It seems like almost every type of extreme sport imaginable has been done in video
game form. Skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, BMX, motocross, hell, even wakeboarding
has a game made for it. Downhill mountain biking seems to be at the last of every developer's
list, though. Sure, there was that one DH biking game released for the PS1
years ago, but it was so forgettable that you might as well go on thinking there wasn't a DH game ever made in
the first place. But why wouldn't you base a game around downhill biking? The danger
of speeding downhill, avoiding trees, rocks and such, and just trying not to wipe out.
Maybe the sport isn't that popular to gain that much notice, or maybe developers
just didn't care. Well, Sony and Incog actually did care enough to make a game around
downhill biking in the form of Downhill Domination. As probably being the only game of it's
type to be released within this generation, is it good enough to be deserving of your
attention, or should we forget about this one as well?
Luckily, for Sony and Incog Inc., Downhill Domination is far from forgettable,
at least where the genre is concerned. All of the speed and danger that goes with extreme DH
is captured here pretty well, but the experience is far from realistic. In the end, Downhill
Domination is seen as a mix of EA's SSX series with some nods to Midway's Thunder
series. It sounds strange comparing an extreme sports title to say, HydroThunder,
but in a way, it does kind of feel that way. DD is a pretty easy game to understand
and get into, as that is where the SSX reference comes from. Nothing about the game
is overly complicated, so almost anyone can get into it.
The point/objective of DD is pretty simple, get from the top of a mountain to the bottom
in the best place possible, much like a snowboarding game. Except, you'll need to
keep your thumb on the pedal button to keep momentum, tap the pedal button at the right
time for some extra speed, know when to jump and when to avoid the obstacles. And this
is made much harder by the rate of speed you go down the mountain. There isn't too much
time to plan and anticipate your next move, since you're going so fast, so reaction time
is key to winning. Also key to winning is keeping your speed up, and you'll need to do that by
keeping your energy meter full. Every time you sprint for extra speed, your energy meter
drains. By picking up the energy pick-ups or by doing stunts in mid-air, you can replenish the
meter to keep the speed going. There are also other power-ups that can increase speed,
provide melee items for combat or allow you to mount on your bike immediatley after crashing.
You also need to remember that you will race up against up to 9 opponents, so taking them
out through melee combat is necessary to winning as well.
The game design, like I've mentioned before, is pretty arcade inspired. The courses
are very large, diverse, and include a variety of obstacles. You'll go from european mountains,
to desert mountains, and even city streets through the course of the game. Although there
are only 9 stages, they ae broken down into three different race types: freestyle, moutaincross
and technical DH. In freestyle, you pretty much seek out the best path possible to win, there
are not many boundaries or guides to keep you restrstrained to a certain path. Mountaincross
tracks are usually shorter courses, but are a bit more professional downhill tracks,
and are contained in a specfic area with boundaries. They're almost like motocross tracks,
expect it's point-to-point. The technical DH is a bit similar to the freestyle DH,
except there are certain areas you're expected to stay in, so there's a little less
freedom. There are a few carrer modes available, and have varying lengths (such as how many
courses you'll race), so there are quite a few things to do in the game. But even so,
it's all a bit short, as with only 9 stages (even with course varieties), you're not
given much to do but race.
The controls are pretty easy to get the hang of, as far as basic functions such as turning,
jumping and pedaling. But there are other things that should have been made a bit more obvious.
Like the sprint function, which I didn't even know was there untill 5 races into the carrer
mode. The default scheme for things such as braking and hopping are not that great as
well, which leads to some confusion. Just the overall default scheme seems to be a bit faulty,
as opposed to the other schemes available in the options mode. Like I said, basic functions
are easy, but tricks, braking and powersliding could have been dealt with better. The challenge
is pretty much on the level. The AI isn't a total a-hole, but not really a pushover either.
But things are different on how you move on in the carrer mode. If you want to go to the
next event, you really need to place first, and no less. If you place lower than that, you'll
need to race the course again and make up the points you didn't get the last time around (1st place finish is
worth 12 points, and that's how much is needed to move on. 2nd is 10, 3rd is 4 and 4th is like 2.).
I had to re-race a few courses at LEAST 3 or more times to make up those points.
To me, that's a bit tedious.
The visuals of Downhill Domination are good, but almost what you would expect to find in
a PS2 game. First of all, the framerate is smooth and solid, and the sense of speed is
just right for the game (although, it may be a bit too fast in tighter areas). The
courses are very large, and full of objects, such as shrubs, rocks, signs and a multitude
of other things. Also, I really didn't notice any pop-up, which is great, when you consider the
size of these courses. BUT, the texturing is not exactally top-notch. The game has an almost
oil-painting look to it. Yeah, you know what an object is based off the textures, but the
colors are a bit too saturated and the resolution is not as sharp as one might want it to
be. The end result is an above-average look by PS2 standards, but I know I've seen
sharper on the system.
The audio is pretty basic for an extreme sports title, but the music is a bit of a mixed bag.
The music tracks are comprised of some really good songs (some that seem original rather
than licensed), a couple of strange ones (like the remix of James Brown's "I Feel Good"),
and some really crappy guitar rock that we could have done without. Also, it sounds like one
of the songs was taken from one of the Jet Moto games. I know it's probably not,
but it sounds pretty damn similar. The sound effects are good, and actually are
present in a game in which you think you wouldn't hear many sound effects (since bikes
don't make a hell of a lot of noise). The voices for each character are forgettable.
Downhill Domination isn't really that bad of a game, considering the track record
of games made for this genre. There's a very arcadey quality to the game that some
would pick up on while others wouldn't. The biggest problems this game has is
with the lack of overall length, the somewhat frustrating trick scheme, and the way
you may have to repeat the same course many times to complete a race event. But the
overall game is fast, fairly fun and something that is different from what we've
seen in the extreme sports genre. Overall, it's another intance where Sony has
done something right, yet other people won't notice.