as well as more grounded sim-minded folks.
Between the visuals, the hugeness of the game, the variety of events, and the solid foundation the game is built on means I'm finding it hard to not recommend this title. It's a unique experience in the sports game genre, and despite some of the design flaws, the action on the slopes is ultimately one of my favorite experiences in sports games this year.
Score: 7.5 (Good)