There’s snow pun here
I’ve never ever experienced snow. I’ve never ever felt the caress of fresh powder, or seen a mountain on a bright winter day covered in sub-zero liquids. And even though I utterly detest cold weather, that is something that I’d love to one day experience just for the hell of it. Only problem? I’m as broke as can be thanks to my crippling habit of collecting Batman cowls, so a plane-trip to the Swiss Alps isn’t exactly on my agenda for 2017. Or ever.
Fortunately, there’s a chance to live that dream vicariously at least through Ubisoft’s latest effort, Steep. It’s the glory of those European mountains, without the frostbite or broken legs from a snowboard ride gone horribly awry. And on the surface, Steep looks the part. It’s a massive arena that is just begging to be explored, a vast range of untouched trails and paths that lead ever downwards.
And while Steep can be amazing to look at, it drops the ball when it comes to the actual mechanics behind this session of shredding a few gnarly tracks. That’s where Steep loses the plot, as vistas that are combined with a freeform selection of winter sports (snowboarding, paragliding, skiing and wingsuit suiciding) just fails to nail the exhilaration of those events.
Maybe it comes down to Steep being a typical Ubisoft title in its control scheme, which emphasises a style of play that leans closer to simulation rather than arcadey physics. But the end result is that Steep just isn’t fun. It’s breathtakingly infuriating most of the time. There’s a wonderful sense of freedom throughout Steep, amplified by a ton of activities that just don’t manage to mesh together all that well.
While snowboarding is easily the highlight here where the bulk of development was funnelled into, the other disciplines feel undercooked and flimsy in comparison. There’s a lack of weight and control in them that hinders such events. It doesn’t help much that pulling off tricks feels temperamental at best, with your plucky winter sports enthusiast sometimes gleaming the cube beautifully and most other times merging the atoms of his face with a nearby Swiss chalet wall.
It’s this inconsistent approach which makes Steep downright annoying. A few hours in, and you get the feeling that this is one game that could have spent some more time in development before it was released, to equally nail all four disciplines better. Steep as a concept is brilliant and crafted with care, but its execution is lacking.
Nobody was expecting Ubisoft to create a new SSX experience, but Steep comes off as downright clumsy in comparison to older games across a similar genre. Hell, Ubisoft have done extreme sports before, with the results of hang-gliding and wing-suiting in the previous two Far Cry games being the benchmark that Steep should have aimed for in the first place.
And yet, I don’t want to see this franchise written off. It’s more tech demo than anything else right now, but I want to see Ubisoft approach a sequel to Steep in the same way that it did for Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs. There’s a market out there who are desperate for some crunchy action on the snow. And it’d be a shame to waste a first effort that at the very least, is stunning to stare at. There’s a gap in the market that Steep could easily fill.
But just not in its current form.