The star of Steep is the scenery, which is set in the Alps surrounding some of the range's most famous peaks. Stand on a mountain peak and the view is simple stunning. The game takes that scenery and turns it into an open-mountain sandbox (snowbox?) for you to explore. You can ski or board any part of it that can be skied or boarded, and take to skies across the rocky crags and cliff faces in a wingsuit or a paraglider. As an avid skier, this is the part of the game that appealed to me the most. Snow sport games usually focus on the more extreme elements of competition on the snow while completely neglecting the experience of being far off piste with a friend or two and finding a pristine glade or untouched face to explore and see where it leads you. Not Steep, though, which actively encourages you to do just that, leaving new areas, runs, and events hidden until you discover them on your own. Does it succeed in creating an enjoyable mountain wilderness experience? In some ways, yes, but in others, no.
First off, let's look at the way the game approaches the sports themselves. Steep takes a middle of the road approach in that it tries to balance the gameplay between a simulation and an arcade experience. Some of the physics feel realistic, such as the effect of the degree of slope on momentum, and other aspects not so much so, such as the amount of air you'll get from bumps and jibs when you travel over them at high speed without pressing the jump button. The snow is remarkably consistent across all terrain and locations, giving you knee-deep powder to cut through and the game does a respectable job of simulating carving. I haven't skied the Alps, but if Steep is any indication then the range is covered with a wet, heavy snow, as you can never seem to get going too fast in the game when you're not competing in an event. You can seem to ski or board over rocks remarkably well, however, traveling much farther and under far more control than in my experience with rock skiing.
My experience with paragliding is far less than that with skiing and I doubt I'll ever don a wingsuit, but the physics and controls feel far more forgiving than I'd expect from the real life versions of the sports. Using a wingsuit requires a lot of keeping the stick pulled all the way back lest you bleed altitude too fast and make an unplanned landing on your head. Of course you score points for keeping close to the ground, so there is some challenge there for those who want to rack up high event scores. Paragliding is remarkably easy, and you can either gently float your way down the mountain or look for the up arrows along cliff faces indicating updrafts and use those to stay airborne longer. Paragliding is essentially the game's tourist mode, allowing you to enjoy the scenery rendered around you without having to worry too much about the controls or crashing.
When you're exploring the mountain, the game definitely conveys a sense of the massive amount of vertical provided by the Alps. You can go on runs that last ten minutes or more, and its a strength of the game that you don't realize that you've spent that long hurtling down the mountain until you reach the bottom and look at the clock or the game informs you that you're run has crossed a time threshold.
While the game does try to recreate a mountain exploration experience, it does make a number of video game style concessions in order to make things easier on you. First, you can instantly switch between the four activities any time you are stopped, and can even take to your feet and walk. So if you board your way onto a rocky precipice, you can simply take off your board, walk to the edge, switch to your wingsuit, and jump. You can also use the game's map to instantly teleport to any event location or landmark that you've unlocked, or jump to a spot back up along your current line - a handy cheat if you missed a turn that you wanted to make. There are also "helicopter rides" that will take you anywhere on the map, but the number of these rides that you can use are limited. Another thing that takes away from the experience of being out on the mountain is the game's odd insistence of randomly playing voice overs in which strangers speak a few lines about what they enjoy about the sport you're currently playing. It's a little distracting, but it's more annoying for the way it intrudes on your feeling of solitude.
Steep purports to let you play your way by choosing to follow the path of the Explorer, Extreme Rider, Freerider, Freestyler, Pro Rider, or Bone Collector. Earn Explorer points by finding new lines and slopes or go for spectacular crashes to rack up points as a Bone Collector. In theory it has the potential to be a unique and interesting system for a sports game that's almost akin to classes in an RPG, but in practice they're just categories that you'll earn points in, often without even trying to, that collectively contribute to an overall level. It's a missed opportunity here - wouldn't it be interesting if specializing in one or two areas led to the development of unique skills in those areas?
The line the game straddles between arcade and simulation isn't the only such line in the game. In addition to the freedom to explore the mountains on your own the game has a number of events . The events are all corporate-sponsored affairs and feature a disembodied voice offering you loud-mouthed encouragement in such a way that I can only guess that he's your agent or corporate rep. These events tend to go for more of a realistic than extreme approach. The trick system is limited and the controls a bit finicky, especially the jump button required to get enough air off of the jumps to do those tricks in the first place, so the events in the game actually come across as a bit tame and certainly not as exciting as what you'd see in real world events. There's a decent mix of checkpoint races, trick runs, and other competition variants to keep things interesting, all of which will award you a gold, silver, or bronze medal based on how you do compared to the par scores for the events. You can run the events as often as you'd like, and can use the Y button to bail out on your run and reset yourself at the beginning at any time. Some events are enjoyable, others are tedious, but you'll need to play through most of them to earn the chunk of experience points that come with each one which will allow you to unlock access to new peaks in the game. And that's part of the issue here - if you just want to explore the mountains, you're going to have to play through the events to open more areas to explore (and the gigantic event markers that float in the air above each event location are constantly ruining your view), and if you just want to play events, then you're still going to have to do some exploring to "discover" each event's location.
Steep is a server-driven game, so as you explore the mountain you'll occasionally encounter other players and as you play events you'll see the other players who are competing in the event at the same time as you are. This latter case is a bit odd, because you'll see the other players run through the event even though you're not directly competing against them. You can group up with any other players that you encounter, but there's very little of that going on in the game, probably because there's not a lot of motivation to do so. It's great if you want to run an event with a friend or two, but otherwise you'll just want to try and grab the gold, take your experience points, and then move on from there.
There are a few exploration-based events as well, which go by the name of "Mountain Stories". Typically you'll be given a distant beacon to reach and then it's up to you to find your way to it. For the most part these are enjoyable, but they can also be a bit frustrating because it's easy to lose sight of the beacon when you enter into a crevasse, chasm, or valley. Once you've lost track of it there's not much you can do. You can just keep going and hope for the best, but the game won't tell you if drop too low to reach the target destination. And if you try to check the map, then game will simply teleport you all the way back to the starting point.
There are a fair amount of items to earn and purchase in the game, both gear and clothing, but all of this is purely cosmetic. It would have been nice to see the equipment have an effect in the game, such as boards geared for racing versus stunt runs versus carving through powder on untracked runs, each of which handled a little differently, but it's all just for show here.
There are some things to like about Steep, particularly its open world approach to snow sports, but it doesn't quite all gel well together. If you're looking for a snowboard stunt game, then you should pass on Steep because that's not the focus of the game. On the other hand, if you enjoy snow sports, then it's worth checking out. You'll have enough fun exploring the large amount of terrain contained in the game that you'll get your money's worth from it before it reaches the point where it begins to feel played out.
Final Rating: 80% - A game made more for the off-piste explorer than the terrain park fan.