Developed by RageSquid, Descenders has recently been making the rounds on social media, with some touting it as a potential successor to the throne of the classic series Skate. It is a procedurally-generated mountain biking game in which the player must make their way through and conquer four zones to become a legendary Descender. Be prepared to fall over a lot on your way to glory, however.
When you first start the game, you only have the default gear – helmets, clothing, bike and so on with more gear unlocking each time you successfully (or unsuccessfully) finish a session. No microtransactions here; everything is earned in-game, with no two items being the same. Sure, you can dress up in your team’s colours to truly represent them, but you could also wear bright pink clothing and ride a rusty bike purely because the game offers the chance to do so.
In some ways, Descenders has roguelike qualities – for example, each new run is completely randomised and progress is not saved, meaning no quit outs and coming back or else it’s a new run. However, you can unlock permanent shortcuts to the next zone by beating the previous one’s “boss” level three times. These boss levels finish the zone in style, always ending in a great big ramp to jump, and in the case of the first zone, you’ll be doing said jump over a moving train, like a scene straight out of a movie.
After you accrue enough points to reach the first level, you invited to join three different teams. From what I have seen so far, joining only gives you team-colored gear and a random unique level to do for them, which upon completion awards bonus reputation points. Retiring out of a race early or losing lives reduces your reputation and can even get you downgraded in rank – something to keep in mind during your runs.
The four zones currently available are the highlands, forest, canyon, and mountains. The highlands zone is particularly easy. It’s when you first make it to the forest that you see how hard this game can get, Night races make it harder to see – even more so when you are unlucky enough to have fog too. However, the highlands and forest are nothing compared to the canyon and mountain zones.
Make sure you look up the advanced tips, especially on how to land more softly and maintain speed over bumps, because without this knowledge you are bound to fail. The canyon is all about high jumps and steep falls, meaning landing clean is vital to survival and progression. The mountain is the most brutal of all. Steep drops mean you can build up high speeds but the slightest hit against anything will down you. Also, if you really want a challenge, play this with the first-person camera on – it is both incredibly fun and terrifying.
Mechanically speaking, Descenders is relatively basic, which is no surprise given the simple yet entertaining premise. The controls are simple and this is best played with a controller. You can play with keyboard, but the default controls are just bizarre and, as of writing, cannot be rebound (though the developers plan to change this soon enough).
For now, the game is not exactly brimming with content, but there are plans for features such as Twitch integration and daily challenges. Considering the game is still in Early Access, it runs beautifully – during my playtime it very rarely dropped below 60 fps, with the only drop being when the forest map first loaded. Also, I have yet to encounter a single bug – the only issue thus far was a crash a little over two hours into a session.
If there was anything in this that I could change, it would be the hub, because it is far too bland in its current state. You have a small tent and rest area for each team; a test course for the three categories steepness, curves and stunts; a few empty buildings; and finally the shed, where you can customise your rider.
Despite these small grievances, Descenders is a stellar game with a lot of potential, and as long as the developers give it the love it so deserves, it could indeed be the successor to the Skate series.
- Beautifully rendered, procedurally-generated levels
- Plenty of variety, with levels of varying complexity
- Energetic, adrenaline-pumping soundtrack
- Punishing mechanics, even at low speeds
- Keyboard controls are clunky and currently cannot be customised