There is truly a lack of freestyle BMX games at the moment. Developer RageSquid looks to fill that empty place in the market by releasing Descenders. The developer is best known for developing Action Henk, a physics based racer featuring toy characters and is almost the complete opposite of this next game. Descenders is biking game whereby you ride down steep hills at often exhilarating speeds. You will need to try your very best to stay on the bike and not crash into any obstacles such as trees. Descenders is currently in early access, so it should continue to improve overtime, as such is it worth hopping on the bike in its current state?
In its current state, Descenders lacks any form of story mode, thus it is hardly worth mentioning. The game begins at a tutorial whereby you, the player start on a bike at the top of a hill from which the game explains the controls. I thought that the tutorial was very good and did a great job of highlighting all the controls that you would need to get started. However, I would highly recommend that you play the game with a controller which the game also states as you start it up. Moreover, I was impressed by the game’s accessibility. Although the game’s Steam page including its trailer gives the impression that the game looks difficult to play, early impressions indicated that the game is rather forgiving at first. This broadens the game’s target audience very well, with a simple to pick up and play control scheme.
Once you complete the tutorial, you are free to do what you want. You can continue to practice in the hub, which has a few basic hills to get you started. In addition, you are able to change your rider’s clothing here as well as the bike that they ride. The more you play the game the more customisation options you randomly unlock, ranging from common to rare cosmetics. It’s quite rewarding to equip your character with rare cosmetics as you obtain them, and seeing your appearance change as you equip them is a sign of progression. Additional cosmetics including handle bars, rear wheels and hats are coming at a later date. Currently, you can change the helmet, goggles, bike, shirt and trousers, giving you plenty of ways to make your custom character your own.
There is only one real mode in the game at the moment and that is the Session mode. In the Sessions mode you ride down randomly generated maps across four different regions. As you progress you gain reputation points, gain enough reputation points and you gain a new rank. Each region consists of at least five different hills for you to complete. The fact that each hill is randomly generated adds much more variety to the game, ensuring that I was never going down the same hill twice. However, I felt that most of these generated maps lacked anything that made them stand out thus all looking and feeling very similar. Completing a hill moves you onto the next hill which you can select based on three different conditions. These include, steepness (indicating how steep the hill is), curves (indicating how many turns the hill has) and stunts (indicating how many ramps there are). This determines the type of hill that is generated upon selection and helps you complete the bonus objectives that change after each hill. A bonus objective is an objective that upon clearing, gives you an additional live. For example, a bonus objective could require you to complete a hill without letting go of the accelerator. Lives are lost if you fall of your bike, lose all your lives and the session is over, including a loss of some reputation points. Lives make the game a lot more challenging and the game can become quite tense depending on the hill that is generated. Having only one life ensured that I took extra caution when going down some of the more treacherous hills.
The final hill in a region features a boss jump. For example, the first boss jump requires you hit a huge ramp and jump over a bridge with a train. Although jumping over this obstacle was relatively easy, landing the jump was very tricky. The game takes into account factors including your falling speed, land position etc. to determine whether you will still be on your bike when you land. This adds a hint of realism to the game but also makes the game more challenging. I found it highly rewarding to finally landing the jumps after numerous failed attempts. Due to the game’s variety and quick loading times it never felt frustrating when I lost all my lives, though losing some reputation is an annoyance for when you fail. Once completing a region you can either bank your reputation points or you can move onto the next region. The session will keep going until you either bank your points or you lose all your lives. You are only able to start a session from the first region at the start. In order to take a shortcut to the next region and start your session there you will need to complete boss objectives in the previous region. These boss objectives become more difficult the more you complete e.g. the second boss objective could be to perform a backflip over the boss jump.
After your first session you will have the option to select a team, each team has their own characteristics. For example, I chose Kinetic which favours high speeds over anything else. Your chosen team will then provide you with their own cosmetics as you progress. In addition, the team with the highest rep will earn exclusive items which gives you the incentive to do your very best for the team that you are in. The leader boards provide enough reason for you to gain as much rep as possible. In addition, it makes you feel like your part of the team when you wear their cosmetics and complete in exclusive hills that are generated based on your team selection. For example, Kinetic features hills with extreme slopes leading to high speed rushes.
