E3 is over, but you can catch all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!
I love winter sports. I think snowboarding is one of the coolest sports ever, even if I'll never snowboard myself. That's the burden I bear, I enjoy winter sports, but I love the palace of bone and flesh I call my body more. I've skiied once and that ended with an instructor yelling my name and helpful tips as went screaming down the starter slope. Even veteran winter sports people end up with broken bones. I've never broken a bone and I intend to keep it that way.
As such, I tend to live vicariously through television and gaming. I love watching the Winter Olympics and the X-Games. I can zone out for hours to videos of snowboarders and skiers doing all manner of tricks. I've played Cool Boarders, 1080 Snowboarding, Snow, and the king of them all... SSX. I love SSX. Every single game, except maybe Blur. The original, Tricky, SSX 3, On Tour, and the reboot; SSX 3 remains my favorite, but I found something I enjoyed about them all.
The last game in the series, simply titled SSX, was a "very successful launch" for EA, but I constantly get the feeling that the company doesn't know what to do with games of that style. It used to have the old EA Big label, covering arcade-style sports games like SSX, NBA Street, and FIFA Street, but that's fallen by the wayside. Sports games in general have experienced a huge contraction. We used to have a number of games covering hockey, baseball, tennis, rugby, BMX, and more. A combination of exclusive licenses (see: NFL) and the expensive cost of game development means most of those games are gone now.
It's into this void of alternative sports titles that Ubisoft Annecy is launching Steep. To understand my love of winter sports, I present my feelings when the game was announced at Ubisoft's press conference.
When I finally got the chance to sit down with Steep, I was full of heady expectations and dreams. Did the game live up to those dreams? Yeah, it did.
Real Mountains, Bro
The closest SSX analog to what Ubisoft Annecy is trying to do with Steep is SSX 3, which gave players an entire fictional mountain. You could ride from the peak to the bottom in one long run, but the mountain was also littered with various courses dedicated to racing or tricking. Steep does the same with a few more additions. For one, the mountains here aren't fictional. Instead, Steep pulls in the Alps, one of the largest and most extensive mountain ranges in the world. (One that the Annecy studio happens to be rather close to.)
Ubisoft wants players to explore the Alps across four different sports: Snowboarding, Skiing, Wingsuiting, or Paragliding. As long as you're not moving you can switch between any of the four options by holding down the right bumper and moving the right analog in a direction. Which one you're into is up to you, but all are useful for getting around on each peak. You can also switch to the Mountain View, which zooms out and shows you all of the peaks and the assorted drop zones you've discovered.
Yes, "discovered". Each of these dropzones offers up unique challenges, like races or tricking competitions in any of the 4 sports. You have to find them first though. This can be done via your binoculars (left bumper) or by simply flying or carving past them. If there's not a dropzone available in a cool spot, you can go there, pick a sport, do a run, and then create a new dropzone challenge to share with others. The idea is that players are incentivized to wander the mountain and find new cool spots. (Also helping Ubisoft devs out by creating more races and trick courses to keep the game fresh.)
Fly, Float, and Carve
I tried all four sports during my demo. I'm not a huge fan of digital skiing, in comparison to the faster and more fluid snowboarding. I'll watch both, but enjoy snowboarding more and Steep did nothing to change my opinion in that regard. Snow (the other open-world winter sports game) also tried to convert me, but when it comes time to pick either skiiing or snowboarding, snowboarding wins every time.
Paragliding was more of a zen experience and seemed to be the preferred way of exploring the mountains outside of Mountain View. Going down is easy in snowboarding, skiiing, or wingsuiting, but going up is nearly impossible and rather slow if you're walking. Paragliding catches wind drafts from steep mountainsides in order to move upward, allowing you to get around easily. It's calming.
Then there's wingsuiting, which was one of the highlights of my experience. Soaring down the slopes in a wingsuit is simply awesome. I took in a wingsuit race, which granted me more points the closer I was to the mountainside. As soon as the race started, simply by flying through the dropzone marker, it was populated with other wingsuit flyers I could compete against. It controlled great and felt amazing as I could see the ground rushing up to meet me.
After any run, you can pause the game and take a look at a detailed report or your performance of that run, retry it, or send specific aspects of that performance to friends as a challenge. I retried the race, this time in the first-person Go Pro mode. In this mode, things scream by much, much faster. The Go Pro mode acts like a real Go Pro: do a trick while skiing or snowboarding and the camera will whip around with every spin and twist. That'll be dizzying for some, I'm sure.
Finally, there's snowboarding, which leans closer to 1080 Snowboarding or Snow than it does the high-flying tricks of SSX. It feels great, smoothly carving down the mountain with a flick of the left analog.
There is a trick system in place, but it's more subdued and realistic than SSX's bombastic Uber tricks. Holding down either trigger prepares you for a jump and releasing at the right time is important. Once in the air, the left and right analog sticks handle rotation on various axises and the triggers are for grabs with either hand. (Right trigger for right hand, etc.) The only thing I was really missing was the SSX ability to prewind rotation during a jump charge.
Winter Sports Branding
You'll notice the first-person camera mode is called Go Pro Mode. Steep does feature product placement aplenty. In addition to Go Pro, Red Bull featured heavily into my demo, but I also caught logos of winter sports clothing manufacturers like The North Face. The character I had was randomly-generated, but it looks like players will be able to pick up real gear from real companies to outfit their characters. This is a large part of Snow and I expect it to remain a big facet in Steep's development, even if it looks like there are some crazier costumes available.
I came away from my demo more than excited about the direction that Ubisoft Annecy is taking Steep in. When the game was announced at the E3 press event, I was psyched and my hands-on did nothing to mute that. Would I love crazier tricks? Sure, but what's here is still great so far. The world needs a kickass winter sports experience and Ubisoft is ready to deliver. I'm looking forward to playing more of the game when it launches later this year.
E3 is over, but you can catch all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!