Over the weekend, Ubisoft ran an open beta for their upcoming open world winter sports simulator Steep. Announced at E3, Steep is a breakaway from the usual Ubisoft open world staples of Assassins Creed and FarCry and was selected as a game to watch by several commentators. I gave the beta a whirl and came away underwhelmed.
I should begin by pointing out that I am not really a fan of the sports genre. Whilst I'll occasionally dip into something like Forza or Tony Hawks, it is very rare that I'll devote much time to a sports sim so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also a beta so there are likely improvements to be made before the release but probably not many given it is due to release on the 2nd December.
At its heart, Steep is an open world game based in the Alps although Alaska is being added later on. You can travel by five methods; walking, skiing, snowboarding, wingsuit flying, and paragliding. You'll discover new routes around the mountain range that open up challenges and races with an odd little minigame in which you look through binoculars listening for a diamond sound (seriously). There are drop zones around the mountain range allowing for free fast travel and there are several secret routes and races to discover.
The races and challenges use each of the four sports and you can smoothly switch between them leading to a few awesome moments as you switch seamlessly from wingsuit to snowboarding although I've no idea where your player is storing all this stuff. You can do some basic jumps and tricks and when you crash you get a little readout telling you the amount of g-Force inflicted upon you.
On the face of it, Steep sounds great. The problems I had were all fairly minor but added up to a general feeling of "meh". To begin with, I had problems getting the thing installed. The beta was a 15GB download through Steam but it then required installation of the Uplay client for no particular reason. This installed and then failed to open with all manner of DLL warnings and errors. After uninstalling, restarting, and then re-installing from the website I was able to get in and then wait a few minutes for it to update again. I have no problems with online-only games or online DRM but I do take umbrage at being made to install a client that is sold as "a quicker way to access your games" when it simply isn't necessary.
After a low-res introduction movie, I was dropped into the game and started the various tutorial pieces to snowboard and use the wingsuit. The scenery and detailing is lovely and worked fine on my 3440x1440 21:9 screen but it doesn’t match the beauty of scenes such as the Skellige Isles in the Witcher 3. The animations of the actual player seemed a little off to me and the controls felt floaty leading to frustration as I bounced off of rocks or smashed into the ground. The wingsuit was perhaps the worst for this with an odd control scheme in which you hold the left stick down to jump off a pylon but then I'd frequently jump in the wrong direction. This may have been due to my invert y-axis settings but everything about making the leap felt incorrect and seemed poor compared to other wingsuit games like Just Cause 3.
One of the big selling points of Steep is that it is a single open world that you share with everybody else playing the game leading to an almost MMORPG style system with real people on the mountain with you. I'm not sure if it was part of the beta but I never saw anybody else apart from 3 AI controlled racers. That's actually a benefit for me as I'd prefer a solo experience or something more akin to Forza Horizons 3 where you have AI "drivatars" based on the way other people play.
The piece that really got to me about Steep though was the cheery voice in your ear telling you how awesome you are doing. This isn't new, and the previously mentioned Forza Horizons 3 does exactly the same thing. The difference though is Forza has an idea of context and if you do poorly you'll be told so. With Steep, I took twice as long to get down the mountain as the other players (due to getting stuck on a rock) but was then told that I "tore the park apart and caught some serious air" which wasn't true.
Steep really wants you to be good at it as you can then use the various GoPro branded camera angles and replays to create some beautiful videos to share with your friends. The problem is that the controls and animation fluidity don't do this replay system justice and so you end up with what feels like the token skiing level in a poor James Bond knock-off. I genuinely found the snowboarding controls better in the Nintendo 64 classic Snowboard Kids more realistic and that's a problem especially when you want to charge the steep (ha!) price of £55 at launch.
If you are at all interested in Steep, I'd urge you to download the beta and give it a whirl before it ends today. For now, it's not a game I can recommend but it has made me want to re-play Just Cause 3…