Steep: almost at the summit

One of my favourite parts of SSX Tricky was when, once the game was completed, the player was allowed to snowboard unobstructed across (what I remember as) perfect snow. Here you were presented with an open slope with no checkpoints or trick targets. It was just you and the mountain, giving freedom to simply enjoy the sensation of cruising down a run and carving your own route from start to finish. It was brilliant and after hours and hours of grinding out race wins, Uber Tricks and millions of points was the perfect, relaxing send off.

It’s a sensation in gaming I’ve never experienced since, despite the efforts of Shaun White and the SSX sequels themselves. That was until Steep came along.

Last night after a particularly gruelling gold medal grind against one of the expert challenges, which involved numerous restarts and swearing, I finally emerged victorious. I was wound up, tense, and had that familiar sensation of satisfaction at beating the challenge but still annoyed that it had taken so long to do it. I was tilting.

Recognising this I decided to see where the mountain would take me.

Steep, video game, snowboarder, skier, mountains, snow, view, sky

Off I went, gliding along on my snowboard, weaving my way down the slopes and relaxing into the ride. It was just what I needed, carving a route through trees, chalets, wide-open snow and the occasional other rider as I went from the top of the mountain all the way to the bottom. I even unlocked an ‘Edge of the Map’ achievement to boot.

This is where Steep excels. When it comes to winter sports it ‘feels’ right. Throw in some fantastic atmospheric sounds of the wind whipping by, fresh crunchy snow and just the right level of chilled out tunes and yes. Yes, yes, yes. I can lose myself to the mountain for hours.

The tricks and flips aren’t as wild as in other extreme sports games but Steep strives for as much realism as it can muster. Long story short: if you’re looking for a spiritual successor to EA Big’s classic, this isn’t it. There’s a decent extreme sports game here, but it’s hidden inside an amazing open-world mountain that’s a joy to explore.

Where Steep lets itself down is the design of the menus, the map and characters. The menus are unclear and badly organised. I’ve sunk almost ten hours into the game and still don’t understand exactly what certain portions are trying to tell me, or what will happen if I click on them. The same can be said for in-game too. There’s no feedback as to what event you’ve just been doing if you happen not to complete it or accidentally crash and lose your progress (a paragliding speciality of mine).

Steep, video game, mountain, snow, sky, snowboarder, snowboard

Yes you can hold a button to start event again but it doesn’t really start the event, it just takes you back to the last place you were in walking mode – which can be immensely frustrating if you’ve say, been zooming down the mountain for ten minutes, seen an event you want to try, zip through the start gate and then crash out. Holding the reset button down resets your progress from ten minutes ago.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there was a way to see, say, the last three events you tried, or had a map that was easy to navigate but there isn’t. The map is a 3D representation of the mountain which looks stunning but is a complete mess to navigate. Form over functionality is never a good thing.

Then it’s not actually you-versus-the-mountain as the marketing would suggest but one-of-a-selection-of-pre-made-characters-hidden-deep-in-the-menus-with-no-explanation-as-to-who-they-are-versus-the-mountain. They could be pros, they could be random, there’s no clue as to which. It jars me as the game pushes the player to express themselves and their personality by doing whatever they want but it has to be done in the shoes of an avatar you have no control over. You can put them in a giraffe costume though so I suppose that makes it all better.

I wouldn’t mind the inclusion of a way to greet the other players I meet on the mountain too. Right now it’s a case of ‘press X to group’ and that’s it, an emote or two wouldn’t go amiss.

At the end of the day Steep is a very good game for those that want to explore and see the sights. A more coherent menu, a couple of tweaks to the various interfaces, an instruction manual and (dare I say it) a touch more hand-holding of the player in the early stages and it would be a vastly improved beast.

Have you played Steep? What do you think?

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