Steep

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES -

You’ll be­lieve a moun­tain can talk. Reach a new peak in Steep and you’ll hear its voice boom­ing out, al­most as if you’d been carv­ing pow­der in a very dif­fer­ent sense. One wel­comes you as a dear friend; an­other boasts that its crags are as old as time it­self; a third won­ders who might deign to dis­turb its rest; a fourth prom­ises to break you. Be­fore you set off, be­fore all the os­ten­ta­tious event mark­ers, ir­ri­tat­ing com­pan­ions and in­tru­sive brand­ing, Steep es­tab­lishes an off­beat tone that sets it apart from oth­ers of its kind. It’s a strange game, in fact, and ul­ti­mately that’s to its ad­van­tage.

For a while, how­ever, it all feels like a bit of a mud­dle, even if im­me­di­ate im­pres­sions are likely to be pos­i­tive, as you quickly re­alise that this vast open world of Alpine peaks can be ne­go­ti­ated with no load­ing times what­so­ever. Event restarts might re­quire you to hold down a but­ton for a cou­ple of sec­onds, but you’ll be de­posited back to the start­ing line in­stan­ta­neously there­after. Choose an over­view of the whole range in­stead and you’ll be whisked to a 3D map, from which you can se­lect a dropoff point. Again, once you’ve made your choice, there’s no wait­ing in­volved.

In the­ory, you’re able to choose from four sports on the fly by pulling up a ra­dial menu, though that’s not en­tirely ac­cu­rate: you can’t swap in mid-air, and you’ll need to come to a stand­still if you’re go­ing down­hill – which can take some time when you’re rag­dolling off rocks af­ter a high-speed spill. Two of the choices are all but in­ter­change­able, as you’re able to en­ter the same race, trick and ori­en­teer­ing events whether you’re on a snow­board or skis, and the dif­fer­ence in han­dling is neg­li­gi­ble. With two planks you can ride back­wards (good luck do­ing that in first­per­son mode), other­wise there’s rarely a com­pelling rea­son to switch from one.

Wing­suit events, mean­while, sug­gest some­one at Ubisoft An­necy got fed up wait­ing for Nin­tendo to re­lease a new Pilotwings and took mat­ters into their own hands. The con­trols are sim­ple but the cour­ses of­ten any­thing but, send­ing you swoop­ing through nar­row holes and plum­met­ing down spi­ralling tun­nels, twist­ing past jut­ting rocks above and be­low. In other events, you’re asked to glide just above ground to earn prox­im­ity points, a gen­tle shud­der of con­troller feed­back let­ting your palms know that your score is tick­ing up­wards when your un­blink­ing eyes are fixed upon your avatar. If this is Steep at its most ex­act­ing and in­tense, paraglid­ing, where you hug cliff edges to col­lect up­drafts and gain height, is a lit­tle too se­date for its own good – at least dur­ing its race events. But there aren’t many en­tries in this cat­e­gory any­way, so it’s an ac­tiv­ity best saved for lazily tak­ing in the sights from above, or when you need to get back up a lit­tle way and don’t fancy the slow trudge on foot.

Though you’re spir­ited away to event spots once se­lected from the map, if you want to start a run else­where you’ll need to ei­ther make your own way there or use up one of your limited num­ber of he­li­copter passes. Al­ter­na­tively, to un­lock new drop zones to which you can fast-travel you’ll need to stand within 1,000 yards of them and high­light them through your rider’s binoc­u­lars. You’ll see some of th­ese dur­ing events or gen­eral ex­plo­ration, but of­ten you’ll be too far away to tag them, which tempts you back to the map in or­der to search prop­erly. Un­for­tu­nately, the map proves un­wieldy to nav­i­gate: those pris­tine slopes are pocked with icons, as is the Ubisoft way, but mov­ing a cur­sor within a 3D space is clumsy, not least when it’s sub­tly tugged to­wards mark­ers you’re scrolling past. And for rea­sons we’ve strug­gled to di­vine, events you’ve al­ready com­pleted will of­ten be high­lighted with a ‘new’ tag, which can make find­ing ac­tual new ones a chore. Be­fit­ting its name, Steep’s chal­lenge is pos­i­tively ver­tig­i­nous on some of the Hard-level cour­ses. In most cases, it’s dif­fi­cult in the right way, but some­times you’ll fall vic­tim to spite­ful place­ment of fences or wil­ful check­point po­si­tion­ing – and, oc­ca­sion­ally, the two are com­bined. Its trick sys­tem, mean­while, is os­ten­si­bly sim­ple – this isn’t Tony Hawk, or even SSX where you’d be pulling physics-de­fy­ing spins and flips off ev­ery ramp – but it’s ob­tuse in its de­mands and pe­cu­liarly fussy in its tim­ing. Away from the pres­sure of com­pe­ti­tion, it starts to feel more nat­u­ral, when you have open ground stretch­ing out in front of you and plenty of time to pre­pare for each jump.

Learn to curb your com­pet­i­tive in­stincts and stop reach­ing for the restart but­ton, and Steep’s mi­nor frus­tra­tions steadily be­gin to melt away. When you miss a check­point, it’s of­ten best to sim­ply keep go­ing in­stead: the run is au­to­mat­i­cally can­celled any­way, so why not take ad­van­tage of be­ing out of con­tention? The thrill of suc­cess­fully weav­ing through a dense thicket of slen­der trees, even if it’s more by luck than judge­ment, is still there when you’re do­ing your own thing. And as a mul­ti­player game, Steep is at its best when you’re not beat­ing your fel­low board­ers but sim­ply join­ing them.

So you might well roll your eyes when your in-game col­leagues be­rate you for a bronze-medal per­for­mance or push you to en­ter a spon­sored event, or when you ask to be dropped off and you’re held up by a cutscene show­ing your rider glug­ging a pop­u­lar en­ergy drink. But we sense Ubisoft An­necy’s heart isn’t re­ally in any of that. There’s some­thing qui­etly won­der­ful here when you step away from the cor­po­rate non­sense and bray­ing thrillseek­ers; when those icons drift away, the mu­sic fades out, and you can carve your own path un­til the slope lev­els off and the edge of the world ap­proaches. It turns out the moun­tain re­ally does have some­thing to say, but it’s only when the noise is gone that its mes­sage can re­ally be heard.

There’s some­thing qui­etly won­der­ful here when you step away from the cor­po­rate non­sense

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