STEEP seems conflicted. It wants you to slow down to take the time and soak in its gorgeous expansive mountainside, yet it also seeks to deliver on the thrills of extreme sports. Both are understandably enticing in theory, but ultimately shallow in practice.
Players are given a whole mountain, sectioned into various unique regions, to explore and traverse. At your disposal are a handful of extreme sports disciplines including snowboarding, skiing, paragliding and wingsuit flying. Boarding, skiing and the wingsuit prove to have bouts of exhilarating moments, while paragliding never seems to reach the same high. At the end of the day, none of STEEP’s offerings could convince me to stay on the powdered slopes of the Alps for long.
Its early impressions are as archetypal as they come. You’re going to be the next big sports icon on this mountain and everyone is going to be talking about you. Once you prove it of course. After the tutorial glosses over the controls and your goals as an ambitious go-getter, you’re left to play in your giant snowy playground. From here you’re free to explore the mountain to your heart’s content. Exploration takes the form of walking or via any of the included extreme sports disciplines, which you can easily switch between whenever you’re stationary.
You’re encouraged to search for the many secret locales, but unless you get particularly invested in the world or are a completionist, aimless journeying doesn’t feel worthwhile; particularly on foot. In fact, for most players, exploration will be completely undermined by the prompt introduction of fast travel. Instantly transporting you to points of interest after you find them is preferable to getting there on your own. A cardinal sin for a title all about locomotion.
On your quest to become the ‘new hotness’, your reputation will be built on your ability in STEEP’s six playstyles; Extreme Rider, Explorer, Bone Collector, Pro Rider, Freestyler and Freerider. Each style boasts a hefty number of challenges and events corresponding to a characteristic or skill of your virtual athlete. For example, the aptly named Bone Collectors are daredevils who pride themselves on adrenaline driven, near death experiences. However, despite how varied the events and playstyles are, most of them end up feeling fairly similar.
As you make your way through STEEP’s scripted levels you might be tempted to gravitate to your sport of choice. Unfortunately, you’ll eventually find yourself at impasse — lacking the XP to unlock new peaks unless you bite the bullet and complete the events you avoided.
Always online, STEEP will drop other players into your world seamlessly and for the most part they will act like NPC’s going about their merry way experiencing the Alps alongside you. The multiplayer suite offers the usual assortment of features including a robust replay recording and sharing system, as well as supporting groups of up to four players to experience the game with. Most interestingly, players can carve out their own tracks on the slopes to challenge their friends with.
At its best, STEEP makes me feel like I’m skillfully navigating the many faces of the Alps at breakneck speeds. The feeling of dodging obstacles and occasionally building up enough courage to attempt a trick or two (to varying results) can be sublime. Wiping is thankfully relatively painless and players can quickly re-attempt any run both in and out of the game’s set challenges with a quick button press.
At the end of the day STEEP is bogged down by its surprisingly rigid progression, limited gameplay variety and lack of incentives to explore. The further I progress the more I wished there was more to interact with outside of the events. The snowy expanse feels more and more barren as time goes on and this is exemplified whenever I am slowed down and forced to find new challenges. Genre fans will find a lot to like in STEEP, barring a few frustrations — but for everyone else there will be glimpses of promise just over the horizon.
STEEP was reviewed on PS4 using a digital promo provided to PowerUp! by Ubisoft.
Game Title: STEEP