Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: No More Robots
Developer: RageSquid
Release Date: Q1/Q2 2019


Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Descenders'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 27, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Descenders is an extreme downhill freeriding for the modern era, with procedurally generated worlds, and where mistakes have real consequences.

Of all of the sports that could have been represented during the big extreme sports video game craze of the back half of the PSOne era and most of the PS2 era, mountain bike racing was one that didn't get a fair shake. The only game that tries to represent the sport is Downhill Domination, a PS2 title from the developers responsible for Twisted Metal. Descenders is the first attempt in a long time to capture the sport, and while it isn't what people would have expected, it's certainly captivating.

First of all, the controls are very different from what you'd expect from a biking game. When using a controller, the triggers function as acceleration and braking, making it feel like you're driving a car. When trying to perform tricks and simple bunny hops, you aren't using your face buttons. Instead, those tricks are done with a combination of the left and right analog sticks, reminiscent of the controls in EA's .skate series. There's a sense of realism to the tricks that you can perform, so spins and flips are normal, but don't expect anything more outrageous, like disengaging from your bike before jumping back on for the landing.

Additionally, Descenders isn't a racing game at all. The game informs you from the start that your goal isn't to complete the track under par time or faster than anyone else. Instead, the game tells you to finish the track however you can. You can decide to speed down the track if you want or take a leisurely pace. You can stay on the dirt road or travel away from it. You can miss all of the ramps laid out for you and even forget about all of the checkpoints placed on the track. As long as you cross that finish line, you'll be fine.

This all seems weird until you realize that the game has adopted some aspects of the roguelike genre. The points gained from completing tricks might not mean much at first, but it allows you to get crew members that affect things, like the hill steepness or lessening the curvature of the next course. Those points also net you some cosmetic items, like bikes, goggles, or headgear like helmets and bear ears. Crashing into anything takes away a health point, and losing all of your health points means you restart your journey from the beginning.

The courses are short, but they all come with random objectives that net you another point of health should you complete them. Completing the courses lets you branch off into more courses that vary depending on the intensity of track curves or gives you the ability to double your trick points while doubling the damage you take. Finally, every course is procedurally generated, so there's no way to have the same run in the same course twice.

This combination makes for an interesting game, where the main goal is to see how far one can go before wiping out. That might not sound that exciting on paper, but the gameplay more than makes up for that. The title's sense of speed is quick, and all it takes is seeing one course from the helmet cam to get a sense of how fast you're going. Tricks are easy to execute, and the controls are very responsive, so you don't have to fight to pull off something that looks great. Those are simple issues, but the formula is good enough to make it rather addicting, even if you don't have any intentions of sharing your progress with others.

Elsewhere, the game has two other modes. Course Creation lets you create your own tracks of various lengths and include any obstacles. A number is then generated in case you want to share that creation with others. There's also a daily challenge, which has you going through a preset course layout. It feels just like the campaign, but it has the advantage of daily leaderboards to compete in. You only get one shot at the leaderboard, and the lack of a practice mode means there's no way to prepare for anything before having that one good run.

All in all, Descenders feels like a finished product. It looks nice, it runs well, and it has enough modes to keep one entertained — provided competitive multiplayer isn't a big deal. The developer's constant need for additional features and tweaks is keeping this title in Early Access for now. We're looking forward to Descenders. If you can't wait, it's worth it to obtain the game in its current state from Steam.

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