The turn of phrase, easy to learn but hard to master explains Descenders perfectly. Within minutes you’ll be able to pick up and learn the basics of how to play Descenders, however, it’ll take hours of dedication to truly master this game. Developed by Ragesquid, Descenders is an extreme cycling game, where you drop down mountain path slopes, perform tricks and survive the terrain of the outdoor environments. If you loved old school PS2 sports arcade games such as Downhill Domination or enjoyed pulling off tricks in the Tony Hawk series, you’ll be in good company with Descenders.
After a brief tutorial showing you the basic controls, you’re thrown into a mini practice lobby of sorts where you can see other players online and practice your new-found skills such as performing tricks like backflips, frontflips, 360s, candy bars and so forth. These tricks are reasonably easy to carry out permitting you to have the height behind your jumps from the slopes or hill bombs that in turn feels gratifying to carry out. You can practice these knickknacks until you’re ready to take on a career session where you’ll sink the majority of your time. Unless you’re like me and find a colourful inflatable beach ball lying around within the lobby and attempt to bounce the ball vicariously for the next 20 minutes…
Entering career mode, Descenders takes a unique spin to your stereotypical cycling game as it involves rogue-lite mechanics. You’ll be provided with a map where you can choose different levels to pick from with varying stats ranging from steepness, curves and stunts. Therefore, you can tackle which levels you think will cater to your abilities best. Adrenaline junkie? Pick steepness and travel downhill at stupidly crazy speeds. Enjoy the trials of twists and turns? Then pursue tracks with curve stats. Or if you’re a complete rebel and relish pulling off tricks for days, pick levels with high stunts.
Along your travels, you’ll come across sponsorships levels. Complete enough sponsorship requirements and you’ll be sponsored by one of three sponsors – Enemy, Arboreal or Kinetic. Complete sponsorship tasks and you will earn new spiffing bikes and killer threads for your character that you can customize in ‘The Shed’. Although, you do earn bikes and pieces of clothing naturally playing throughout the game. Some of the pieces of clothing can be rather wacky ranging from a chicken head to bat-wings.
Ultimately, you will eventually want to reach the boss level, but if you take too long of a route getting there, it will transcend from day to night making it incredibly more difficult to navigate throughout the level. This adds a real-life dynamic to the gameplay experience where the player has conquered the map on that day. The boss levels are incredibly exhilarating as they contain huge stunts including hurdling over a train track to jumping over canyon cliffs. After completing the boss level you’ll gain access to the next map area. After completing all the map areas you’ll gain the right of entry to the new section in career mode.
You will have to be careful taking on each level as you start with four health bars – lose all your health bars and you’ll have to start all over from the beginning. Fortunately, each level you have an opportunity to gain an extra health bar by successfully achieving a bonus objective. These can range from achieving 2 frontflips, completing a level in 40 seconds or don’t let go of the acceleration, which is easier said than done. However, these objectives are completely randomized, and this can be a good but a bad thing all rolled into one. How many health bars you can rack up can be the defining reason on how far you will get in a run on career mode. Therefore, the fact this is determined by a roll of dice can be imbalanced at times.
Another way of ensuring the best run for yourself is by earning rep points that are usually earned by engaging with more reckless behaviour such as travelling at high speeds or performing a variety of tricks. Earn enough rep points and you’ll unlock a new crew member that will give you advantages moving forward. For instance, some will show a compass point to the finish line, where others will allow quicker flips and spins. This will be crucial if you want to optimize your chances on a run.
In the end, it’s down to you how you decide to confront each level, there no rule book in this game. This isn’t a racing game, so you can decide how long you take on each route. You can stick to the path or decide to go off-road in a high risk, high reward exchange as they’ll be many environmental hazards lurking. Want to cycle back up on the track and achieve those bonus objectives? Go for it. In that regard, it really gives the impression of a high-stakes cycling journey.
On a technical level, the game looks absolutely fantastic. The environments range from grassy terrain, snowy peaks to even a desert. Yes, some of the environments could be argued they are repeating themselves, but its simplicity works. It is worth noting, that on a few occasions the framerate dropped ever so slightly, although it wasn’t anything that affected the gameplay experience. The soundtrack is brilliantly coupled with the game as well. Its upbeat drum and bass music really helped the momentum of the gameplay and was probably a standout feature of the whole game.
Playing Descenders was a blast from the past, however, it felt incredibly modern at the same time. The more time you’ll sink into the game, the more you’ll improve and be rewarded, that adds to its addictive gameplay. Descenders is a game designed to be beginner-friendly, where you can perform tricks from the moment you go. Regrettably, the game has a massive difficulty spike in the later segments that could be a deterrent for some people. Nevertheless, with career mode allowing quick sessions intervals – this is a game you can easily pick up and drop and gradually become better and more skilled at overtime.
Descenders PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7.5/10
Descenders is a homage to the classic sports arcade games but is by no means defined by it. It takes a distinctive twist by blending rogue-lite mechanics into a sports game that feels like a breath of fresh air into the genre.
- Easy to pick up and perform tricks
- Rogue-lite meets cycling
- Excellent soundtrack
- Framerate issues on rare occasions
- Some of the randomized bonus objectives can be unfair
- Some may find the difficulty spike too punishing
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Slim.