Descenders is an extreme sport mountain biking game which is a nonstop adrenaline fueled blast. Developed by RageSquid and published by No More Robots, Descenders puts a spin on the genre in such a fun and polished way that it’s hard to put down the controller. It is currently available on Xbox One and just left early access on PC via Steam. The following review is relevant to the early access PC version.
(Disclosure: I have not played the Xbox One version so this review is made without comparison)
The main idea behind Decenders is simple, navigate various obstacles and stunt laced areas on a mountain bike against the clock and while scoring as highly as possible with stunts. Challenges in your way involve ramps, curves, hills, rocks, trees, hay bails (I hate you by the way), trains, and yourself as you try to hold on to a stunt for longer than you should. Each stage is relatively short and holds independent bonus challenges for you to complete if you want to test yourself.
Most of your time will be spent inside of the career mode, where you’ll be consistently earning reputation with each ride you finish. Reputation unlocks more challenging modes and is used to measure yourself against other players. As you progress you will also unlock cosmetic items and the ability to gain sponsorship, and associated challenges, from in game companies based on your preference.
Stages in Descenders are procedurally generated, contain numerous courses, and will be different each time you start a new ride. Other players will also be present on courses but there is no player collision, allowing for a purely performance based competition. Each stage will have a node filled map with various courses which all differ in terms of steepness, stunt placement, and curves. Once completed you can select from several nodes in a branch, allowing you some degree of control over your challenge level. If you find that you handle curves well but hate jumps you can pick the most ideal course as it is offered to you.
Periodically, certain courses will offer different or increased challenges. Danger zones offer challenges at double the reward but also double the health loss. Fire nodes present a max tier challenge. You may also come across mini-boss jumps, first person mode challenges, medic camps, sponsorship nodes, and more. Additionally, while you’re free to play every node on a given map, doing so without approaching the boss stage advances time to the point to where day turns to night, adding additional difficulties. These difficulties advance even more once the battery on your bike light runs out.
Each play-through allots a fixed amount of health that is depleted every time you bail (crash). Interestingly enough, you can actually lose more health on more severe bails which really ups the ante on the risk and reward factor when it comes to stunts. The various ways you’ll bail adds a humorous factor to the game as the stiff rag doll crash physics will keep you almost as entertained as the game itself. Adding to the hilarity is the ability to get limbs stuck through your bike. Thankfully, there is fast and easy in-game method of saving replays for your best stunts and most hilarious bails.
A major aspect of your play-throughs will be the unlocking of crew members. Each crew member you unlocks adds a specific modifier to the game, but only until that game is over. Examples of these modifiers include widening track paths, making bunny hops higher, increasing cycling speed, and stabilizing turns at high speeds.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game, is that is no real hard requirement to play a certain way. Don’t like a certain ramp? Bike around it. Don’t want to play fast? You don’t have to race. Want to explore the area? Drive off path. Descenders is actually pretty relaxed with the way you want to play while striking a reasonable balance with scores and reputation.
Additional modes include a free ride mode; where you can generate levels based on user specified settings and then attempt them with or without crew modifiers; daily challenge mode, where you only have one attempt a day at a specifically generated course that all players can compete at; and the new multiplayer lobbies, which allow a group of up to 8 individuals to travel from course to course as a collective competition.
There’s no plot or story in Descenders.
Descenders supports both KBM and controller. I find controllers to be the most optimal at games such as these. Since Steam has integrated controller support there were no issues getting up and running quickly. Acclimated players from Xbox may find themselves at home with a native pad, but I tried two different pads for this one, a Logitech and a PS4 controller and had no issues with either. Full controller and key remapping was available.
Controls inside of Descenders are smooth with good analog stick support. They feel a bit tight at first, but I adjusted within about two hours and had no issues pulling off stunts from that point on. Much of the controls are also tied into being able to quickly identify which obstacles and ramps are advancing to know what you can and can’t get away with. If I could suggest any one thing, it would be that they could benefit from adding an in game analog dead zone option in.
The camera and view never caused any issues and I was able to navigate even difficult courses at the beginning with no issues or obscurement. There is no automatic panning or zooming as speed increases or decreases and the fixed distance seemed to be ample enough without any need for adjustments.
The overall graphics and textures are more than adequate for the type of game. The various environments and course details were nice to look at as well as the weather effects. For the most part however, you will spend most of your time looking at your character and the ground beneath while navigating with peripherals at high speeds.
One effect I didn’t find enjoyable was the bloom on the bike lights at night, particularly in multiplayer. The environmental effects, such as rain etc. were enjoyable though. There are no minute details such as dirt trails or bending grass as you roll through but to be fair, with the speed in which you traverse courses, it would be unnoticed. There are numerous cosmetic items to be outfitted on your person as well as your bike. Many of them are what you’d expect to see, and there are plenty that are there for laughs as well.
All the bells and whistles you’d expect from a mountain biking game are in Descenders. From chains to sliding in the dirt, each sound is well pronounced and timed. This includes “whoo hoos” and “whoas” when you know you’re about to bite dirt. The gameplay sounds are balanced well with the music and never caused me to want to relevel any options. Regardless, those options are available within the game if desired.
The music in Descenders is one of my favorite parts. With a variety of dance, DnB, house, and trance, the soundtrack will keep the tempo up and make you want to ride fast when you know you shouldn’t. Sampled artists include Feint, Rameses B, and Maduk. There is an option to shuffle tracks within the game and all music is licensed so there are zero issues with streaming while playing.
With a hopping soundtrack, fun speeds, enjoyable random courses, and a great amount of replayability, I expect Descenders to be fun hit on PC. I honestly haven’t had as much fun with an extreme sports game since I played Cool Boarders on the PS1 for the first time. Even when you wipe out the game is extremely enjoyable, although it’s more fun to watch others wipe as you 360 no hander over their raggedy corpses!
If you enjoy any extreme sports, high speed games, or any kind of off-road types, you won’t be disappointed in Descenders. With inclusive support such as tournaments, sponsorship challenges, and daily events, you won’t run short of things to do. Ultimately, Descenders is a game that goes downhill fast, in the best way possible.