STAFF REVIEW of Steep (Xbox One)


Thursday, December 8, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

Steep Box art Picture yourself riding in a helicopter through the Alps up to the summit of The Matterhorn. As you disembark from the helicopter you feel, and hear, the crunch of the fresh powdery snow beneath your boots. Your helicopter disperses and there you are, alone on the top of the mountain listening to the wind howl you feel your adrenaline start to pump. Off in the horizon you see the sun start to creep above the horizon and you watch as the mountains in the Alps twinkle like diamonds as their snow catches the sun's rays for the first time. You check your wingsuit one last time, say a quiet prayer, take a deep breath, and then you jump into the expansive world of Steep.

This is the world that Ubisoft Annecy have painstakingly worked to create, and like the mountain range itself, upon first look it can be a bit overwhelming. Sectioned off in a specific part of the Alps, Steep combines some of the most iconic mountains such as Mont Blanc, The Matterhorn, and more into one titanic snow filled sandbox. Priced at $59.99(USD), Steep prides itself on giving you full control over the mountain while delivering one exhilarating experience after another. However, Steep also aims to deliver an incredible simulation experience instead of an over the top arcade adventure. So, is Steep the winter wonderland playground you've always dreamed about or does fall like an avalanche speeding down the side of a mountain?

If you're expecting some form of story within Steep then you're going to be sadly disappointed. Steep is broken up into numerous events scattered throughout the mountain range, but first you must go through the tutorial which can be incredibly vague at times making you become part snowboarder and part Sherlock Holmes when it comes to figuring out what to do next. Events take place over four categories, which are snowboarding, skiing, wing suiting, and paragliding. Each of these events come with varying difficulties as well as tasks that you must complete to achieve either bronze, silver, or gold medals. There are some randomly scattered story missions that don't really pertain to any locked in plot structure; they almost feel like they are called "story" just to say that there are story elements within the game.


One thing you'll discover as you navigate through the tutorial is the simple fact that mission selection is one of the most complex and annoying tasks you will find in any game to date. To access the mountain overview you have to hold the B button down which will result in a spatial view of the Alps. Here you trudge through using a small disc selection tool that allows you to navigate all over the mountains and select items from your own trail to events and more. Again, this sounds good until you go through it and realize that it's aggravatingly slow and cumbersome. You would think that there would be a button you could press to bring up a list of available events that you've uncovered and that you could sort them by event type, difficulty and more, but you'd be wrong. Instead you start to almost feel like Ray Charles trying to navigate the mountains just to find one simple run to click on. I could easily see this being perfect for those who use a mouse on a PC, but on the Xbox One controller this is an incredible pain that will stay with you throughout your entire Steep experience.

Once you have a small understanding of how the mission system works you'll need to find more runs within the mountain range. In order to find various other locations on the mountain to unlock you must press LB to bring up your binoculars and then spend a ridiculous amount of time looking along the mountain range until you hear a chime and see a series of dark grey stripes which indicate a new event zone. Once you have found a location you have to zoom it into focus with your binoculars and pray that you're close enough to unlock it, but if not, then you'll have to find a way to get close enough. I found that an easy way to do this was, while you're in binocular mode, press the RS and create a user generated point of interest. I learned to do this after I found a zone but was too far away and I decided to paraglide towards it, but ended up forgetting where it was when I landed. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself so let's get back to the tutorial.

The tutorial is also a prime way to get you used to Steep's simulation and physics engines, which at times will make you want to smash your virtual snowboard in two, or cut your own lines on your paraglider. This is thanks to the g-forces that the game tries to judge and simulate on your rider, which sounds good in theory, but it fails miserably in execution. Numerous times I would be riding down the mountain and go over a small jump and my character would crash from the simulated g-force. There were even times when I went over a small patch of mountain that was smooth but not snow covered and instantly my g-force meter went off the charts and my character seemed to get hit with MAX G's as he seemingly collapsed and crashed down the mountain. Now, I can understand something like that should I be boarding down a mountain side at full speed and slam right into a tree, but a little textured patch shouldn't cause the same impact. I can comprehend why someone would think programming a g-force detection system would be a good idea, but I can also discern why something like this needs to be perfected in order to be of any use.


