Ubisoft’s moun­tain mad­ness leaves us any­thing but cold

XBox: The Official Magazine - - PREVIEWS - Tom Stone

Pub­lisher Ubisoft De­vel­oper Ubisoft An­necy For­mat Xbox One ETA 2 De­cem­ber

There was a time when not hav­ing a snow­board­ing ti­tle in your games col­lec­tion was like own­ing an Xbox but not hav­ing any con­trollers. And not hav­ing a TV. And your Xbox was just a crate with an X drawn on it. But the bril­liant stu­dios that brought us greats like SSX and Amped must have got buried in an avalanche last con­sole gen­er­a­tion, as the snow sports genre seemed to melt away into gaming his­tory. So why has Ubisoft An­necy de­cided that now is the time to bring it back?

“We needed a break­through again in the mar­ket,” ex­plains Steep game di­rec­tor, Ar­naud Ragot. “That break­through was the new hard­ware, the new en­gine, and we de­cided im­me­di­ately to go for an open-world. There’s still ex­pec­ta­tion from play­ers. They want this free, open-world ex­pe­ri­ence to en­joy dif­fer­ent types of sports. An open­world with scale and tech­ni­cal prow­ess far be­yond what was pos­si­ble in pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.” We’ve come to ex­pect huge open-worlds from Ubisoft, of course, but Steep’s recre­ation of the French Alps is still a stag­ger­ing tech­ni­cal achieve­ment. The draw dis­tance here had our ver­tigo wor­ried long be­fore we even started de­scend­ing the slopes. Giv­ing us im­me­di­ate free­dom to ex­plore this win­ter won­der­land how we want is an in­spired choice, but one that would mean noth­ing with­out a great choice of tools to nav­i­gate it with.

“You have four dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties,” ex­plains head of Ubisoft An­necy, Re­becka Coutaz. “We have ski­ing, snow­board­ing, paraglid­ing and the wing­suit. We be­lieve we of­fer a com­pletely new ex­pe­ri­ence to those who en­joy those kind of games but also for play­ers who are just look­ing for an adren­a­line rush.” While we see the snow­board­ing and ski­ing tak­ing up most of our play­time, the wing­suit is an ex­cel­lent starter choice for ex­cit­ing ex­plo­ration. Glid­ing over rocky slopes that would crush any boarder, and soar­ing di­rectly above jagged clus­ters of ice shin­ing like di­a­monds, makes your heart pound. “We are an ex­treme sports game and we wanted to de­liver adren­a­line mo­ments,” ex­plains cre­ative di­rec­tor, Igor Manceau. “The wing­suit is the best to de­liver that ex­pe­ri­ence.” For us, fly­ing down the moun­tain felt like play­ing a pret­tier, colder Just Cause 3.

Snow joke

But hang on, Just Cause 3 was ridicu­lous. Like, ‘ Voodoo Vince get­ting an HD re­make’ lev­els of ridicu­lous. We thought Steep was meant to be a more re­al­is­tic take on snow sports? “We wanted some­thing that was cred­i­ble and fun to play,” ex­plains Ragot. “This is why we’ve gone for physics-based game­play, but we’ve pushed the re­al­is­tic as­pect to make sure the player will have fun. So they can do big jumps, they can land huge drops, but we wanted to make it feel re­al­is­tic.” It’s a smart artis­tic choice. Plum­met­ing down a moun­tain with two planks strapped to your feet is al­ready one of our more bizarre hob­bies, so there’s not much need for a game to em­bel­lish it.

Be­sides, you have the free­dom to play Steep as real­is­ti­cally or as madly as you like. You can wing­suit over rocky ter­rain, ski gen­tly down its slopes, paraglide around to ex­plore and snap pret­tier screen­shots, or go for big air and ex­treme stunts on your board. “We’ve got guys big on tricks,”

“Soar­ing above jagged clus­ters of ice shin­ing like di­a­monds makes your heart pound”

“You have the free­dom to play Steep as real­is­ti­cally or as madly as you like”

says Manceau. “We’ve got guys play­ing Skate 3 and talk­ing about it like crazy. That’s not my way of play­ing the game, but we think this may be your kind of game. That’s why we wanted to pro­duce dif­fer­ent play styles.”

