As my flying daredevil bounces off a seam of dark alpine rock, I realise how much I've missed extreme sports games. Before the genre fizzled out, SSX and its shouty rivals were colourful interpretations of the craze, narrated by excitable commentators on a permanent sugar high. Steep is a relatively sober take, an open world racing game that lets you create and share challenges with friends.
There are no menus, flyovers or gear loadouts here. It's just you, the mountain, and whoever else happens to have spawned into your area. With a quick selection on a menu wheel you can flip between skis, a snowboard, wingsuit and parachute. The latter lets you glide serenely around the terrain to discover new races and trick challenges. That unlocks each challenge for fast travel on a huge 3D mountain map, designed to get you get into events quickly. You can change outfits and the time of day with a button press, and events can be restarted instantly.
Steep is accessible and immediate. The races I tried were all very short—three or four minutes at most. Each provides a morsel of challenge that can be quickly repeated, mastered and discarded. Movement is fast and smooth. The snow deforms under skis and board and the beautiful sound of carbon fibre slicing through snow rises above the fast rock soundtrack. You're awarded medals based on performance, though it's not clear yet whether these awards serve as much more than badges of honour.
It's a multi-discipline game, and my time was too short to explore the finer points of each. There are neat touches, such as the way you can hug the mountainside to catch updrafts for your parachute. There's a trick system that lets you jump, spin, and grab when you ride skis and snowboards. When you hit a rough landing, or collide with something, the game displays the Gs at work during the impact, just to press home the consequences of your sloppy slope work.
For the best part of the demo, a Steep developer took the controls, parachuted to a tiny outcrop, and jumped off in a wingsuit. He flew low over the ice and added a few alarming turns, and then deployed his parachute to land safely some two hundred metres below his starting point. Heading back to the mountain view mode, he showed me how the game had recorded his flight path perfectly. You can replay any run, pausing and rewinding to get screenshots. If you're happy with the route you can then upload it as a challenge that friends and the wider Steep community can try. The game generates leaderboards for added competition.
It's an impressive feature, but one I fear will be let down by the mountain itself. It's a little bare, and I wonder how much scope there is to create new events with much variety. Steep's predecessors designed slopes as mad rollercoasters, full of spectacular optional routes, twisting grind rails and the sort of sheer drops that make all your insides clench up. Steep has some of this in its extreme challenges, but a little more artistic license could make the mountain a more exciting place to explore.