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CONSOLE: Xbox One DEVELOPER: RageSquid PUBLISHER: No More Robots
RELEASE DATE (NA): May 7, 2019 GENRE: Extreme Sports
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

The World's First Rogue-bike!

All you need to do is look on Steam or the Nintendo Switch eShop to see that there's a trend in indie gaming. Everything has to be a "Metroidvania" or a "Roguelike". To someone who isn't familiar with the terminology, it might seem like an alien language that requires deciphering, and not knowing the terms makes you a "fake gamer". Allow me to clarify for probably the umpteenth time that a Roguelike means that a game contains elements like those found in Rogue, a 1980 adventure game that has had a huge influence on video games and such coined the genre. The things that made Rogue special were that its areas were procedurally generated which made them unique on every play, a permadeath mechanic where the player had to start over if they failed, and the incorporation of special abilities or tweaks the player can take with them over the course of their journey. These features, but in a game about downhill biking? Yes, even I was sceptical.

Descenders marries the functions and features of a Roguelike with some really comfortable and slick controls, stunning visuals and a licensed liquid drum n' bass soundtrack. It is most certainly a game of its own ilk, resembling nothing else that is currently out there for gaming systems. Comparisons can be drawn to EA's Skate series of games, especially with the bunny hop controls being squarely rooted to the right-stick, but Skate and Descenders have one major difference. I'm actually good at Descenders.

It starts out rough. Failing the first or second course in a run due to multiple bails. The tutorial is short and relatively advice-less. It doesn't check to see if you 'really get it' or not. But that's fine, as you learn best by doing. There comes a point fairly early on, after around half an hour or so, that the controls suddenly click. I felt in control, and unexpectedly so, after floundering around like a fish on a hot tin roof. I suddenly got it. How to time jumps, how to do spins and flips, pull off tricks, it all suddenly worked. Like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 but downhill at 65 kilometres per hour. Smooth turns on twisty roads, I figured out early on that my favourite way to play is to pelt it downhill, ignoring even the track, just zooming off to the goal as quickly as possible.

You can play a "Career" mode, which takes typical Roguelike structure. You find yourself placed on a map of courses that are all randomly generated, which each one containing a bonus goal. Finishing the course will allow you to move onto the next one, and bailing too many times (and draining your health in the process) means your run is over. It's easy to gain extra health, just complete the challenge that has been applied to the current course. These are generated based on the track's shape, turns, jumps, etc. Goals range from performing a certain number of a specific trick, to completing the course without braking, letting go of acceleration or getting near misses. Each course can also end up with one or more of a slew of interesting 'mutators', such as a course where the track doesn't exist, or a weather effect makes it hard to see the path.

While playing, you will earn "team members", which are tweaks for the run. These will affect things such as course shape, adding extra features to the next area map, or adjusting your stats to make biking easier. Picking the right one will lead to an easier time much later on, but once the run is over, you lose them. It is a matter of guesswork as to which bonuses will better suit your run, but learning what is most adaptable for you will make the process of picking from the offered boosts a lot easier. Once you've played a good handful of courses, you can start to learn the game's building blocks, and guess ahead on what's coming. Alongside the aerial sweep of each course as you begin, it's easy to see what's coming up and plan for it during the run. Before selecting a course, the game will tell you how steep, curvy and tricky the course is.


This guy's jacket is a constant reminder of how many tires he should have.

There are courses where all of these stats are at the max, but that does tend to be somewhat rare. Other course types include sponsored courses (which you can complete to boost your sponsor rank - more on that in a moment), medic courses that restore health upon completion, and the boss nodes which are extremely hard courses that when completed take you to the next map. You play these four map types in order - Highlands, Forest, Canyon and Peaks. Even though the game is called Descenders, and you descend during the course of the game, the next area is always higher up than lower down. Strange that. Completing an area's boss course four times (over multiple runs) will unlock a shortcut to the next area, so you can start further along the journey.

You can play the game at your own pace (the loading screens even advertise you to play the game your way), but challenging yourself to complete each optional goal is where my enjoyment of Descenders truly begins. Playing recklessly to soak up as many points as possible leads to some moments where I should have totally bailed instead of being able to ride away clean. Goals, challenges and experience levels unlock gear and items for your biker to equip, drip-feeding you bonuses every now and then just to make you feel like you're doing well, even if you had a truly awful run.

After catching the eye of a sponsor, you can agree to sign with them, which leads to in-game unlockables. These sponsor challenges (plus the game's daily challenges) give you extra incentive to improve, and the unlockable Career-Plus provides you with another four map types. You'll only ever see that mode if you're pretty good at the game, so it provides an extra level of reward on top of the already existing gear. Combined with the game's luscious visuals and chilling soundtrack, Descenders would be an easy recommendation, but I would like to talk about performance just quickly.

Descenders is a high-speed, quick response downhill biking game where a slight mistake can result in bailing out. It requires twitch precision response time. For the majority of my playtime, Descenders gave me this required speed and control, allowing me to slice down those mountains like a hot knife through a block of butter. But should you encounter another player on your course, the game suddenly drops to an uncomfortable level of choppiness. This is especially apparent in the hub area, where the game immediately tanks in performance, and on earlier courses in the run where other players are connected to the same maps. Descenders does have an offline mode that disables other players, but I have yet to enable this mode. Should performance truly drop to a point where the game is no longer enjoyable, I may have to resort to enabling this feature in order to continue enjoying the game without these problems rearing their ugly head.

Normally I would have zero interest in a game like Descenders, but with the game having garnered attention recently due to the remarks of its developer and publisher, I decided to give the game a go. Being included as part of the Xbox Game Pass also made picking this to play a rather safe bet, and it turned out to be far more enjoyable than I expected. It just goes to show that you may look at a downhill biking game and say "it's not for me", but once you feel these slick controls it's highly likely you'll change your mind.


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