Steep does allow you to try to pull of some tricks; however, the physics engine is unpredictable at best and at its' worst it is name swearing bad. Everything seems tranquil and simplistic on the surface, but when you get into the depths of the controls you're in for a totally different ride. For example, if you want to jump you're required to hold down the RT to crouch and prepare for a jump, then when you hit a designated distance from the lip of the jump you're supposed to release the RT and your character, in theory, will take off from the powder and launch skyward into the air. This is singlehandedly the biggest problem with Steep, as the the area you need to release RT varies between jumps and there's no setting to select where you could have such zones included as part of your HUD. This would have solved a lot of problems, but since it's not included you essentially have to play a guessing game that ends in one of three ways. Either you miraculously hit your jump and soar through the air majestically, you time your jump early and go right into the jump itself crashing away, or the 3rd result is that you time your jump late and end up not jumping at all and just sort of fall over the ramp and crash into the mountain below.

Should you somehow make it into the air on a jump you can do tricks with the LS by pressing it left, right, up, or down. You will start to rotate or flip, but you have to make sure you time your release of the LS otherwise you'll go crashing into the snow below. Should you feel risky and decide to add a grab into the jump, just hit your LT or RT while in the air and you should grab the board, but as would be expected, you need to time your release otherwise, you guessed it, you crash. So, now that I've established the fact that jumping and doing tricks are about as easy to do as walking on water, and that the g-force meter is not well implemented, you can see the trend here. If you fail at almost anything you do then you'll end up a rolling ball of snow. Not really a shining beacon of enjoyment considering this is the game's primary function.

Steep is somewhat salvaged though thanks to the replay function it incorporates. Should you careen to your death you can just retry over and over and over again. Another bonus of this feature is that it's instant, so there isn't any loading that has to take place over and over again. I can honestly say that if it weren't for this feature I'd given up a long, long time ago. Get ready to repeat and retry more than you ever thought you could because even when you think you have the learning curve mastered Steep will always find a way to keep you on your toes and remind you that the mountain always wins.


Ubisoft Annecy has included seamless drop in and drop out multiplayer and surprisingly it works well. It works so flawlessly that during one play session I hit the replay function only to discover that at the beginning of my run someone else was standing literally on my head. While this is a nice concept, and I'm glad that it's included, I find that enjoying the mountains alone is perfect for me. And when I say enjoying the mountains that's because Steep is simply beautiful to look at and behold.

From standing on top of a mountain you can change the time of day with the d-pad, and every visual element is done with a masterful precision to detail. The lighting and snow effects are on a level never before experienced, and you can tell that this is where the bulk of the performance went to, and I'm actually thankful that they did this. Pulling up and stopping while on a snowboard and watching the powder spray and the small packets of snow trickle down from your landing area that carve out their own paths is incredibly life like.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for the soundtrack. Right from the opening screen the sound effects gives Steep an aura of majesty. It hits you that you're about to go one on one with a mountain that has claimed countless lives, so be ready. This ambience is incredible and then it all goes downhill when you hear the tunes that have been selected to play in-game. While the ambient soundscapes provide a wonderful backdrop, hearing the same tune repeated over again when you hit the replay function on any of the events drove me up the wall so much so that I ended turning the sound off.

Steep is a beautiful package that unfortunately, once opened, gives you more hassle and trouble than you may imagine. If you're thinking of trying to get gold medals on every challenge I wish you the best of luck because you're going to need it. While not most of the gameplay itself is far from perfect, Steep is the genesis of extreme snow experiences from Ubisoft Annecy. A revamped g-force system, tweaked physics engine, improved handling and better UI are some of the major things that hamper the gameplay experience. If they can make changes and improvements in these areas it could really bring Steep to a quality similar to those found in other simulation sports games. It's clear though that Ubisoft Annecy has potential to deliver an amazing gameplay experience, so I'm hopeful that we see more improvements from Steep in the future.


Suggestions:

1. Revamp the g-force system.
2. Tweak your physics engine.
3. Improve the handling.
4. Please make a better UI.
5. Look into ironing out minor glitches and bugs.


Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10

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