Though I typically like to steer clear of sports games, Descenders, a new biking game on Xbox One game preview, is an outlier for me. I’ve never enjoyed bike riding in real life due to a fear of injury (I’m pretty clutsy) but doing it in a virtual setting eliminates that risk. What I found with Descenders is that it simulates what it’s like to be a stunt biker — something I never could be — and gives the player complete freedom to enjoy it.
Your own virtual playground
At its core, Descenders is all about giving you a procedurally generated world filled with opportunities for you to hone your biking skills and show off the tricks you’ve learned. When you go to generate a world, you have numerous environments you can choose from, ranging from grasslands to a forest to a snowy mountainside. You can customize the settings further by increasing or decreasing how many slopes there are, how steep they are, and how many stunt ramps are present.
When you’re satisfied with your settings, the world will take a minute to generate itself before sending you to it. Once in the game, you’re free to bike through it however you please. The controls are intuitive and responsive, meaning that if you learn how to execute various maneuvers, then your success will never be hindered by technical issues. If you choose to ride down an incline, your speed will dramatically increase; this makes performing tricks easier as you can get more air during jumps, but also riskier, as any landing that isn’t perfect will send your biker sprawling.
Successfully pulling off impressive moves will gain you reputation, a representation of how the three in-game biking groups — Enemy, Arboreal, and Kinetic — view your skills. Higher reputation means that you’ll be approached with membership opportunities to these clubs and given chances to rise through their ranks, while lower reputation means that you’ll be regarded as amateurish. You can lose the reputation you’ve built up by crashing during biking runs or failing to perform a stunt and bailing.
The only problem with this system is that you’re severely punished for mistakes, but only marginally rewarded for perfection. It’s possible to lose over a thousand reputation points just from one screw-up, yet it takes almost a dozen well done moves to earn it all back. It’s true that this system forces you to strive for excellence, which is good, but I still think it’s too harsh.
Look, sound, and feel
Descenders’ visuals are as good as its gameplay mechanics. No matter what environment you choose to bike in, everything looks fantastic. Lighting is realistic and vibrant, weather effects like rain and snow look gorgeous, and the entire game is brought to life with a rich color palette. In addition, Descenders has a large collection of licensed electronic music that really helps soothe and relax the player as they hurtle through forests and perform tricks off inclines.
Another fantastic feature is the camera. You have five different camera angles you can swap to at any time, including a first person camera, and utilizing all of them to their fullest means you can create complex clips of your performances that look like they could be on a highlight reel.
What do you think of Descenders? Will you be getting it while it’s in preview? Let me know.
Descenders is available now on Xbox One for $24.99.