Descenders in an action cycling title developed by Dutch studio RageSquid. Released in May 2019 this is the second game released by the development team, and I was keen to see how they had moved on from their first endeavour.
A fast paced procedurally generated game, that asks the player to play in their own style. Each level is open to how you want to experience it, race down the hill avoid the obstacles and move on to the next level, or chance your hand at all the jumps, completion of tricks pays off massively when you are awarded Rep points for each success. Tie together a number of different tricks and your multiplier will sky rocket, one minor mistake and your rep balance will soon be in the red.
You start out as an unknown, riding each level in the most basic of gear, the industry doesn’t know anything about you, that soon changes, complete the sponsored events and soon you will be asked to join a team. The sponsorship allows you to focus on additional challenges, but has very little impact on how the game plays out.
The main story is split into 4 worlds, each of those has several stages with unique aims to focus on. Each world also has a varied backdrop and its own dangers, you open in the sparse Highlands where your main obstacles are rocks and trees, you then move into the forest where autumnal colours and pine trees greet you during each ride. Each is unlocked by completing a number of stages, with only limited lives, each failed stunt or collision brings you closer to the end game. Complete a selected task during each run, and you will be rewarded with additional health, this is certainly the difference between success and failure. Before you progress you must complete a boss stage jump, a ridiculous challenge that will have the weak chicken out, and the foolish crash to their impending doom. Practise makes perfect, and from my understanding is the only part that isn’t procedurally generated.
As I started my downhill experience I was reminded of playing Tony Hawks skateboarding, the freedom to experience the level at my own pace, and choose whichever tricks I thought would be best. Throwing myself off of rocks, and hoping that I could land the trick to increase my score, the graphics felt updated but somehow familiar with the legendary skateboarding franchise. On my original Xbox One unfortunately they weren’t as crisp as I had seen advertised, the rendering just wasn’t as sharp or quick as I had seen on the Xbox one X. This didn’t ruin the game for me, it just made me feel like I was missing out on a visual treat, the developers clearly wanted me to enjoy the scenery.
RageSquid are keen to ensure that their player base keeps returning to the game. They made it that no stage is ever the same, each also has a unique goal. This increases the replayability factor, but also made it feel hollow. When I’ve played similar games in the genre such as Trials HD, Tony Hawks and Lonely Mountains: Downhill, they all have a challenge to travel from A to B while achieving a goal. The difference is their levels never change, you fail, and then you can return and practise until you master it. Descenders doesn’t give you that opportunity, a clean run is as much luck as it is skill, and this really bothered me. I want to beat the game on my own merit, not just a roll of the dice.
Biking and the world of stunts is all about larking around with your mates, and seeing who can produce the best and craziest tricks, luckily Descenders have replicated this in its multiplayer mode. Join random players from around the globe, or just play with your friends the choice is yours. What I’m going to say next may sound weird, with the chance to join other fans of the title I shouldn’t have felt isolated and disengaged. The lobbies don’t allow you to work together to succeed, when you join a room you have no impact on what is happening around you. You are merely a vessel travelling through the hosts playthrough. Any Rep you earn doesn’t add to your tally, and any progress achieved is merely wiped when you leave the lobby. This mode felt to me to be a bit of an afterthought, a shame really as it could have made the game spectacular, and really would have added to the longevity to the gaming community.
I’ve mentioned several times already about Rep points, these are representative of your level of success, but they have a second role. You can use them to buy items to wear. The custom clothing does not impact on gameplay, it just allows you to stand out from the crowd, my personal favourite is the Chicken Headwear, I’m not going to ruin the secret on how to gain this delightful accessory, mainly because I prefer to stand out, and be one of the few who dons the Chicken Hat. The only way you can change the characteristics of your player is to add crew members. Complete stunts, ride stupidly fast, and stay on your bike, eventually you will earn enough points to select your bonus.
There truly is a lot of depth here when you first look, several modes that will keep you playing for hours, a challenging/almost impossible achievement list to complete, the sponsor and daily challenges, and all the cosmetics to unlock. Once you start to look a little deeper past the surface, it really shows the simplistic nature of the game, and how little there is to do. It’s a very repetitive title that relies heavily on the player wanting to beat it, than wanting to return for the fun of the challenges, I personally put this down to the luck factor being the driving force behind you succeeding.
I don’t know whether it’s me getting older, or earlier console titles were easier to control, but when I played Tony Hawks I never had to think of how I would control that board, I’d just start playing and within minutes I’d be pulling off crazy tricks, and jumping off buildings without bailing once. Descenders on the other hand has me sticking to 3 or 4 tricks, I’m too scared to try learning anything else as the brutal deduction of Rep when I fail, which I inevitably did, was just too much to take, so back flips, front flips and 360’s are going to be my thing.
The audio used is perfect for the game, sound effects when you fall off your bike are brilliant, it makes you wince when you hear the air being blown out of the riders flailing body. What, I can’t be so complimentary about is the music, please don’t misunderstand me, it’s perfect for the genre, the high tempo drum and base really sets the scene, and if one track doesn’t take your fancy then skip to another. I personally cannot stand it, I’m not asking the developers to supply a Motown selection to traverse the mountain, but 7 or 8 songs that sound the same really was torturous. A choice of different radio stations, maybe rock would have helped overcome this. This is of course personal preference, and while you are riding around you may absolutely love it.
I feel that perhaps I wasn’t able to absorb myself into Descenders as much as the developers would have liked, if I had maybe I wouldn’t have noticed the few minor elements that I have highlighted. A title that will have a strong following is bound to be a great success. At the time of me writing this review, it is available free of charge on Gamepass. This will bolster up its hardcore fan base and will possibly convert a number of nonbelievers. If the development team were to keep adding content then I believe the game will excel, if not I think it is likely to become a tiresome title that will be a gap filler at best. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, far from it. Others in the genre have just completed a much more rounded, and pleasurable experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 6/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 5/10
Replay Value - 7/10
A Downhill Riding adventure that is as much luck as it is skill. Can you complete the 4 different lands to be the best mountain Descender?
- Easy to pick up and play.
- Free on Gamepass.
- Never play the same level again, thanks to a procedurally generating algorithm.
- Music not to everyone’s taste.
- Graphics aren’t spectacular on original Xbox One
- Online Multiplayer feels like an afterthought.
- Luck dominates the player’s chances of success.