We’ve all seen the videos. You know the ones — beautiful people are frolicking around in rainforest waterfalls before sudden cuts to someone in a wingsuit, then a snowboard, both hurtling down the side of a mountain (quite literally) at break-neck speeds. RedBull and GoPro logos, plastered all over the place, make you think that you should buy your own GoPro so you can record cool videos of you and your friends skiing and wakeboarding. I fell for it; my GoPro sits in a drawer, having been unused for years. If my copy of Steep were a physical one, it would sadly end up in the same drawer.
For those unaware, Steep is an extreme winter sports game in which you wingsuit, snowboard, ski and paraglide across a massive, open world mountain range vying for high scores, fast times, extreme racing lines and, of course, the craziest GoPro videos.
Wingsuiting is by far the best of the four sports on offer. Jumping from a platform, cliff edge or even a hot air balloon and gliding at ludicrous speeds through caves provides genuine thrills, as does weaving around trees just mere metres from imminent death. It offers a fair challenge and with a tunnel vision inducing sense of speed this is where Steep is at its best. Events consist of checkpoint races with set routes, proximity runs awarding points for taking risks and free rides which let you chose the fastest route between points. All are equally as fun and aren’t all that dissimilar from wingsuiting events in last years Just Cause 3 — only without the explosions.
While on solid ground, snowboarding and skiing are your primary modes of transport, and they both have their fun moments just going from point A to B. The choice between the two is really a matter of preference, though skiing allows for higher speeds and snowboarding, sharper turns and increased recovery from poor landings. On-land events can all be completed with either board or skis and, much like the wingsuit, consist of checkpoint races against the clock. There are also points-based trick competitions on offer, though they’re completely ruined by what is the worst control scheme I’ve encountered in years.
When taking off from a jump there is a tiny window in which you need to execute your command to flip or roll. Miss this window and you’ll find yourself doing little more than a rotating grab and scoring hundreds of points instead of thousands. If you manage to flip or roll, you’ll get a lucky dip; sometimes you’ll perform that manoeuvre quickly, sometimes slowly. You might flip once or twice. The only constant is that you’ll always be guessing what’s about to happen. This also applies when landing on solid ground. The landing mechanic is equally as awful with impact from each one being cumulative and reducing your chances of any subsequent successful touchdowns in close succession. Due to these issues, trick events are about as fun as back alley dentistry.
Finally, there’s paragliding, sold as a chilled out experience and your primary method of exploring Steep‘s map. In actual fact, it’s tedious and as enjoyable as watching paint dry. Manoeuvering your paraglider is simple enough when going left and right, but ascending by catching updrafts off the side of the mountains is frustrating and as predictable as Melbourne weather. Paragliding events involving multiple checkpoints require increasing levels of precision the further up you go in the difficulty scale. Only the truly committed will master these events after more hours spent practicing than any casual game deserves. You should avoid paragliding like the plague.
Scattered all over the glorious map are more than 100 events which you’ll unlock as you progress through 25 experience levels. While primary events lack any true variety by way of objective, the map’s terrain manages to keep things interesting. As you reach certain locations, things also take a strange turn by sending you on some very weird side missions. They include searching for, and destroying, “evil” snowmen or finding a singing tree for some unknown reason. There are also bizarre cutscenes where the mountains “speak” to you in weird monologues, telling you what to expect from the areas just discovered. Many are quite serious whereas at least one is entirely self aware and (almost) funny. These moments do a great job of breaking up monotony but they also frame things in an entirely different light. Is Steep a semi-serious extreme sports game or is it trying to be silly like Tony Hawk?
Despite its levelling system, you won’t necessarily be provided a gradual learning curve from start to finish. Levelling increases the number of events you have access to, but they don’t seem to impact their difficulty. Extreme events are available early on, but they’re not to be trifled with if you’re still getting the hang of the controls. If you’re game enough to give them a shot be thankful for the complete lack of loading screens when restarting events. This is a massive technical achievement in the open world, playing a big role in how you approach each event. Much like the Trials series, the more difficult events will have you restarting over and over again as you work to find that perfect line or land a high scoring trick. By simply holding your Triangle (or Y) button, you’re instantly back at the start of the event ready to give it another 50 shots before you nail it.
This doesn’t only apply to events; at any point you can return to the beginning of your current racing line or even fast travel to any available drop zone or event without so much as a one second delay. I dare you to find another open world game that can do that as fast as Steep does. Equally as impressive is its seamless multiplayer, with other players just showing up in your game as though you bumped into them on the mountain.
The shining light in Steep is its beautiful landscape, which has some of the most picturesque scenery you’ll see in a sports game. This adaptation of the Alps offers fields of glaciers, villages, forests and more in one massive package. While exploring the rugged terrain is difficult due to its nature, the panoramic vistas are well worth the effort. Enjoy the views wherever possible before (and during) events as it’s much more fun than doing so whilst walking or using that god awful paraglider.
Its sense of speed is incredible and exhilarating and only enhanced by beautiful visuals, from the grand scope of the vast panoramas to the way sunlight reflects off individual snowflakes on the ground. For a game focused on precision and action, though, it gets too many things wrong with the camera often situated right behind the player making you blind to what’s directly ahead of you. That only adds to the frustration caused by the infurating control scheme mentioned above.
Featuring systems that focus on community engagement and competition among friends, there are some clever new ideas that haven’t been seen in games before. Still, Steep falls short where it matters most, offering you more moments of anger than adrenaline. If you have plenty of patience then this might be the game for you, though most will end up pissed off rather than going off-piste.
Steep was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4 as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.