Steep was one of those E3 surprises where you lifted your eyebrows, let out a “huh” and generally didn’t understand why it was taking up so much special stage time. Ubisoft’s end of presentation surprises are usually show-stealing, and Steep just seemed too leftfield for the publisher. Emphasising a variety of snow sport events and a keen focus on sociability though, Steep has the hallmarks of a game that, if done right, would spawn its fan base of line hunting, snow shredding addicts. The beta this weekend did almost nothing to sell me on that though.
Back at E3, what I played of Steep was rough. It controlled quite stiffly, took far too long to reset after a bad crash and made pulling off stunts (arguably the reason you want to take to the virtual slopes) a real chore. That’s only slightly improved in the time since then. Steep still doesn’t feel all too natural to control, with the two analogue sticks controlling your speed and pitch across your four virtues of getting around. When you’re snowboarding for example, the right stick acts as your brake. In squirrel suit diving it fine tunes your pitch. In paragliding it just throws your entire position into disarray and I quickly learnt never to touch it again.
This works fine after a little getting used to, but unlike some of the more dexterous examples of this genre (SSX being my favourite), I never really felt comfortable. That extended to pulling off some tricks, which were made too oddly complex for their own good. Jumps are mapped to the Right Trigger on Xbox One, with flips and holds only registering after you’ve taken to the air. The timing can get finicky, but I like that releasing either of them immediately had my player attempting to realign before hitting the ground. time it too late, and the resulting G-Force slowed him down or wiped him out completely.
But for all the risk attributed to pulling these feats off, they never really felt spectacular in practice. I could do quick barrel rolls and flips backwards and forwards, but nothing quite got me to the point of feeling that exhilarating rush of big air. It’s partly down to the events on offer in the beta, which swung between short races, some even shorter point scoring events and simple trail survivals. Some courses were outright frustrating (a race with checkpoint through frequent, tiny tunnels), while others did a good job of showcasing the scale Steep is aiming for.
Scale is where even this limited beta elevated Steep into a new tier of sports titles. The slopes you have access to are massive, with many base camps littering the white playground with events for you to hop between. But even if you aren’t in the mood for pre-determined events, you can just free-ride as much as you like. Exploration is encouraged in Steep, if only to find even more base camps, hidden collectibles and more.
These routes that you carve out for yourself also form the backbone of Steep’s social aspect, although I really didn’t get to dig deep into it during this short time. Essentially any routes you take are recorded in-game, and you’re able to look at the entire route through the game’s map. Click on it at any point, and you’re free to set up challenges, events and invite friends to your new line. Ideally the game will eventually be filled with these user-created events, not too dissimilar to what Forza Horizon does with its brand of open-world racing.
That’s probably the most apt comparison that came to mind during the beta this weekend, and it instilled a sense of hope for all the other features that Steep might be hiding behind the curtain. But for a game that’s all about movement and speed, Steep still feels surprisingly unwelcoming to control – and it’s something I don’t see being completely rectified should the game stick to its December release. But if unbridled freedom to explore snowy mountain tops sounds more important, Steep is delivering that in spades.
Last Updated: November 14, 2016