Extreme sports have been emulated in the gaming world for quite some time with different levels of success depending on the franchise. With the different sports growing in popularity around the globe, we have seen numerous extreme sports games released to the market. Mountain Bike riding is a sport gaining popularity, and it is now even an Olympic sport which is why it should be no surprise to anyone that a game based on mountain bike riding has hit the market. It's a decent game but it's not the game mountain bike fans would be looking for.
From the outset the game offers quite a bit of variety. There are various game modes to choose from such as single event where you can race down the mountain by yourself, or have a one off race against numerous opponents, Arcade which is a normal race but you don't gain money or points for your overall career.
Once you start a career, that career is not linked to the rider you choose. So you can complete one event, then select another rider and expect to still have the same sponsors and skills etc. There is numerous careers to be completed. They are; Super, Free Ride, Mountain Cross and Technical Downhill . The Super Career is a combination of all the different disciplines featured in the game and is raced across twenty four races.
The other careers specialise in one discipline and feature less then ten races. Most of the races used in the specialised careers are re-used from the super career so if you decide to finish that one first, chances are you will have seen it all before. Once a career is started you can't move to another discipline, unless you forgo the progress made in the current career. There is also a freestyle career where on each mountain you have to perform tricks, gain a certain point score or satisfy certain goals to continue. The final mode available to play is the moshbowl which is basically destruction derby with mountain bikes.
As mentioned before, the game contains three different disciplines of mountain bike riding which offers some variety to the title. The disciplines are Free Ride, which reminds us somewhat of Amped. You start at the top of a huge mountain and the goal is to reach the bottom in the shortest time possible. There is no restrictions, to an extent, as to where you can ride, so you may find yourself a fair distance away from the other riders except for near the finish line. The mountains that this discipline is raced on are huge. Sometimes it may take you over five minutes to complete the race. The other disciplines are much more restrictive and show the competitive nature of the game a bit better. Mountain Cross is basically racing down a short course and technical downhill features tight corners and other obstacles to really test a riders skill at riding through tight, windy tracks down the mountain. These two disciplines feature significantly shorter tracks then free ride.
Rather then just button mashing the controller until you reach the end of the race there is actually some strategy that can be used, but this also has the problem of ruining the realism factor for those looking for a true mountain biking simulation. As you pedal down the mountain you lose energy, once this is depleted your rider will slow down to a normal pace, but whilst doing this it is replenished so one strategy is managing your energy bar. However this can also be artificially increased by a powerup located around the tracks. Other powerups include increased speed and being able to get back onto your bike much quicker in the event of a crash.
The other strategy you can use is brute force. As you hurtle down the mountain you can punch opposing riders off their bikes. As you do this (or perform tricks) your combat skill is increased (it decreases each time you crash) and you get better attacks. Eventually you will get weapons such as drink bottles to throw at competitors, and large sticks to hit them with. This is where the true arcade nature of the game comes out because doing this in a real race, would probably get you banned for life from the sport. The AI themselves aren't afraid to knock you off your bike either. As you complete races your rank will rise and you will earn more money. This can be used in the bike shop to buy new and better parts for your bike which can increase its speed and handling. The other thing you gain from good performances is sponsorship. This allows you to wear clothing adorned with the sponsors logo and the game features real world sponsors such as Subaru and Gatorade.
There are nine mountains (most of which have to be unlocked) available in the game and each offers a different challenge. As mentioned before the Free Ride races are incredibly long and you will notice some decent effects as you hurtle down the mountains. For instance on one mountain you start at the top in sunshine, but by the end you've been through a vicious storm complete with lightning. The mountains are set in various parts of the globe and have been built around some unique features of the areas they are set in. In the Hawaii track you will race through volcano's, whilst in Japan you will notice cultural architecture and the style of the buildings. Some races are set in urban areas, whilst others are completely in arid or jungle-like environments The mountains also feature obstacles such as hikers and cars which you must avoid. You may see an object like a rock that looks like it can be jumped off, only to have your rider crash into it.
One thing that is really impressive about Downhill Domination is the speed that the game is played at. When you're flying down the mountain, it really does feel like the bike is moving at insane speeds and at any moment you could lose control. The visuals of the game aren't overly impressive, but there is some nice effects used. This isn't much of a problem because the speed makes up for this lack of graphical detail. The animations of both the bikes and the riders are highly detailed, right down to the way bikes' suspension moves when landing from a large jump or riding over rocks. During crashes riders will show pain, and blood does appear sometimes. You can choose from either fictional characters or real world professionals. Using the real world professionals does not allow you to change things such as sponsor during the course of the game however.
There isn't much wrong with Downhill Domination other then the fact that the source material doesn't make for a great video game in terms of length or replay value . The developers went with an arcade style for the title which will make the game appeal to a larger variety of gamers, but also turn away people wanting a realistic simulation of this up and coming sport. The game is great for a rental, but definitely check it out before considering a purchase as the only replay value on offer is to do all the careers again with another character, or try and beat your best time.
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