​Descenders (Game Preview) Review

By Kevin Mitchell Posted on May 22, 2018

SelectButton’s Game Preview reviews provide valuable insight on a work in progress. The game may be reevaluated once officially released, as the review below is based on the Game Preview build at the time of the review’s publish date.

The fast-paced downhill freeriding title Descenders has expanded its audience by releasing on Xbox One Game Preview, Microsoft’s version of Steam Early Access where the game has already been available for the past few months. As part of the [email protected] Game Fest, the game also enhanced visuals for the Xbox One X, and Mixer streaming integration allowing viewers to assist or hinder runs. Screaming down a tree-lined dirt path on the mountain, leaping into the air and pulling off a double backflip is exhilarating, that is until you descend directly into the way of a large boulder. At least the electronic dance music will keep your legs pumping.

Descenders currently only offers two different game modes: career session and freeride. The world option in freeride is locked behind your career progression. This means from the start; you’ll be limited to the first world (highlands), can freely alter any of the various modifiers. Want to challenge yourself with the steepest and curviest run down a mountain in stormy weather with only a single health? Or maybe you want to journey through the tree line at dusk without any actual path and freely explore the vast landscape? Once you are satisfied with your choices, the game will generate the level based on your settings. Did I mention every level in Descenders is procedurally generated? Prepare to ride through an infinite number of stages over the course of four unique nature-based environments.

Career session takes players across a newly added world map, in each of the locations as mentioned earlier; highlands, forest, canyon; and peaks. Instead of using a linear path for progression, each run presents you with a handful of options once you complete the first course. All of which are procedurally generated based on the colored bars for each of the three different categories; steepness, curves, and stunts. Some may have additional obstacles, such as forcing you to finish the level in first-person, or receiving double damage when bailing, but you’ll gain extra rep points (experience). Regardless of each path you take, every level features an optional bonus objective, such as performing multiple backflips, achieving a perfect clean landing, reaching a set speed, and more. If you can accomplish these tasks, you’ll gain additional health, which you will need to make it through all of the worlds in a single run. The bonus objectives reset if you crash/bail, so you’ll need to ensure you complete them on a clean run, either from the start of the level or from one of the many checkpoints you can cross.

As you succeed in racing down the mountain and progressing forward, you’ll unlock crew members, that provide temporary buffs/mutators tailor-made to your playthrough. You are presented with four different options, such as lowering the number of curves you’ll see in tracks, making the dirt paths wider, gain additional spin speed, and more. These are limited to your current run, think of Descenders as an extreme downhill roguelike. Nothing in Descenders is forcing you to follow the path in front of you, and at times it’s essential to explore the landscape freely. For example, you may be tasked with gaining five seconds of air time, in a path that has zero jumps, and instead is focused on tight turns. You can either try and get enough air by going over the sides of the path or search out other things to jump over that are not found on the trail. If you do go down that path, be careful of large boulders, trees, and even rampaging hay bales, at least in the highlands. I’ll also mention that checkpoints are limited to the path laid out before you, so if you bail while exploring the environment, you may have to restart near the start of the level. Each of the different worlds provides their own styling to the game, such as having you jump over/through a fire watch tower in the forest.

Although you are free to take any path you desire, you’ll need to complete the boss track in each of the worlds to advance. These culminate in a path to a massive boss jump, such as jumping over a bridge with a speeding train and landing cleanly on the other side. These jumps aren’t only about reaching a high-rate of speed, and instead, you need to judge the proper speed not to overshoot the landing area, as well as ensure you are lined up correctly, as there isn't a way to adjust your trajectory once you are airborne. I’ve lost count on the number of times, I’ve come crashing back down to earth on these boss jumps. Not to mention, but when crashing from these types of extreme attempts, you will lose more than a single health. Gaining rep not only puts you in a higher division, but you’ll also unlock countless cosmetic items to customize your avatar and bike.

Simply Put

RageSquid’s path for Descenders is clear; make an extreme fast-paced downhill title that can be accessed by anyone, but difficult to master. The decision to expand upon the procedurally generated worlds by opening the paths available to players was brilliant. The latest updates to the rep system and the inclusion of the roguelike temporary mutators show that the developers are listening to their community. Now excuse me while I continue my quest to land a first-person double front flip over a train.

Note: ​Descenders (Game Preview) was reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.

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