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Statistics say that there are over 110 million people in the world who either snowboard or ski. You wouldn't get this impression from the gaming industry, which seldom has a release tailored for either sport. In-fact, you'd have to look back to 2012's SSX for the last AAA release of a snowsport.
This is what makes Ubisoft's Steep so special. It fills a massive void that has grown over the years in a well thought out way that is not only distinct in execution, but manages to be highly entertaining to the sort of person who has felt neglected by the genre.
Set in the Alps, the first impression Steep makes is a good one. This is a beautiful game that at times is reminiscent of Tom Clancy's The Division, with snow-packed terrain as far as the eyes can see. Especially when it comes to PC, the visual fidelity is well beyond anything we've seen from the genre before. Vistas offer a splendid sight at a virtual recreation of one of Earth's most precious locales.
The presentation excels across the board. Character models have true-to-life animations and clothing based physics that make the game appear spectacular in motion. The texture quality and shaders present an atmosphere that begs to be utilized to the fullest by screenshot junkies. Actually, this is one of the most photogenic games you will find in 2016. It offers many methods for controlling the camera, recording replays, and even sharing what you create. You can also play the game in first-person view, which is great for immersion.
This is particularly surprising when you take into account that this is an open-world game. With the ability to swap between skis, a snowboard, wingsuit, or parachute, you're given full freedom for exploring the mountainsides of the Alps. Ubisoft has gone as far as to implement walking, meaning that you can walk around hangout areas and engage with other players if you'd like. You know, just like the real thing.
Steep veers far more toward the realm of simulation when compared to games like SSX, which means that navigation and trick execution takes a lot of practice. You may find yourself stumbling a lot at first, some of which can be blamed on a lack of refinement. Over time, frustrations dissipate as you learn how to circumvent the quirks of the controls.
On this note, it's disappointing that tricks are relatively de-emphasized in Steep. It's difficult to perform flashy skills, and there is no grinding. Because of this, it's more of a racing and carving game with exploration elements. Although this will be a deal breaker for some, it fulfills its role nicely.
What will make up for this for certain consumers is the multiplayer integration. Steep's world can be enjoyed by many people at once, some of which comes in free-roam form with strangers, but also organized group play. It's actually quite remarkable that the game managed to not only implement a multiplayer solution, but one that has such a great sense of freedom.
This freedom is Steep's greatest asset. The inclusion of four disciplines keeps things varied as you chart the world, moving from mild slopes to rocky cliffsides and freestyle parks. Being able to do all this with friends is a major achievement that will make it a go-to for potentially millions of people this holiday season who are looking to enjoy the mountainside without the trip.