Downhill mountain biking game Descenders has hit Xbox One and Paul has been putting it through its paces.
It’s nice to see a mountain biking game coming back to home consoles. The last game that featured pedalling I played was super sim Tour De France which focused not only on peddling but wind speeds, hill gradients and all kinds of other nonsense that I just didn’t understand. So it’s nice to have something a little more arcadey and down to earth.
So in Descenders, it’s just you and your mountain bike. After a brief tutorial on the controls and mechanics of jumping you’re placed in this kind of campsite with various amenities, you can visit and practice courses. The first thing that took me a while to get to grips with is the lack of free moving camera. Something I have gotten used to in driving games. Instead, the right stick operates your jumping and bunny hops so I did spend a while bunny hopping around to see what was on offer.
Once you have had a look around or got tired of jumping by accident you can choose to play some basic practice course to make sure you learn all the nuances of the controls. On my first playthrough I had trouble keeping in a straight line, the steering is really twitchy, far more twitchy than it should be. When approaching a jump I daren’t touch the left stick in case it took me off my racing line by a wide margin. The breaking also doesn’t feel quite so natural. simply slowing down can make you drastically change the direction you’re facing. Annoying when you are simply trying to stay on track.
The practice courses are a must because you do get used to the controls, you’re still fighting them but with practice, it becomes more of a fair fight.
Once you feel you are ready you can tackle the career mode and this is where the game really shines. Not only do you get a lot of races to take part in, because the game is procedurally generated, you’ll never play the same course twice so even if you do end up crashing a lot, you won’t get as bored as you would say if you were playing set designed courses. It’s actually quite clever and a real selling point for Descenders.
During races, not only do you need to finish to gain points but you can complete bonus tasks to add bonus points or gain some extra health. These tasks are pretty basic ranging from reaching a top speed to completing a couple of select jumps. Speaking of health. You get a health bar in Descenders, when you crash you lose some health, when all your health is gone its game over and you have to start the career courses again. Bit of an odd decision really, especially when you can’t help but crash thanks to the twitchy controls.
As with most career modes in racing games, once you’ve raced enough sponsors will come looking. These allow you access to new and better gear. I’m no mountain bike expert so I’m not sure if these sponsors are official or made up. Either way, it’s a nice touch to add some determination to the gameplay.
While playing you are treated some drum and base-esque tunes. presented in the style of a radio station, but not actually a radio station. I’m not sure if these are licensed tracks or not (Google didn’t help me) but they some top tunes and fit in with the game perfectly.
So I had a lot of fun with Descenders. Hurtling downhill at top speed is quite adrenaline pumping for a game where you’re sitting on your sofa. The jumping mechanics are basic at best, you hold down on the right stick to prep your bunny hop and push up when you’re about to jump. While in mid-air you can twist, push and pull the right stick to carry out various stunts and tricks. It’s fairly fluid but personally, I would prefer a button to hold down to prep for the bunny hop rather than the right stick. Maybe this is because the BMX in GTA San Andreas was a lot of fun to ride and pressing a button to jump seems to make more sense to me.
Descenders is rough around the edges and the graphics are plenty brown but that can be forgiven due to the procedurally generated nature of the tracks. The game I previewed was an early build so I do hope that they can tweak that steering a bit. In an ideal world, they would give you the option to select your controls to your desired configuration. Still, despite these small misgivings I have, Descenders has the potential to be a great game, that makes a refreshing change to the four-wheel racing games we’re all getting a bit too used to.
Descenders is out now on Xbox One and Steam Early Access