Monday, May 10, 2021

Let ‘Lonely Mountains: Downhill’ take your breath away

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Lonely mountains: descent does not open with the screech of rubber but an Alpen cow bell. An ATV avatar dressed in blue stands at the top of a trail clutching his handlebars. The landscape around them is serene: butterflies soar and clouds hug the grass. Then, as they left, the wind rattled and the chain swirled. Their descent is marked by trees which become thicker and more bushy, and the fauna more audible. On the finish line, there are no jubilant crowds or a champagne-soaked podium; instead an orange tent, a sleeping bag, and the faded light from the mountainside itself.

Until Lonely mountains: descent, extreme sports games had always seemed like a brash affair, lavishing their attention to detail on the adrenaline and energy drink culture that came with them. Soundtracks would sound as players violently burned courses bearing a prominent mark. Developer Megagon Industries imagines extreme sports differently; loneliness, as the title of his game suggests, is the key, and the starting point of an experience that conveys the sensual and emotional appeal of running through nature. Here, the fundamentals of sport are centered on the relationship between person and place, machine and mountain; he asks players to pay the utmost attention to the contours of his complex digital pitch – to be intimate with the massif.

Released on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2019 and Nintendo Switch in 2020, the game has never been more accessible or well supported. the Volcanic island the downloadable content arrived at the end of last year and amplified the show; its developer continues to offer daily challenges that pit players against each other in the global leaderboards. I played it on Game Pass, Microsoft’s subscription service, for what is approaching a month of growing obsession. In a way, he embodies the arcade-type “sticky” title it seems to work well on the platform; there’s always another moment to beat on courses that stay fresh with subtle tweaks. I make an effort to return to the game each day, incorporating its trials into my own inner rhythm.

Cycling and hiking through virtual nature

If there was a player’s mantra, it would be “one more hit,” which surfaces with every exasperated breath. Lonely mountains: descent promotes this response in abundance but manages to feel as cool as a stream of cold water. What is striking is the elegance of its aesthetic; Take a look at the in-game screenshots and you’ll see a close-up low style yet rich in mood, filled with earthy greens, blues, reds and browns. In motion, it’s even more evocative, in part because of the pristine sound design. There is no music: all we hear are the sounds of passing nature, muddy tires and slamming bicycle machines.

Playing the game is fairly straightforward; press the right trigger and the bike will move forward; the left brakes it and there is another button to accelerate. The trick is to know when to do nothing and just let the momentum take control. In a way, I remember less of its most obvious ancestor, the Testing series, that I am from Hideo Kojima’s hiking adventure in 2019 Death Stranding, which offered players an equally pristine-looking natural world. Each of these games presents the landscape as a place of friction rather than a flawless fluidity. At Kojima, it’s all about scanning the terrain for potential dangers as you slowly move forward; in Lonely mountains: descent, you read the environment faster and more instinctively. With a psychedelic jerk, I’ve sometimes found the layout and physics of the game so compelling that my mind is tricked into thinking it can feel every loose rock the bike slips on.

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