The slopes of Steep are vast, beautiful, and – for an open world covered in snow – hugely diverse. From the glacier-strewn downhill runs of Mont Blanc to the serene forests of Aravis, each area of the game’s re-creation of the Alps is packed with memorable terrain and unique challenges to tackle. We recently had a chance to take in these vistas and carve our own lines through them during a three-hour Steep demo at GoPro headquarters in San Mateo, Calif., and came away with a more complete view of what the game will offer when it arrives in December.
Learning the Slopes
Steep gives you five different ways to get around: snowboards, skis, wingsuits, paragliders, and walking, and you can switch between these at any time (so long as you’re not in motion). Snowboards offer fantastic speed, while skis give you a little more control (and also let you ski backwards by pulling the analog sticks in opposite directions). Wingsuits are made for high-speed, high-risk thrills and are great for covering a lot of ground in a hurry, while paragliders let you catch updrafts and explore leisurely from the air. Walking, meanwhile, is slow and mainly useful for stopping to discover new drop zones with your binoculars, or for trudging uphill – although if you’re trying to get back up after taking a wrong turn downhill, it’s often better to just hold a button to reset yourself to your starting position.
As you’re maneuvering across the slopes, a couple of general rules quickly become apparent. The first is that timing your jumps can take a little practice; short hops are easy to pull off, but getting enough air to pull off Steep’s aerial tricks requires you to hold and then release the jump button right at the apex of a ramp. Also, while powder is good, anything that looks like rocks is very, very bad and should be avoided. Not only are rocky patches likely to wipe you out if you run into them or try to land on them from a jump, but just skimming across them for too long can do some damage and knock you over.
Find Your Own Path
Being based largely around discovery, Steep doesn’t nudge you through a storyline so much as it gives you free rein to find multiple stories across the Alps. Starting from the beginning of the game, we ran through a brief tutorial and were set loose in Aravis, a region that – like the rest of the map – was dotted with events to which we could fast-travel.
Gaining experience and leveling up in Steep doesn’t improve your skill or abilities, but it does improve your renown, and that gets you invited to more and cooler events. (Also, winning events gets you points that you can use to deck out the eight available riders in new cosmetic items.) So while we were only able to visit and compete in a few events at the start, we leveled up quickly, transforming clusters of grayed-out events to bright splashes of color on our map. Getting invitations also opens up new, previously inaccessible areas, like wingsuit-friendly hot air balloons and mountain peaks that offer up new Mountain Stories (which we’ll get into shortly).
Gaining experience doesn’t take too long, given that nearly everything you do in Steep racks up points across its six different play-style categories. Want to wander the mountain and see the sights, independent of any event? You’ll gradually level up as an Explorer. Can you consistently nail tricks and get big air? You’re a Freestyler and will be rewarded as such. Even players with a habit of smashing into things can earn rewards as a Bone Collector. Once you’ve hit a groove and discovered which style works best for you, you’ll be able to level up more quickly by seeking out events that are color-coded to your preferred path.
Up to the Challenge
One of the first challenges we attempted, for example, was keyed for Extreme Riders and involved flying very fast and very close to the ground in a wingsuit. As with a lot of the events we tried, there was a white navigation line that led us on the ideal path (which meant buzzing past trees and swooping through openings in transmission towers along the way), as well as a computer-controlled ghost racer to both guide us along and give us something to beat. The Extreme Rider style thrives on high risk and narrow misses, so our score ticked upward the longer we glided close to the ground, and shot up when we flew through narrow gaps.
It was a somewhat stressful start, but things quickly calmed down when we tackled the North Face Expedition, a “Mountain Story” that challenged us to reach a distant peak by any means. Scattered around the map and more complex than standard racing or stunt events, Mountain Stories are diverse challenges that push you to discover points of interest or accomplish specific tasks, sometimes at the behest of the mountains themselves. For this one, we went mainly with the paraglider, catching updrafts by drifting close to slopes and listening to accounts of other people who had also summited the mountain to which we were heading. Against the glow of Steep’s twilight, it was almost meditative, although we made sure to try out some swingset-style flip stunts to keep things from getting too tranquil.
From there, a small galaxy of events and opportunities gradually opened up. Jumping into the Red Bull Ultra Natural challenged us with an obstacle-filled run from checkpoint to checkpoint, during which we zeroed in on jumps to score big Freestyler points. In Night Rider, we followed another rider through darkened woodlands while the spirit of Aravis spoke to us about the mountain’s best features. And in Kicked, a Bone Collector event, we deliberately botched huge-air tricks down a treacherously rocky slope to rack up the biggest possible g-force impact from a single fall.
If Steep’s premade challenges aren’t enough, intrepid free-roamers who create a particularly cool line down the mountains can share it online. This challenges other players to beat your performance, and you can even specify which of the six play styles you want to challenge them in. You can also invite other players to compete against you directly, thanks to your ability to partner online with up to three friends or other random riders you meet while exploring.
It’s a lot to take in, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the events, runs, and mysteries Steep has to offer. You’ll be able to get a chance to experience them yourself by registering for the Steep Early Access Beta (which runs from November 10 through November 14), or joining in the Open Beta, which is open to all players and runs from November 18 through November 21. Finally, Steep will launch in December on PS4, Xbox One, and PC; for more on the game, check out our previous coverage: