Descenders is a downhill biking game with randomly generated tracks, cosmetic unlocks, leaderboards, and a hell of a satisfying gameplay system to go along with it. The game has been in Steam’s Early Access program since last February, and it’s being developed by RageSquid, the same folks that made the marvelous Action Henk.
Biking games are not really something that you see everyday, especially not ones like Descenders. This is an extremely fast-paced downhill biking game that is pretty straight to the point. You can ask someone who rarely plays any games, or someone who doesn’t even game at all, to try this game out and I guarantee you they will know what they have to do. That doesn’t mean that they’ll have a pleasant time, as this is most certainly one of those games that is easy to play, but difficult to master.
While I must say that I got kind of worried when I learned that this game featured randomly generated tracks, the worries were gone once I got my hands on and figured out how the game is structured. Having the layout of the tracks, the stunts, ramps, and other obstacles, being randomly arranged, makes it so that the game still feels fresh every time you play it. I’d also like to point out that, before each run, the game pans the camera around so if you don’t want to go against the element of surprise, you can scout ahead first.
The game offers three different modes that you can play, with one being Freeride, which lets you customize your own track. Then you have daily challenges where you only have one shot of making it through, otherwise, you can only try the new challenge on the next day. Finally, you have career mode where the game is actually structured with a series of linked tracks. This game mode is structured like FTL (yes, that FTL) and other games like it. Now, you might be wondering how that is possible given that these games have nothing to do with each other, but everything will make sense soon enough.
In career mode, you start off on one point on the map, and your goal is to beat a “boss” – which is just this really big jump – on the other side of the map. Between these two locations, there are a series of tracks linked to each other that you must go through before you can get there. These have varying degrees of difficulty in regards to how steep they are, and how many curves and stunts they have along the track. This means that you have some degree of choice, in the sense that you can try and go for the style of tracks that you’re most comfortable with. Once you beat a zone boss three times, you will unlock a shortcut to the next zone, so the next time you play you can go straight to the next map instead of having to play through the first one.
One of the main gameplay mechanics in Descenders is the fact that, on career mode, you have health, and you lose one point or more everytime you crash during a track. Despite the fact that it’s game over if you run out of health, you can regain some by completing certain objectives in each track, like performing a certain amount of backflips or achieving a specific maximum speed, but there are also some tracks that provide you with health upon completion.
There are also a few different types of tracks which have a unique twist to them, like this one where you play from the perspective of your helmet cam. These can be quite intense, especially when you try to perform flips.
As you perform all sorts of tricks and complete a vast myriad of tracks, you will gain reputation, which not only lets you show off on the leaderboards, but it also lets you unlock new cosmetics, like new bikes, helmets, goggles, and all kinds of clothing. Another way for you to unlock certain cosmetic items is to get sponsored by one of the three agencies in the game, Enemy, Kinetic, and Arboreal. In order to get sponsored, you must first complete these sponsor tracks, with each sponsor representing a specific playstyle. Kinetic puts you on tracks which are extremely steep, where you’ll be going downhill at a really high speed; Arboreal completely removes the trail and puts you on bare ground; and Enemy emphasizes ramps and all sorts of things that you can use to show off your stunts.
The game even has passive perks in the form of crew members, which can help remove obstacles from the track, decrease friction when going off the track, increase the chances of you not falling off your bike when you land hard, and some can even make it so that you spin and flip around faster than you usually would.
Controlling your bike is the highlight of Descenders. Every subtle movement can be controlled precisely, but be warned that it is highly recommended that you play this with a controller. There are a few techniques that you can take advantage of in order to lower your airtime or increase your momentum while going up ramps, you can perform back and front flips, bunny hops, wheelies, and even slide, and all these moves affect your momentum as you’re going downhill, no matter how fast you’re going. Each of the three different maps also put you against a series of different challenges and terrain, so it’s not always the same thing over and over.
The game looks quite nice and it runs pretty smoothly, which is a big plus in a game where you can be moving at crazy fast speeds. The game also features a pretty neat soundtrack, which the developers have licensed from Liquicity, but if that is not really your jam, you can always turn on your playlist and listen to whatever you deem fitting for some hectic downhill biking action.
I honestly can’t think of anything that I don’t like about the game right now. However, I do feel that the price might put some people off. Still, given the replay value that the game offers, I think that it is justifiable. Descenders has great production values, and it comes from a team that has more than proved their worth with their previous title. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the game shapes up in the near future, and if you’re a fan of biking or fast-paced games, I think you’ll have a great time with this one. I honestly can’t recommend this game enough.
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.