Action sports games as a whole aren’t as prevalent as they once were. Something as niche as extreme downhill biking is even more rare.
Descenders is a fast-paced, procedurally-generated biking game from developer RageSquid. It’s the type of game that really pushes the player to ride the line between safety and risk. By allowing you to control nearly every minute movement of your bike, Descenders puts total control in your hands, although not every mishap seems to be based on player error. Released in Early Access last week, the game has a handful of issues and spaces for improvement beneath the well-constructed exterior, but an impressive game is already taking shape. An energising soundtrack and great graphics to boot emphasise the intensity and speed of the gameplay even more.
The physics in Descenders, from my slim knowledge on extreme downhill biking, are pretty well put together. Learning the ins-and -outs of the tools at your disposal is quite a challenge as the game feels really slippery. Again, I’m no expert, but sometimes it feels like the bike really has a mind of its own. Sliding, braking, whipping, every single manoeuvre you make takes tact and skill. Outside of bailing, however, the game barely punishes you for going off the track or crawling through each stage. I’d be happy to see some more extreme difficulties in the full game that penalise players for going off track, or riding too slowly. As you progress through the four available stages (like a Canyon or Forest), the difficulty certainly spikes, and your skill is tested.
I love the soundtrack and the feel of the game. It’s electric in every moment. As you travel from stage to stage, you get to pick your next track. They are rated on scales of steepness, curves, and stunts. You can try and stay with the timid tracks for most of your trip, but you’ll probably be stuck with a tough track before the final level. Each final track of each environment incorporates a ‘boss jump’, which is really cool. Leading up to that moment, every bail costs you one life – it’s a constant give-and-take to make sure you have spare lives for the final level. The pacing and speed of the actual gameplay in Descenders is great, there’s no denying that.
Apart from some issues with the game crashing (three times over my several hours of play) and some seemingly slippery bike mechanics, Descenders is coming together very nicely indeed. As a fan of older action sports games like 2xtreme and SSX Tricky, I’m happy to see that there are developers still making these kind of games. I’m still trying to get down the deep control the game gives you, and I’m enjoying most of my time so far. Descenders isn't going to be for everyone, but it's well worth the attention of those looking for something different.
Descenders is available on Steam via Early Access and will be coming to the Xbox Preview Program very soon.