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Ubisoft hopes to make us forget about the SSX reboot.
The biggest surprise about Ubisoft's reveal of Steep, as our own Kevin Schaller said earlier in his feature, was the fact that it was actually revealed. This E3 2016 might as well have been called Leak E3 for all the presser conferences that were spoiled. But the more impactful surprise is that Steep is the first game since the middling 2012 reboot of SSX to attempt a comeback for the once popular snowboarding franchise. By taking a fresh, more realistic, and open-world approach, Steep brings a deeper sense of freedom that no other snowboarding game has accomplished before.
The most impressive and modern feature of Steep, which I experienced twice behind closed doors, is how instantaneous it is. During any particular run, you can stop and retry the activity, or activate Mountain View and instantly teleport yourself around the game's Alps-inspired mountain range without having to sit through long loading times. Moreover, so long as you're on the ground, you can immediately switch between snowboarding, skiis, wingsuit, and paragliding. There's little room for boredom here.
Also at any moment, you can view your session in the form of a trail. Not only will you be able to replay certain portions of your run, but you can turn the most spectacular parts, like a challenging trick, into a challenge that your friends and other fellow fans can attempt to conquer. Ubisoft's Annecy studio hopes that this feature alone will spur plenty of user-created content and friendly competition.
Getting into the game's activities was extremely easy, dotted across the mountain with simple coloring labels in Mountain View. Depending on your mood, you can choose to head into a race against three ghosts, perform tricks in a course with jumps and hills, or try a wingsuit challenge where you must fly as low to the ground as possible. For an even greater challenge, you can try the events labeled black with extreme courses that have you flying off cliffs on a pair of skis or dovetailing through the holes of telephone towers in a wingsuit (it took me about 26 attempts to get through this). Not landing accurately with a force of over 10Gs will end your run immediately (as well it should).
Earning medals in each event, and clawing your way to the gold medal through trial and error, will earn your character more prestige, but how this lends itself toward progression has not been detailed thus far. From my short interview with Creative Director Igor Manceau, it seems that physically exploring the mountain can lead to additional events and help you fill out the mountain's Point of Interests, though earning enough medals also contributes toward unlocking new zones, like, say, the entire new area of Alaska.
At this point in Steep's development, the controls are strong but could still be improved. They're precise enough so that you can find your way onto a ramp for some needed elevation, but dodging an incoming tree can be more difficult than it needs to be. Swerving around obstacles isn't as smooth at it could be, and performing tricks is a bit, err, tricky since the button used to jump is the same button used for grabs. That said, performing double front flips, McTwists, and Backside Misties became much easier to execute over time, though figuring out how to stop the rotation effectively remained a bit confusing.
Whereas the environments are spectacular, with nearly every angle being a panoramic shot of the snow-laden mountaintops with the bright, misty sky in the background (the GoPro partnership is golden here), the sound quality could have been improved. The flapping of the wingsuit as you soar through the air is immersive, but the carving of the snow with the skis and the snowboard aren't as deep as they could be.
While multiplayer was not available in the demo, asymmetric multiplayer through ghosts and user-created challenges are certainly a piece of the puzzle. Igor Manceau elaborated on a grouping system where four players can form a team so that you can find each other on the map if several players choose to wander off and do something else. But how this translates into versus multiplayer is not ready to be shown at the moment. At the very least, it was clear from the very beginning that collision detection would be off by default to prevent players from being trolls.
Steep still has a lot of polishing work to complete before we're ready to crash its slopes, but so far, it's looking as pure as the driven snow. Steep is on its way on blending the best of SSX 3 with the feature set of skate, and is our best (and only) hope of putting snowboarding games back on the map, though Ubisoft will need to earn the trust of new players to do just that. Look for it to release in time for the holidays on December 2016 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.