Downhill Domination


Review by Greg Wilcox

Sony/Incog Inc


Graphics: 8

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 8

One might think that Incog Inc. would follow up its successes with Twisted Metal Black and War of the Monsters with a similarly themed PS2 game or well-built sequel. Instead, they jumped into the crowded action sports waters and have managed to cannonball everyone out of the pool with Downhill Domination. The game has blazing speed, 27 amazing course designs full of all sorts of interactive elements, and hard as nails gameplay to keep you hooked in as soon as you turn on your PS2. You’ll want to break out the toothpicks and prop your eyes open as soon as you get into the game- blinking while playing DD can be hazardous to your onscreen character’s health.

For those who need a “so, what’s it like?” comparison, the first thing that springs to mind would be SSX with bikes and better power-ups. However, while the game shares some gameplay aspects with that series, the character personalities here are a lot less loud and annoying. Along with the initial crew of 6, there are real downhill riders (and a few surprise characters) to unlock as you go through the game, and the course designs are far more treacherous and varied, in my opinion. But hell, a bike and a snowboard are two different modes of travel, and DD gives more of a visceral thrill as you blast your way down any of its wild tracks at speeds up to and over 60 mph.

Fire up the game and you’ll see live action footage of riders sailing up, over, and in some cases into all sorts of natural and man-made hazards. There’s also a real baby, an interesting mobile, and some mannequins here with a nice and loud musical selection to get you pumped for the ride ahead. Pick a rider, and check out the fluid interface as he or she leaps off a high rock onto a bike and speeds into a nearby tent. Here you choose your gear, bike color, etc., and head off to whatever event you chose. Jump into the Training level and get used to the ins and outs of tricking, Superstyling, and the like, or just go for it in Arcade or Career modes. I recommend a bit of training for the cocky ones- DD will eat you a few times (you’re going to eat it a few times, actually) while you get used to just how fast the game moves.

The controls are solid, super fast and responsive, but the game is no cakewalk, folks. The great thing is that tricks can be pulled off with no lag whatsoever, and you’ll be stringing together some wicked combos while getting as much air as possible. There’s also a bit of combat involved here, and it can be key to winning if you time it right. In one race, I had just been creamed by a bear and was 7th out of 10 as I picked up a water bottle power-up. With 5 riders directly in front of me tricking and leaping all over, one by one I whacked 4 upside their respective heads as the fifth guy wrecked and I sped into 2nd place blowing past the leader by a bike length at the finish line. The difficulty level can be extreme at times, and the wild multiple paths on the Downhill and Technical courses can have you sailing into the unknown if you’re too careless. There are also Black Diamond paths on some courses that demand technical precision and some insane skill to survive, but you’ll score quite well should you survive a run through these areas. Cash earned with any player can be used to upgrade any other player you choose in the game, or unlock bonus equipment, video clips, new songs and even bonus “bikes” and “riders”. Trust me, some of the later transportation is worth the price of the game alone.

Finishing Arcade Mode unlocks Pro rider Tara Llanes, and the 4 other pros (Missy Giove, Brian Lopes, Eric Carter & Richie Schley) have to be unlocked through even tougher challenges. The point scoring system works well, as it encourages you to get good at the game as soon as possible. Some of the mid to end Career courses are frighteningly hard, but when you clear them and move on, you can re-experience at your leisure in Free Ride mode. Get good enough in Career Mode, and your rider will be offered sponsorships from real-life bike companies and corporations. I don’t think I’ve seen a more conflicting series of logos in a game, though. Snapple, Sobe, AND Gatorade? Amazon and ebay together? It’s like seeing Coke and Pepsi in the same bottle, but hey, it works for me. You can also create your own Tournament with the Custom Tournament Editor or go at it alone or with friends in a number of fun multiplayer modes like Moshbowl (my personal favorite!) and Super Jump.

DD runs at a solid 60 fps, and that’s with up to 10 riders on massive courses with spectators, rolling boulders, falling stalactites, roaming (and deadly) wildlife, and the occasional SUV thrown in for good measure. You’ll be moving so fast that it’s impossible not to wreck on some courses, which come in Mountain Cross, Technical Downhill, and Freeride flavors. The draw distance and character animation are incredible, and there’s nothing resembling pop-up to be seen at all. You can even ride in first-person mode and gape in awe as the game zooms out to show your stunts as you pull them off. Although, I’d have loved to see a Backflip into Superman into a No-hander from the handlebar viewpoint, I’d imagine more than a few gamers would be reaching for the Dramamine. Music and sounds are solid, and although the voice acting for the riders is decent, it does tend to be quite repetitive. Good thing you can mute them (and the music and sound FX if you like).

One sore spot is switching camera views, done by hitting Select and either up or down on the D-pad. Problem is, it’s done while playing, and can cause a crash if done at the wrong time. I stuck with the default setup, but I can see a few folks griping about this. Still, it’s easy to see Downhill Domination becoming as big or surpassing other titles in the genre, especially if Incog polishes the formula even more. I like to think of them as the house band that plays a good gig all the time, so how about a real sequel to Warhawk or maybe a revitalization of Rally Cross. Then again, with a game engine so versatile, I wonder if anyone at Incog is a huge fan of skiing (hint, hint, hint)…


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:23 PM