Steep’s Road to the Olympics Feels Fresh

Around this time last year, I looked at the winter sports sim Steep by Ubisoft Annecy. I remember it being a surprisingly entertaining take on shredding powder in an open world but also disappointed at its lack of structure along with many other quirks prevalent in many of the publisher’s other titles. It’s an experience that has ultimately grown on me since it is still a game I go back to every now and then to work on my flips and tricks or if I need ten minutes of BASE-jump-fueled adrenaline.

Road to the Olympics is the latest expansion to the game, and it has quickly become one of my favorite complementary experiences. Giving a linear psuedo-documentary story about training, qualifying for, and eventually competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

While the core experience of Steep sells itself more on the fantasy of the experience of skiing, snowboarding and the like across exotic locales for its own sake, this expansion introduces new courses, obstacles to interact with, and a more formal challenge curve. The first big introduction are rails, and with them a new mechanic for grinding, re-orienting, and even chaining multiple jumps from rail to rail. The second are half-pipes, and given how physics-focused the gameplay is turns out to be one of the more tricky bits of terrain to handle.

What is especially freeing for Road to the Olympics is that there is no pre-requisite level or resource gatekeeping going on. The minute you boot up Steep, you can just choose to play the expansion separately. It even comes with a tutorial recap and a character select screen, completely playing like a standalone game.

This add-on is also a form of cross-promotional marketing for the actual 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which is why the new races and challenges also have cutscenes with actual Winter Olympic athletes and their coaches. These live-action segments are about them talking about the mental processes, training and conditioning that they underwent for the many different events that are replicated in the game. It’s barely a step above edu-tainment, but it’s a testament to how well Ubisoft Annecy translated the thrill and excitement and demand for split-second physical re-orientation one needs to participate in winter sports at such a high level into a game like this. It’s one thing to pull of multiple corks and backflips from rail to rail while nailing your landing, another to be reminded that people train their entire lives to pull off feats like that.

As for the three Olympic events themselves, they are handled quite well. Slopestyle is an obstacle run combining ramps and rails, Big Air is a high-risk reward stunt show, and Half-Pipe is all about pulling off tricks without losing any of your speed or momentum while progressing to the finish. All of them are great fun in their own right, but personal favorites have to be Slopestyle and Big Air, the former for its variety and for how tricky it is to actually pull off tricks on rails, and the latter for its capacity for hilarious ragdoll flailing on a bad run.

The expansion also includes new locations, and they are beautiful. The Japanese mountains are a sight to behold, mixing together distinct architecture like shrines and cherry blossom trees as you twirl and speed through the mountain side. There are also new locations in the Alps as well as a mountain zone set in Korea, each with their own challenging geography and captivating vistas.

It must also be noted that Steep has gotten a lot of quality of life updates behind the scenes since the last time I looked at it. The UI is a lot cleaner now and some of the weird physics glitches from before mostly appear to be gone. It’s amazing how much can happen in a year, and Steep is a testament to that.

If you have even a passing interesting in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics and would like a game that leans hard on a more realistic representation of the sports, you can do a lot worse than Steep’s Road to the Olympics. Much like the main game, it can be frustrating but once everything clicks, it can feel like you’re actually on the slopes yourself.

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