I played Descenders back when it was on Xbox Game Preview, and it was a refreshing take on downhill mountain biking. Speeding through plenty of courses and jumping ramps whilst throwing in some tricks was great, but the way RageSquid incorporated the roguelite elements meant more was at stake with each new course. With it coming to PlayStation 4, I chomped at the bit to play the full game, and it’s as good as I remember, although there are some problems that threatened to suck the fun out of it.
The main crux of the game is its Career Mode. With each setting, whether that’s the Highlands, the Peaks, or even the Volcano, you must complete a set of procedurally generated courses to get to the Boss Jump. Each course provides a variety of challenges, from tight corners to steep drops. If you crash your bike you lose a life, and once all those lives are gone, you go right back to the beginning of the game. The road maps of each area play out like the famous game show Blockbusters. You can choose a path straight to the Boss Jump, or take a detour to gain sponsors and visit the Medic Camps to gain extra lives.
Once you’ve completed the bonus objectives on the Boss Jump, you can then start from the next environment in career mode, meaning you don’t have to keep replaying the same ones when you die. The Highlands wasn’t too difficult, but as soon as you get to the Forest, it becomes a whole different kettle of spokes. Each course has a difficulty gauge in how steep it is, how many bends there are, and the range of jumps to perform various stunts. The Forest’s courses are often littered with red and white tape that tether the track together, and it can be hard to get through it as they can be hard to see. From then on, it only gets harder.
How you chose to play Descenders is entirely up to you. You can choose the easiest route to the Boss Jump, or take on extra courses to earn more Rep (the game’s XP in a way). Reputation is earned by completing courses without crashing, as well as hitting random objectives given to you whilst the new course is loaded. For example, some of these objectives include finishing a course without taking your foot off the peddles or completing a double backflip.
The more of these you complete and the better you race downhill, the more Rep you’ll gain, and the more health you earn. After a while, you’ll be given the option to sign with a sponsor, and by doing so you will be able to enter exclusive races and compete on the global leaderboards in partnership with that sponsor. There’s also a place to change your gear called The Shed. Here, you be able to switch between all the items you’ve unlocked, such as new helmets, tops, and shorts. When you sign with one of the sponsors, you’ll also be able to assign your branded clothing to your avatar, letting you represent the team you’ve aligned yourself with.
Descenders can be pretty frantic when you’re hitting around 60 mph whilst trying to take a corner into a narrow jump, but balancing your speed, turning corners, and keeping control blends together nicely. It’s the difficulty of the courses that threaten to undo all the familiarity you’ve gained since peddling for the first time. Some are brutal, and can wipe away all the health you took so long to build up, ruining your run through the career.
Whilst it’s good having an unlimited number of tracks to play on, there’s no way to master them or remember every jump or turn due to the procedural nature of them. Thankfully, Descenders gives you a bit of a break from the Career. There’re some cool bonus tracks to play on, such as Stoker Park, which is a big playground filled with jumps and rocky paths, and the Bikeout courses (Wipeout-style tracks) are plenty of fun to play, if a little bonkers when it comes to their difficulty. Even some of the courses within the areas throw out unique playgrounds, such as the construction site found in the Highlands.
If you’re addicted to adrenaline and find the ebb and flow of Descenders like a drug, you’ll probably want to head into the Career Plus Mode. This offers new areas to play in, but you need to earn 100,000 Rep before you’ll be able to see what they are all about. It’s tough – and often cruel – but RageSquid does offer you a reward for sticking with it. Along the way, you’ll unlock Crew Members which offer help with future courses, such as making curves less acute, or helping you control your bike better off-road.
Descenders looks rather good. They offer some nice designs in the obstacles, and the environments are pretty to look at, but occasionally, the game suffers from framerate issues, especially when there’s a lot going on (such as at Stoker Park). It’s a shame because certain levels have weather patterns that provide new challenges, and look good at the same time. The music is varied, offering everything from dance music to orchestral, and if you don’t like a song, you can skip it at any time.
Descenders is a little rough around the edges, and it can be punishing, but there’s a lot to get stuck into, with a satisfying gameplay flow that only ever falters when you’re racing on a difficult track. If you’re looking to try a mountain biking game that gives you more freedom than games like Trials, then this is the one you want. The rogue-lite mechanics and procedurally generated tracks are constantly offering players a challenge, so if you’re up for some hellish tracks to race through at breakneck speeds, Descenders might well be your thing.
Plenty of courses to try out
Feels good to control
Wipeout-style courses are cool
Can be far too difficult
Hard work can be undone quickly