At any given point in Ubisoft’s upcoming extreme winter sports extravaganza you can stop what you’re doing, teleport to a hot air balloon and launch yourself from it wearing a nought more than a half-arsed flying squirrel costume.
The first beta weekend for Ubisoft’s free-roaming extreme sports game Steep has come to a close, leaving us with the impression of a game that takes its snowy mountain fun times quite seriously, but not so seriously that players can’t have plenty of good old-fashioned incredibly dangerous fun whenever they want. Even if they’re recording a Kotaku Plays video.
Steep allows players to join up online and challenge some of nature’s mightiest mountains, conveniently cropped together for maximum variety per acre. Players take to the slopes and skies in one of four activities.
We have skiing, the world’s third-oldest way of getting down a mountain quickly (beaten by sledding at number two and falling at number one).
My dad tried to teach me to ski once. It was just like this, only a much smaller hill with more eight-year-old screaming.
If two planks and poles aren’t dangerous enough for you, the game also offers snowboarding, which is just like skiing, only the music is a bit heavier.
You can only get so much air on a snowboard, so we have wingsuits. A skilled pilot of one of these babies can lick the ground at 190km per hour. Non-skilled wingsuit pilots could not be reached for comment.
And finally we have paragliding, a sport in which players hook themselves up to a giant sail-type thing, trying to hold on tight as the wind slams them into jagged rocks repeatedly.
All four of these sports are recreated as faithfully as I can imagine, having never actually participated. It’s strange to say, but after years of SSX, Coolboarders and other snowboarding games, I’ve developed an opinion of how I think the sport should feel — fast, urgent, exhilarating — and Steep does a fine job carrying those same properties over into its other extreme events.
Skiing is fast and graceful. I can feel the air passing under the wingsuit fabric, keeping me afloat. Paragliding makes me feel like apologising to the wind for imagining I had any business up there.
What’s neat about Steep is how much freedom players are given to explore and do their own thing. There are events to unlock and medals to be won doing them, but they can also pick a point on a mountain and just drop in. At any given time the player can hold down a button and zoom out, letting their cursor play over the vast mountaintops in search of new adventure.
It’s as structured or freeform as the player wants it to be. There are key locations with series of special points to find and challenge events to complete for rewards. To some, that will be the game. To others, they will be guidelines to help frame their own alpine adventures.
As much as I enjoy earning medals, I found myself spending more and more time wandering during my hours with the beta. I’d swap between the four disciplines, seeing which worked best for the terrain I was facing (you can’t ski on rocks, apparently). Every now and then I’d switch to walking in order to survey the land for new events and areas. Then I’d remember how much walking through deep snow sucks and go right back to whichever snow-based activity I was currently enamoured with.
There’s a lot to do in Steep. There are five different colour-coded disciplines to master, a ton of clothing items to collect and endless ways to hurt your virtual self alone or with a group of friends. I look forward to getting some more time on the slopes during next weekend’s open beta (November 18 to 21), with plans to go deep once the game launches on PS4, PC and Xbox One on December 2.