Descenders is a game about going down dangerous courses on a mountain bike extremely fast and trying to pull off some impressive tricks. That is the easiest way to explain what Descenders has to offer and with it, the core gameplay loop that will keep you engaged in this procedurally generated BMX title.
Currently in early access and developed by RageSquid, Descenders is a title that not only takes a simple idea and makes it surprisingly fun, but also goes beyond your expectations of what it can do. Players step into the shoe of an up-and-coming BMX rider who, after a quick introduction to the controls and gameplay systems, picks a team and aims to become a legend. From here it is all about completing challenges, tracks and earning as much reputation as you can for your team all while unlocking new items and becoming a BMX legend.
Gameplay is simple: you go forward at high speed and use a mix of jumps, turns, drifts, tricks and your own speed to earn points, complete tracks and be somewhat awesome. At the same time you need to make sure not to go face first into a tree as bailing too much will result in a failure and lose you some of your reputation. You see, Descenders is in a way very much a rogue-like title that has an ongoing risk versus reward system in play. Doing more during a level could earn you greater points, improved reputation and a place on the online leaderboard. At the same time that risk could backfire and see you bailing, crashing or just not finishing in time and losing more than you earned. It’s a system that is surprisingly fun and engaging, supporting the robust control scheme.
Where the gameplay starts to really shine is in the heated moments of rushing down a course, making tight turns and avoiding falling off at every possible moment. The rushing of being in the middle of an extremely fast ride down a hill as you pull off double backflips and other complex tricks, landing each one only to narrowly avoid crashing into a tree. The sense of achievement you have when everything comes together and you finish in record time, scoring the most points so far just empowers you as a player and you cannot wait to jump back in for the next level.
It's because of these super moments that Descenders is best played with the motion blur turned on. Normally this is something I would avoid doing but it makes the gameplay so much more engaging. Nothing will top racing down a hill at a ridiculous speed in first-person, feeling the rush of the terrain blurring pass you as you land that big trick. Can I also just point out that all of this runs at a flawless frame rate and is visually impressive? Once more the fully-licensed soundtrack from drum and bass label Liquicity means that everything just comes together in a beautiful mix of visual and audio brilliance.
What makes Descenders have so much replay value is the fact each track is generated at random, thanks to the procedure system that the developers have employed. This means that each run, each track and each play session will be completely different, offering an almost endless possibility for entrainment. Sure, there are four different locations in the title at the minute and there's a limit on the number of stunt ramps and objects you will encounter but the way they are set up will create interesting and tense moments.
Before selecting a level you get a clue as to how it will be generated with a different amount of steepness, curves and the number of trick opportunities that will be present. At the same time you are given a second objective which, if completed, will give you an extra point of health that will help in completing a run. Of course there is that risk and reward element to the title here as trying to beat a stunt related challenge will require the right kind of track. If you are unlucky the procedural generation will screw you over or work in your favour. Whichever way it goes it means that Descenders is always interesting, fresh and feeling unique.
All of this makes Descenders a fantastic title that is only going to get better. With it currently in early access, the developer RageSquid is planning to build on the already solid content and add more. This includes social elements, more unlockables, secrets to discover and just more of what is currently working. With a supporting community and active engagement from the developers and publishers, Descenders is a title worth checking out even in its early access state. I know that this is a game I’ll be playing for plenty of months ahead and it is one that you should be as well.