As a teen there was nothing quite daredevilish as riding your bike downhill and off-road over rocks, up ramps and through rough terrain. So when Descenders became available on Xbox Game Preview it provided a fantastic opportunity to relive childhood memories virtually without the real bruises and cuts.
Featuring a selection of customisation options including your cyclist’s outfit, bike and helmet. Descenders is an early access title focussed around completing randomised downhill courses, scoring as many points as you can in the process and progressing to the boss stage which is normally an outrageous stunt event such as jumping over a railway bridge as a train passes underneath the tips of your rubber wheels.
The majority of courses are downhill, meaning you’re likely to gain speed even without using the right trigger to pedal faster. In turn, making the biking action intense and down to the wire as you try to avoid obstacles such as trees and large rocks jolting out of the ground. Hitting into one of these will cause you to lose a life sadly – lose too many and you have to restart all the levels for that stage again.
It’s a ruthless experience and when you’re given the opportunity to risk completing bonus objectives on a level to gain an extra life, very often than not you may just go for the option to complete the stage without finishing a bonus objective just to survive and progress further. I certainly did on the “don’t let go of accelerate” objectives.
It’s an experience that continues to evolve too with its procedurally generated levels, you’ll never play the same course again, which is refreshing and difficult at the same time, as there’s no way of anticipting what’s to come if you fail. You could maybe have a guess at the obstacles roughly as they tend to be similar for stages, but the layout varies every time and there may be a tricky bend or obstacle thrown in there to catch you off guard.
Featuring 3 teams, you can represent one of these based upon your preferred riding style. Team Enemy are pure tricksters, Arboreal are great at off-roading and Kinetic are all about speed and pace on the bike. Once you’re in a team, sponsorship and merchandise begin and more perks are given as you progress. The team with the most rep points are also granted exclusive prizes and there are even team Discord channels for a true community feel!
The controls are fairly responsive at high speeds with realistic gradual braking and when you’re going fast the screen starts to shake to emulate you’re losing some control of your bike. Tweaking your body helps with pulling off eye catching whips and flips in mid air, while one bad adjustment can have you face first in the dirt. You’ll soon learn that braking on tight bends and timing jumps to perfection are crucial.
Visually the game runs fairly smoothly, with the odd occasional frame drop here and there, but generally for a work in progress title can we really fault that? It’s probably a little unfair. The selection of game environments on offer are also plentiful ranging from woodland to deserts and even snow!
Descenders also has its own fully licensed soundtrack with euphoric, drum and bass tracks authorised by label Liquicity, which help to deliver the heart pumping gameplay this epic downhill bike challenge offers.
Currently the game is well supported by the devs with updates releasing every few weeks, the last being The Rogue-Bike Update which added a day and night cycle to make players race through levels before darkness settles in and the ability to add crew members. The progression is definitely there and hopefully Descenders will receive the support it deserves to continue to grow and release new content.
We will certainly be revisiting this on its full game release to post a scored review, which hopefully the game devs can achieve.