August 25, 2020
No More Robots
“Just like riding a bike” is a statement that doesn’t apply to me. I literally nearly fell off a bike after not riding for about ten years, so it’s kind of ironic that I am reviewing Descenders, a ‘Rogue style’ mountain biking game. Even more ironic is how much I loved this game. Me, who would rather stay inside and smash buttons than smash the pavement. Me, who would rather read about people going on crazy adventures than going on them myself. Me, who gets anxious rather than pumped to go on a roller coaster. Yup, this girl loved this extreme sports game.
Descenders has been out for a while on Xbox One (and Xbox Game Pass) and Steam, but is making its way onto PlayStation 4 this month. The game is a pure mountain biking experience, equipped with a variety of different tracks and challenges that will keep the player motivated to keep on pumping them wheels.
There are six different “rides” in Descenders. The first, Career Session, sees the player ride through different tracks on a map that leads them to the “boss track.” Each of these tracks have objectives that, if completed by the player, gives them an extra life. You start off with four lives and every time you stack it, you “respawn” and start back at the nearest checkpoint. These objectives include “perform 2 front flips”, “complete track without taking hand off the accelerator” and “finish the track in X amount of time.” Also, the more fancy your tricks, the more reputation points you achieve. These points, called “Reps” in game, go towards how desirable you are to three bike sponsors and also open up new tracks and objectives.
The first tracks you can play on are part of the “Highlands.” These are made up of flat yet curvy tracks with ramps and sometimes medieval castles that you have to fly over. I wasn’t a fan of the castles as I had NO idea how to actually get over parts of them without smashing headfirst into one of their cavities. I also found the ramps that had rocks between them and another ramp quite difficult to jump successfully. However, I cheated and went onto the grass around these obstacles so I didn’t stack it and lose another valuable life! That’s a great feature of the game, it does let you play how you want to. You don’t have to be a total daredevil and do all the tricks all the time, though it won’t get your Rep points up. You can, like me, totally dodge ramps that are too daunting and/or you don’t really know how to ride without totally stacking it.
“Descenders doesn’t make the player feel silly or like they don’t belong; it welcomes you with open arms and makes you feel comfortable, even if extreme sports games usually aren’t your jam.”
Once you’re out of lives you have to start the whole course again from the very beginning. Though you do keep your Reps, to continue on to the next map you need to complete the boss track AND complete the bonus objective to be able to have direct access to that new area.
One reason why I kept on running out of lives was due to the lightness of the tutorials. You do start off in a tutorial mode but it’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” event that literally takes about two minutes (ok, that’s a long blink, but you get my drift!). An example of how the lack of tutorials was detrimental to my Descender’s experience was being unable to perform a trick that would let me have direct access to the next map. I had to perform a 360 over the boss jump, but I had NO idea how to achieve this. Therefore, I was stuck on the Highlands area with no way to access the “Forest” map.
A cool feature of Descenders is “Freeride.” Here you can customise a track’s visual style (whether it’s day, night or dusk), its steepness, curves and the amount of platforms/hills/ramps on your path. You can also build your “crew.” Crew members are unlocked via career sessions and depend on how many tricks you perform. Your progression is shown via a circle on the upper left of the screen that gradually fills up with green depending on your moves. These moves can include slides, near misses (missing objects around you), wheelies and stoppies. Once the circle is filled in with that greenie goodness at the end of your current ride, you will be given the option to choose a new crew member, which is pretty much a bonus. These include wider paths, extra stunts, less curves and more checkpoints.
When you “get good” one of three bike teams will put up their hands to sponsor you; Enemy, Arboreal and Kenetic. I chose the former as it’s the stunt team and seemed the most punk rock (cos’ I’m all about that lyfe). Arboreal is for the scenic, off-road player and has a logo that looks like it’s been copied straight off the window of a day spa. Kenetic is for the speed freaks. Once you get a sponsor you need to complete objectives to progress your team contract. These are very similar to the objectives found at the start of tracks, such as “do a wheelie for 2 seconds, 5 times.” You make your way up the ranks to get cool team focused skins for your rider.
The “Bike Path” option gives you the ability to try out four unique areas. The “Stoker Bike Path” transports you to a massive reserve where you have a number of different paths at your disposal. For example, if you go straight ahead you’ll come across a very rock heavy path, whilst to the left there are more man made ramps around so you can go crazy getting air and performing stunts. The other three options are Wipeout style tracks called Bikeout. These “tracks” are more like obstacle courses that are made entirely out of rubber. Here you’ll come up against rotating circles, hanging propellers and swinging balls all set upon an ocean of water. These tracks were way too hard for me to even get past the first obstacle. I mean, I see people struggle to complete these just by using their bodies – how am I supposed to tackle this on a bike?! So yeah, fun concept but frickin’ hard in reality!
There are also Daily Objectives that you can complete, but these are a tad boring. The track is just the Highlands map, but with the reward of a special skin, its rarity depending on how many Reps you achieve. This reward wasn’t enough motivation for me to do the exact same track just for some common merch! Descenders Multiplayer is also available. Here you can “Race down the steepest tracks, chill out at the skate park or play a game of hide and seek.” Multiplayer contains four new worlds and a lot of new gear in various colour schemes. I did not have access to the multiplayer option as there weren’t many players around as I was playing with a review code. However, not having this access wasn’t an issue as Descender’s multiple tricks and tracks kept me wanting to get back on my bike.
- Lots of freedom to play the game the way you want
- Fresh tracks and objectives keeps the game exicitng
- Different categories of tracks provide something for all play styles
- Lots of tricks to master and earn rewards for performing
- Graphics aren't super sharp
- Not enough information on how to perform certain tricks
- Daily objectives aren't anything exciting
Descenders reiterated one of my motto’s in life – don’t knock it till you try it. I have no inclination in real life to be the next Evel Knievel or do any mountain biking, but I really enjoyed pressing the right buttons to make my little biker gal do tricks and swerve around the tracks like she was born to ride. A few games I’ve reviewed in the past that have been a genre I’m not too familiar with have led me to struggle to find the motivation to play. However, I really did enjoy booting this up and ripping around the tracks. I think this comes down to the game being so accessible, even to those who aren’t familiar with mountain biking.
Descenders doesn’t make the player feel silly or like they don’t belong; it welcomes you with open arms and makes you feel comfortable, even if extreme sports games usually aren’t your jam. It’s like a mate who is super stoked about a hobby and wants you to get involved but you’re hesitant as it’s not usually an activity you naturally gravitate towards. However, due to your friend’s enthusiasm, patience and how much fun they make it, you end up enjoying it much more than you thought you would. So even if you’re not into extreme sports, or extreme sports games, Descenders won’t judge you for it. It will slap you on the back, grab you a helmet and tell you to enjoy the ride.