With E3 2016 now been and gone, it’s time to reflect on the week’s announcements and reveals. One such announcement came towards the end of Ubisoft’s press conference. As usual, Ubisoft pulled something out that surprised a lot of people.
This year’s surprise came in the form of a new snow sports IP called Steep.
Steep is a huge, open-world snow sports game where you can ski, snowboard, wingsuit or paraglide your way around the Alps.
In this world you can race, complete challenges, cross-country ski, create your own tricky runs for your friends or just make your own way down one of the many mountains; Whatever takes your fancy, really.
The open world lends itself well to snow sports as you’ll supposedly be able to run into players and events in real time. In Steep you won’t be constricted to selecting set races from a menu, you can carve (snow puns!) your own path through the mountains at your own pace.
The free-roaming aspect of Steep is exactly what has me so excited for the game. The fact that you can race to your heart’s content, or take a leisurely run down the mountain, means that the game isn’t restricted to set styles; just like real snow sports.
This is somewhat analogous to real life, for me. I have been skiing since I was 13 and I, only recently, realised that I have a completely different skiing style to someone like my dad. I love skiing with my dad, but he’s very much focussed on mileage and skiing as many different runs as he can.
I, on the other hand, am something more of a relaxed skier. I’m aware that I’m on holiday and, while I’m absolutely down for a race or a tricky run, my greatest joy on the mountains comes from leisurely skiing down long runs that wind down the mountain.
It is fun to race, but it can be just as fun to put in some earphones, lose yourself on the slopes for a couple of hours, take in the scenery; all that good stuff. Most of the time I don’t really care where I’m going or how far, just going somewhere is good enough for me.
Sometimes it’s about speed or hitting jumps, but sometimes it’s just about taking in the beautiful scenery around you. I feel like this is what many race-centric snow sports games miss.
That’s what Steep sounds like it can offer; the freedom of having both the intense races and the relaxed runs with your friends in an expansive world that’s yours for the taking.
Not only does Steep look like it could cater to my own skiing habits, its open-world multiplayer could be something that finally fills the void left by Burnout Paradise. Since 2008 I have yet to find an open-world racer which matches the same level of personality and freedom that Criterion’s masterpiece offered.
The ability to free-roam and complete events & challenges with friends is a huge draw which I hope Ubisoft can deliver on. The challenge with a game like Steep is that making a large, engaging open world can be tough when a lot of mountain resorts look very similar.
There’s little point in having an expansive open-world if it all looks the same.
If Ubisoft can craft a varied world, with interesting environments and a solid mix of pistes and untouched runs, they might be on to something special. Although, as of now, it sounds like the game will be taking place solely in the Alps, I wouldn’t be surprised if the game expanded to other mountain ranges.
From the gameplay video below, it looks like they already have a solid mix of environments including sheer mountain faces, forests and tamer slopes at the lower altitudes. The variety of options means that getting around won’t be an issue, but it will be interesting to see if they offer you a method to get back up the mountains besides the fast travelling ‘drop zone’ mechanic.
That’s another thing, in so many snow sports games you see absolutely no chairlifts going up the mountains. How on Earth does everyone else get up there!? Not everyone has access to helicopters, bloody extreme sports purists.
I think it’d be quite relaxing to take a multitude of chairlifts up to your destination; secretly one of the best parts of a skiing holiday, providing it isn’t fucking freezing.
Although Steep is a new IP for Ubisoft, it isn’t exactly revolutionary in terms of its basic premise.
Steep marks the industry’s first AAA foray into the snow sports genre since EA’s SSX in 2012 which, whilst incredibly fun mechanically, lacked any substantial multiplayer.
Despite the game being greatly enjoyable, with great track design and a variety of unique mountain ranges, solid free-roaming could have been the mechanic which tipped the game from being great to amazing.
Instead, SSX’s multiplayer was largely based on trying to beat others’ times and most of the interaction you had with other players was by racing their ghosts.
Like I’ve already said, racing my friends can be fun but, just like in real life, what if we just want to take five and ride around aimlessly for a bit?
That was one of Burnout Paradise’s greatest strengths; even if we weren’t racing or completing challenges we were still exploring and having fun in the world, endless hours were spent barrel rolling into the quarry.
[Criterion’s Burnout Paradise]
Maybe it was just because we were a lot younger and had more time, and perhaps imagination, to do things like that, but I’d like to think that a game like Steep might be exactly what’s needed to draw out that magic once again.
Despite its inclination towards the extreme, I’m hoping Steep also allows the quieter moments that can happen when you’re standing on the side of a mountain, taking a breather as you wait for a friend to catch up.
The option for a first-person camera view, which actually makes sense given snow sports’ affinity with Go-Pros, and VR support also sounds incredibly immersive, but might be a bit vomit-inducing when you take a tumble and inevitably spend 20 seconds rolling down the mountain.
I’m still unsure what tone Ubisoft are striving for with Steep, whether they’re going to keep it fairly serious and rooted in reality, or whether they will let their hair down and inject a bit of the lighter personality that was present in the SSX series.
Skiing and snowboarding are literally about cutting your own way through the snow, so it only seems right that Steep reaches with ambition towards the peak of open-world racing games. Whether it snows or not, I might be having a white Christmas with Steep if it releases as planned in December.
Images from Ubisoft, Red Bull and NextGenGamingBlog.