Per­form­ing tricks here is sur­pris­ingly ac­ces­si­ble, given how fond Skate 3 was of shat­ter­ing our kneecaps ev­ery time we dared at­tempt an ol­lie. Leap­ing off ramps still re­quires per­fect tim­ing, and once you’re air­borne you can spin your boarder or ex­e­cute grabs, with the ana­logue sticks let­ting you grab spe­cific parts of your board. Ini­tially we in­tro­duced our face to plenty of trees, far more than our on-screen avatar was happy with (“I don’t want to die!” he wailed at one point. The wimp). Even when you do suc­cess­fully land tricks, you’re only of­fered a measly amount of points for any­thing less than a per­fect land­ing. But it’s not long be­fore you start nail­ing spins and grabs, and it feels fan­tas­tic, es­pe­cially as the speed never lets up.

Fly­ing visit

That speed may be the key to Steep’s success. We were wor­ried that hurtling down the moun­tain too many times would end in vomit and tears, but you’re so fo­cused on your boarder, you soon for­get about the back­drop. It’s sim­i­lar to Rock Band, where you only pay at­ten­tion to the notes in the fore­ground. Your scope nar­rows to per­fect­ing your trick, or launch­ing off a ramp at the op­ti­mum mo­ment to get the most air. Speed lines whip around you when­ever you risk in­creas­ing the pace, and suc­cess­fully landed tricks aren’t cel­e­brated with a lull in the ac­tion. You keep zip­ping down the moun­tain, hope­fully al­ready plan­ning your next stunt. It’s this sen­sa­tion of speed, and the draw dis­tance of Xbox One let­ting us see the next five threats in ad­vance, that could keep us com­ing back to Steep’s slopes.

There are plenty of in-game chal­lenges, all ranked on leader­boards against friends and world­wide play­ers, but you’re also able to cre­ate your own ‘lines’ (that’s snow­boarder lingo for ‘cour­ses’, braw). Lay a few high­lighted bea­cons, prove your line is pos­si­ble by ski­ing through it your­self, then up­load it on­line. Friends can then at­tempt your lines, with ex­tra points awarded for how danger­ous and (yes!) steep your bea­cons are. If they’re strug­gling, they can even watch a re­play video of your run for help. Share big air There are lots of other neat lit­tle giz­mos scat­tered across the game. The re­play ed­i­tor, for in­stance, lets you al­ter time of day, use slow­mo­tion and switch cam­era an­gles (in­clud­ing a ter­ri­fy­ing first-per­son one that makes play­ing the game feel even faster). But is hav­ing a video ed­i­tor re­ally nec­es­sary when we can share screen­shots and clips eas­ily al­ready on Xbox One?

“That’s why we wanted to do this kind of game!” claims Coutaz. “We think that the shar­ing gen­er­a­tion is out there and we don’t think there are many games pro­vid­ing them with the tools they are look­ing for. It was a nat­u­ral step for us to in­clude that be­cause we are al­ready do­ing it in our every­day lives.” Ragot agrees, say­ing, “Shar­ing videos made us de­cide there’s still a mar­ket for this kind of game. On YouTube, there’re mil­lions of views on those ac­tion sports videos. We wanted to have that be­cause we know the con­sole can do it and play­ers are al­ready do­ing it. We’ve seen that in many games, so we wanted to give them the tools.”

This means fans of video shar­ing and mad tricks will find a lot to like here, but it’s re­ally the free­dom to ma­noeu­vre around the moun­tain your own way that we see hav­ing the most last­ing ap­peal. “That’s been re­ally hard to achieve,” says Ragot. “Giv­ing the player their own agenda and leav­ing them free to do what­ever they wants to do. A seam­less ex­pe­ri­ence where you can drop in, switch be­tween wing­suit, snow­board, etc... Hav­ing ev­ery­thing seam­less with no load­ing and no in­ter­rup­tion, that’s al­ways been the main chal­lenge. Mak­ing sure you can do what­ever you want with no dis­rup­tion.”

If Steep is able to pull this trick off, the win­ter sports genre could be on the verge of mak­ing a long-awaited con­sole come­back.

Main Al­ways fun to open our lead pre­view with a man plum­met­ing to his doom.

be­low This guy’s had the sense to wear a hel­met, be­fore ski­ing into trees.

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