Steep Road to the Olympics

Steep Road to the Olympics

Written by Eric Hauter on 1/2/2018 for PS4  
More On: Steep

Full Disclosure -  I didn’t really care for Steep when it first released in late 2016. I picked the game up on a whim, as I had recently read some fairly positive articles about the game’s freeform play and challenging event-based gameplay. In the back of my mind, I was imagining that Steep would hit a sweet spot somewhere in between Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 and the underappreciated PS2 classic Downhill Domination. I was thinking that I would engage in some races and events, under the umbrella of some sort of “career mode”, advancing forward as my skills improved until I beat the game.

What I found instead was overwhelming. After a few tutorials, Steep plunked me down on the side of a mountain and just said “go”. There were events to be found by zooming out to the mountain-side view, but there was very little in the way of guidance on where to go or what to do next. Players were just free to wander about and do whatever struck their fancy. Want to jump off the side of the mountain in a Wing Suit?  Fine. Meander over to a cliff and do it. Want to try some ski tricks? Find one of the game’s events and ski down one of the game’s predetermined routes and score as many points as you can. All of this was fine, but it left me with a nagging feeling that, being able to do whatever I wanted, I didn’t quite understand what I should be doing. In the end, I tried a several of the events until I mastered them, but saw little reason to continue engaging with the game. Steep didn’t seem to have any end goals. Instead, it seemed to be just a representation of a slightly stoned subculture wandering around in the snow looking for thrills.

My dislike for Steep wasn’t Steep’s fault, it was my own. Steep was structured almost like an open world game, a social snowbound MMO. I entered into the game with some old-fashioned ideas of how it would be structured. Steep was trying something different, and I just couldn’t get on board. After about 10 hours of play, I flipped the game to one of my kids and moved on.

Now, after a year of updates, DLC , and the new Road to the Olympics expansion, I have reengaged with Steep to find the game greatly changed. I’m just not sure the changes made have been enough to keep me my interest with the game.

Right out of the gate, grievances began piling up. For example: After loading up the game for the first time since the Road to the Olympics went live, I was relieved to be presented with a splash page that allowed me to choose between “Play Steep” and “Play Road to the Olympics”. My relief centered on my concern that, given Steep’s free-form mission selection, I would have to wander around several ranges of mountains to figure out how to start the new story content. I started the new Olympic campaign and was able to play for a few missions before having to stop for a while.

However, when I reloaded the game to continue the campaign, there was no indication of how to reengage with the storyline. Instead, my guy just appeared on a mountainside, with an event in front of me. Thinking that maybe starting the event would trigger the story to continue, I snowboarded over and gave it a shot. No go. Instead of the Olympic story, I was just snowboarding down a mountain. I pressed the Options button and scoured the various convoluted menus trying to figure out how to continue the story. There were no instructions, no options, nothing. Finally, I gave up and Googled “Continue Olympics Steep”, and was unsurprised to discover that countless others had encountered the same issue. It turns out that the prompt to continue the campaign is tucked into the mountain-side view, just another event amidst a throng of maybe 20 others. Rolling my eyes, I loaded it up.

The Road to the Olympics campaign feels a little half-baked. The story line focuses on a nameless Olympic snowboarding hopeful, as they attempt to win triple gold medals in the three major snowboarding events (Slopestyle, Big Air and Halfpipe) in the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics. While the expansion adds several new types of events, only snowboarding is represented in the campaign.

Though the campaign does lend some of the structure I wanted so badly, the flow of events feels a bit stilted, with tutorials leading to trials, which then lead to the main events in the Olympics. Events are interspersed with video clips of actual Olympic champions, discussing their experiences. These clips are interesting, but they make the flow of the campaign feel choppy, particularly since they are usually followed by in-game story beats, narrated by a resonant voice explaining what our faceless champion is feeling as they face their latest challenge. The back-to-back clips often had me tapping my foot impatiently, wanting to get back to the snowboarding action.

The snowboarding itself is much the way I remember it in the base game, with the exception of the new rail grinding elements, which were added in a previous DLC and are prominently featured here. The Big Air and Halfpipe events rely on the execution of tricks while in the air. While it is easy to pull off some superhuman feats in midair, I find that the controls feel somewhat floaty and inconsistent to me. I jump up, and jam on a few buttons while pushing the analog stick this way or that, and my guy does something incredible. However, repeating the exact same series of actions on the next run does not always yield the same results, which led me to feel like I was just button mashing to succeed. Focusing, really trying to learn how to perform specific tricks, yielded little result.

The Slopestyle events are very heavily reliant on stringing tricks and grinds back to back to score big. Tricks alone will not score high enough to win these events, so grinding is an absolute must. While the grinding mechanic is fun when you land it, it is far too easy to miss the rail and bring your run to a complete halt while you attempt futilely to hop up onto a rail from a standstill. Much like the other events, I never felt that I was fully in control of my character, which led to me feeling like my high scores were won more by chance than by any skill on my part.

In the end, I achieved the tripled gold medals (not terribly difficult after all of the warmups) and was left once again standing on a snowy mountain with that familiar “what am I supposed to do now?” feeling.

In addition to the story campaign, Steep: Road to the Olympics provides 9 Olympic events to play on the Korean mountain - and a ton of new challenges on the new Japanese mountain range - including a bunch of new Alpine events. While many of these are fun on their own, I ended up engaging with them much in the same way I engaged with the base game last year. I would mess around with the ones I liked (I particularly took a shine to the race-like Alpine events) until I felt like I had a good handle on them, but then I felt like I had nowhere to go with my new skills. So much obvious work and care has gone into the construction of the individual events, but the framework around them is just baffling to me.

It is obvious that Steep: Road to the Olympics is the result of enormous effort by the development team behind it. The game looks amazing graphically, and the sound design is suburb. The mountains are beautifully designed, with tons of nooks and crannies to seek out and play with, and the new Japanese range is no exception to that. However, this game still doesn’t grab me in the way that other extreme sports titles have in the past. With so much content, so many places to see, and so many events to complete, every time I try to dig into to Steep, I just end up feeling lost in the snow.

Steep: Road to the Olympics adds a ton of new content that will surely please fans of the base game. However, for those who weren’t able to get on board with the game’s free roaming aesthetic, there is little new that will change their minds. While the new Olympic story campaign offers some much-appreciated structure, it is over quickly, and players are left with an avalanche of content and no map directing them where to go next.

Rating: 6.5 Mediocre

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs).  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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