After completing a region you will be introduced to advanced controls, whilst the game is easy to play, the game is hard to master and learning those advanced tips changed the way I approached the hills. Furthermore, Descenders can be quite the adrenaline rush, going down some of the steepest hills can make you move at some pretty crazy speeds. You will need to dodge obstacles including trees and adjust to any sharp turns to remain on the track. The game also features huge jumps which can be tricky to land. However, thanks to the smooth and responsive gameplay attempting these feats is exciting, furthermore doing so gains you reputation points. The more you do e.g. go at fast speeds, doing tricks, the more the multiplier builds up. These skills increase your reputation points dramatically, providing you don’t crash in the process. In relation to crashing, I found both the bike and crashing physics to be both very good. They reminded me of the FlatOut games physics where your character would be sent flying out the window whenever you would crash at fast speeds. In relation, crashing resulted in some funny moments and sometimes I tried crashing at incredibly fast speeds just to see the end results.
Unfortunately that is about it in terms of modes at the moment. Although, the randomly generated hills adds replay value to the hills and you can continue to unlock cosmetics, there is very little variety elsewhere. There is also a daily session where you can take part in a once a day only challenge. Furthermore, although its simplicity is a good thing, it would perhaps be nice for the inclusion of attributes. For example, the bikes could have stats which add a different approach to gameplay. Additionally, your character could have stats which improve your skills based on your reputation e.g. learn new tricks. The core gameplay on offer here is very good, but the lack of depth is the biggest issue in the game’s current form. In addition, generated maps whilst on the whole are good can sometimes be hit-and-miss. For example, sometimes I would encounter two ramps straight after each other with extreme heights leading to an awkward situation, though you can just ride past these if you want. That is another redeeming quality of the game, whereby you can play at your own pace and do what you want. If you want to ride off the track and take a shortcut you can do so and there is no penalty for it.
The game’s graphics are very colourful and the varied environments are lush looking. I was quite surprised with the relatively fast loading times and that it only took a matter of seconds for the game to load a generated hill to play on. This heavily contributed to the positive experience I had when playing through each fairly short hill. It meant that I did not have to wait long before starting another attempt of going down a newly generated hill. In relation to performance, I was impressed with how the game presents the graphics options. There are a variety of options which can be adjusted to ensure that your computer plays the game as best it can. Any setting you adjust displays the change in real time which helps for you to decide whether you want specific settings on/off. Furthermore, the FPS counter is a nice inclusion which makes it easier to indicate how well the game will perform when you turn on/off settings. It shows that the developers really spent time to help players get the very best settings out of their computers with ease. On many occasions I encountered stuttering and FPS drops, even on the lower settings. However, I expect that once the game continues to develop it will become more optimised for everyone.
The music although slightly repetitive in nature is very good on the whole and features a licensed soundtrack. It would be nice in future updates if more song were added that had more variety. However, I like that you can change music from the press of two buttons. This allows you to select a song with ease and can do so whilst the game is loading as well. With some being relaxing and others being more upbeat allowed me to select music based on my mood and how I wanted to approach the upcoming hills. Sound effects, are also fairly good, hearing the bike move in the mud and the bike peddling along with the wind at high speeds all contributed to the adrenaline rush I got whilst playing.
Descenders is an easy game to play but one that is quite tricky to master and is an adrenaline rush from start to finish. Everyone will find some fun in blistering down randomly generated hills at incredibly risky speeds, landing highly satisfying jumps, whilst listening to a fully licensed soundtrack. The game has qualities that other games cannot provide and there is currently a serious lack of freestyle BMX games, making Descenders a refreshing experience. Unfortunately in its current early access state the game suffers from a lack of content. Additionally, from its simplicity comes a lack of depth which makes the game’s current price look rather expensive. However, if developer RageSquid continues to update Descenders with more content they could be onto a winner. Descenders oozes with potential and is a game that could descend further into greatness if it is treated properly.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.