Looking out over the lush forests from the starting cabin, it’s easy to get lost in the beautiful landscape of Descenders. It is inarguably a visual masterpiece, and developer RageSquid has rendered the mountains, hills and jump ramps with exquisite attention to detail, something I didn’t expect from such a studio best known for the crude humor of 2015’s Action Henk.
Descenders, is a game about riding bikes down hills very fast, in first or third person.
When the game is in its stride, each run feels like a mechanical playground: You’re barreling down slopes, swinging into turns and performing aerial stunts on anything you can launch yourself off of.
Unfortunately, Descenders stumbles in trying to craft an entire game around that core mechanic, and when the honeymoon of flips and downhill drifting wears off, the cracks begin to show.
The game is centered around the randomization of each run down the mountain. Not only are individual courses randomized by level of steepness, curves and stunts, but the routes available as you progress through a world are similarly unique to each run.
Complete an entire run in a world without bailing out too many times, and face a boss level — a steep and challenging course ending in a gargantuan mega-jump.
Levels in each run vary due to their procedurally generated nature, but all contain a few staple obstacles depending on the world that they’re set in. In the Highlands, grassy fields are interspersed with quarter pipes and wooden ramps, and even the occasional castle tower jumping challenge.
The Forest, the second world, adds jumps through firewatch towers and twisted bridges over rocky pits. Four worlds are available in total — the aforementioned Highlands and Forest, and the latter-game Canyon and Peaks.
Descenders takes a valiant stab at integrating the fast-paced, stunt-focused gameplay of downhill sports with the procedural generation of modern games. Unfortunately, this combination robs the genre of one of its strongest attributes: handcrafted level design that players can dive into and learn from.
This is balanced by tight controls and a slick presentation that keeps you from ever getting too angry at it — just make sure to not wipe out too hard.