When I first heard about Ubisoft’s venture into the slippery slope of winter sports, I was definitely in two minds as to whether or not I’d like it, or if it would be any good. On one hand it sounds like the perfect arrangement: Ubisoft’s penchant for creating beautiful vistas and plenty of opportunities to soak in the astounding view. On the other hand it also sounded really quite dull. About as wonderful as Horace Goes Skiing on the Spectrum 48K. Turned out I was wrong on several accounts.
As most of us know Ubisoft has a wonderful habit of creating astoundingly beautiful games. And that’s evident here, though with far less detail than we are used to. That’s not to say the scenery is just a wash of white, because it’s not. There are varied slopes, rocky outcrops, cabins and chalets and other assorted buildings. It’s mainly the interaction with the setting sun and your location that proves majestic, especially if you opt to go paragliding when the sun is setting. But everything else is fairly standard, even though there is an emphasis on weather interaction.
But this isn’t the New York of The Division, so it’s not filled with hundreds of buildings and streets and people running around. It’s a winter sports-themed game, though there’s no real objective here. It’s a case of carry on at your own leisure, get new stuff and carry on some more. This is an open world game, much like The Division, but with far less focus on progression and mission accomplishment. Which is a ballsy move. Your main focus is on doing whatever you want to do. Want to go skiing? Then grab a pair of skis and go for it. Fancy snowboarding? Then do it.
It almost seems as though Ubisoft have seen how popular some aspects of Destiny have been, including the non-quest related stuff, such as racing or just larking around in the open world, and they’ve tried to apply that to their own creation whilst utilising their expertise in creating truly beautiful settings. The result is both a relaxing and adrenaline-fueled venture into what looks like the land beyond the wall in a Game of Thrones. Strangely, it seems to work. But it also lacks something, and it took me a while before I realise what that ‘something’ was.
In terms of visuals it’s business as usual here for Ubisoft, which sounds like a lazy, offhand remark. But it’s a good thing. The view is designed to astound and amaze, despite the lack of man made features in rolling countryside. Snow can, in some games, come across as unbelievably boring and relentless in it’s visual nature. But Ubisoft have charged the old snowflakes with life and character. And it shows on the slopes. The audio is a great accompaniment to the game and often provides the perfect partner when charging down the a snow-covered wilderness, or gliding above it. There are challenges within the game, and you can accomplish plenty. But I’d advise doing your own thing and having a go at the various races and challenges when you feel like it.
There isn’t much more I can say here, really. It’s a beautiful game. There’s stuff to do. If you prefer, you can do it at your own pace. There’s no rush. Wait… what? Have you tried wing suiting you boring twat? It’s amazing! And that’s the thing here. If you feel like a fifty-four-year-old-married-with-six-children-guy then head for the ski’s. If you are more akin to a daring seventeen-year old then grab the snowboard and face-plant a tree halfway down the slope. But if you want to encounter a dangerous and exciting adventure then strap on a wing suit and scream as you fly down the slope narrowly avoiding parts of the large rocky object God placed there a while back.
Alternatively, or after you’ve challenged Death to a staring contest via the wing suit, go paragliding and relax in the early evening light, before you attempt to take the slopes again. In a way, I feel like this is where the Division agents go for a break after a tour in New York, providing they like snow, of course, because there’s plenty of that in the Division. And despite my previous remarks there is plenty to see and do. Just don’t expect to do all of it. Because you don’t have to and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
However, I previously mentioned there was something missing from the game, and there is: A real sense of purpose. It’s hard in video games to strike the right balance between reminding the player to get on with it and allowing them the time to wander around, enjoying the view. Far Cry Primal was guilty of leaving you to your own devices just a little too much. And it was an easy thing to do as the environment was stunning, if a little restricted. And Steep follows suit, mainly because there’s no real end goal here.
Even the open expanse of the Division provides a good reason to get things done. You had the bad guys to deal with and the rest of humanity that had survived the outbreak to think of. But Steep lacks that. It lacks a final goal. It doesn’t stop you from enjoying the game in any way. But it might stop you from coming back after a few weeks or months of play. But it’s still a great thing to experience.
Out of 4 stars I give Steep…