It’s a tried and tested formula - and one that has yielded some horrific games. Thankfully Codemasters have got this right: Downhill Domination is a beauty. Downhill Domination sees you enter the world of downhill mountain biking - its fast, its furious, its so much fun! You choose from a number of different riders, each with their own ‘cool dude’ phrases and race to your heart’s delight - there are five real pro racers. The game is well endorsed by the players in the sport - Specialized, GT, Trek are your opened bikes of choice. There are also other affiliated names on the banners around the course - Ebay, Powerbar, Mavic, RockShocks - which gives that authentic feel. As you win races, you can collect sponsorship from all these companies.
Starting from the outset, you have several types of play - freeride, mountaincross and technical - as well several modes such as career, timetrial and so on. As the names suggest, freeride just wants you to get down the course to the finish, mountaincross is a short fast track with lots of jumps and technical needs great reactions to avoid hitting trees and other obstacles as you fly down the track. You set out with two courses - one in Italy and one in Utah. As you race and win, you open up more options, more tracks, more toys to buy from the bike shop (you even get money for the trade in of your old parts!), and more racers. Prize money can also be used to buy bonuses, which spice up the game, and give you something to race for.
The normal criticism of both bike and downhill type games (skiing, snowboarding) is control. In DD they have got the controls down pretty well - not too much time spend messing around trying to go the right direction. The course comes fast, but there is time to spot the jumps and head over to them, or just go with the flow. Like all these games, there are a number of tricks you can throw in to maximise points and thrill the crowds. They take a little time to learn (rather than just random button pressing) but the results are very cool, and you can do some really fun tricks. Whether the tricks will help you get to the top of the leader board is a different matter, as winning every race is essential.
There is a tutorial that will progressively take you through all the moves, but I could only stick with this for five minutes - once you get the idea you are ready to go and start racing. The game also has multiplayer options - 2, 3, 4 players - 2 player fits well on the split screen and gives you amble space to see what you are doing. You also have combat features in the game - a bit of dirty trickery to win your races - so punching and kicking other racers and bystanders is all part of the game. Another comedy features is the animals. There are sheep, goats, cows and others roaming the hillside - there is great fun to be had in riding full pelt into a sheep and watching it get thrown down the mountain amongst speeding bikers.
The sound in DD is worthy of an award - the soundtrack is composed of heavy rock/punk tracks as you expect with these things, it may not be to some peoples’ tastes, but I say crank it up and get riding. The sound effects are also spot on the mark. The sounds of smashing up bikes is so realistic, I was sometimes unsure as to whether it was the game, or someone outside, well, smashing up my bike. The graphics are also good and cope with the speed well - there is an occasional flicker when lots if happening, but these are the exception rather than the rule. The bikes are true to their real versions, and geeks will love the thought of upgrading to those Mavic wheels at great cost.
There has to be something wrong with the game and there is - you can complete much if it fairly quickly. Having said that, you can turn it on for a 10 minute blast whilst your waiting for the missus to do her hair, but if your looking for a long and engaging game, then look elsewhere. Overall, I don’t thing that longevity if a cause for concern in this genre - I’m just pleased that they have finally cracked the formula.