Blue skies surround you. Fellow extreme sports fans carve their way past through fresh snow, as you find the perfect playlist to match your ride. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing test of your tricking skills, or a breakneck race down a sheer cliff face, Steep has every conceivable style of play covered, in what feels like a limitless playground of possibilities – but why was it so quickly forgotten about after launch? With spiritual successor Riders Republic launching later this year – Riders Republic was originally planned to launch today – I decided to hit the slopes once more.
A quick disclaimer before we carry on. I couldn’t write about Ubisoft without first bringing up the years of abuse and bullying that has happened. This came to light last year among abuse allegations throughout the video games industry and although Ubisoft’s irresponsible management is to blame, there are still hardworking and passionate people creating inclusive experiences. I feel it is unfair to write off the entire company, but I believe we should all still be wary of Ubisoft and those who own/operate it.
Despite absolutely loving my time with Steep I quickly moved on to something else and found myself playing it less and less before it ended up being deleted to make space for something else. Flash forward to the last few months. I’ve recently gone through a pretty difficult breakup and I was looking for a game that could help me escape everything I’m going through, and that game happened to be Steep.
Similar to many other titles we’ve seen in recent years, Steep has been improved and added to since it’s release. One of the biggest complaints around the time of release was how aimless the game’s objectives felt. Fortunately, Ubisoft released numerous DLC packs addressing the issues. By adding tighter and more focused mission sets, and quality of life changes which make accessing events far easier, Ubisoft have produced arguably one of the best open-world games within its library.
Steep follows the typical Ubisoft template. Big open world, unlockable spawn points to discover, endless map markers and lots of character customisation. You’ve seen it countless times before, and while Steep does nothing particularly innovative, it takes those hallmarks and blends them perfectly alongside an extreme sports experience that never feels like busy work. Each of the game’s four main sport disciplines is fun to master, and while the snowboard and skis are the primary focus of the game, it’s nice to switch things up by swapping to the wingsuit or paraglider.
The one thing that usually happens to me with most Ubisoft games is that I tire of the world. Map marker fatigue is something that’s caused me to switch off numerous Assassin’s Creed titles, and while Steep certainly suffers from it at points, there’s a clever trick that makes it much more manageable. At the end of each activity, a little box appears in the top left corner which enables players to pick between other related activities. Within a couple of button presses, you are already zipping off to a similar event, and making your way across mountain ranges one event at a time. This system enables players to completely skip the process of finding a new activities in the map screen, and distils Steep down to its purest form, an experience wholly focused on traversing huge snowy landscapes while partaking in its four thrilling disciplines.
Towers. That pesky map unlocking game mechanic which dominated the last generation of gaming is present in Steep but in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned in or disrupts the flow of gameplay. Steep’s tower equivalents are called drop spots, and they are areas of the map you can warp to once unlocked. They are usually at the top of a steep run, providing you with the perfect spot to spawn in and carve your way down the mountain. Rather than forcing players to arduously climb their way up to find them, you can unlock drop spots by simply taking a peek through your binoculars – provided you are close enough. As you work your way through the world, you unlock more and more of each mountain.
Where most Ubisoft worlds feel homogenous, the mountains of Steep are exciting, filled with secret spots, brilliant lines and countless villages. There’s a genuine joy to be found in starting at the top of a peak and finding an alternative route down to somewhere you’ve never visited before. It’s not dissimilar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and how it invites player-driven exploration. Everything on the horizon can be traversed. I often spot somewhere I’d like to go and make my way to it. Something made much easier with the addition of the rocket-propelled wingsuit which came bundled alongside one of the DLC packs.
Having recently lost my nan and also coping with a break up during the midst of a national lockdown, it’s no surprise to say I’ve felt incredibly lonely through these last few weeks. The shared world of Steep gave me some respite, as I could see other people in the world around me, carving their own destiny across its snowy peaks. While I may not have interacted with those other players, I did discover a bittersweet elation in sharing that space with other people – no matter how fleeting it may have been.
Even the cosmetic system, which is of course part and parcel of all Ubisoft games, feels more at home in Steep. Extreme sports like Snowboards have always operated hand-in-hand with fashion, so it would make sense that your character has access to a vast assortment of clothing options and outfits. Don’t get me wrong, it is very, very Ubisoft. But at least a marketplace of this kind makes sense within the world of Steep.
Going back to Steep like this has got me more excited about its spiritual successor, Riders Republic. Developed by the same team behind Steep, Riders Republic takes that same design philosophy and amps it up with more varied biomes, more active players and a wider array of sports and events. More doesn’t always mean better, but the gradual improvements implemented in Steep mean Riders Republic is in an excellent position to carry that knowledge and expertise forward.