Plunging the player down brutal, inventive mountain courses at incredible speeds, Downhill Domination provides an incredible rush that doesn't let up from the moment you start up the disc. While several titles in the past have attempted to capture the intensity of extreme mountain biking, none have come close until now. Coming from Incog, the developers behind Twisted Metal, Downhill Domination is an outstanding title that mixes realistic physics and beautiful mountain scenery with intense action and amazing speed to create one of the best PS2 racers to date. The action takes you to 27 different courses on nine mountains throughout the world, ranging from the blazing heat of Utah, volcanic courses in Hawaii, frozen Russian Tundra and many other gorgeous locales. Before you begin the race, you select your rider. DD includes 14 different riders, with several riders initially available. While it's fantasy based, the game mixes several real-world riders into its staff, but these characters can only be unlocked when you win different modes. After you have selected your riders, you enter a bike shop to select your bike, racing attire and other options. There are several distinct modes of play to increase the game's longevity. Single players can choose from Arcade, Career, Specialized Career, Time Trial, Freeride and Training modes or can also create a custom tournament. DD also includes several multiplayer modes such as practice, single event, arcade and freestyle modes. The game supports up to four players at once via split-screen or linked systems, but doesn't include online modes. This is one minor flaw, especially considering Sony's big online push. It's a surprising omission but, hopefully something that will be rectified in the inevitable sequel.
Once on the mountain, the most immediate thing you'll notice are the massive courses that will test your endurance, stamina and driving skills. There are three basic types of races to compete in: Mountain Cross, Technical DH and Freeride. Mountain Cross courses can be quite long and might take several minutes to complete. Technical DH races are a lot shorter, but leave less room for error while the Freeride courses are also short and feature numerous routes to get to the bottom of each hill. After each race, players are ranked based on finishing position, combat, stunts and time on dangerous paths. These rankings are then converted into money which players can use to buy upgrades to their characters, abilities and other options.
The realistic course designs provide players constant challenge and each mountain has its own surprises in store for playes. For example, there are rainy courses with lots of fog that obscures your line of sight, while snowy mountain courses have shifting ice sheets where you'll have to avoid falling through cracks that suddenly appear. These natural effects make each course feel alive, and makes for an immersive and challenging experience. You'll rarely have the opportunity to rest. Players will face numerous obstacles in each course such as rocks, large logs, trees, and cliffs that must be avoided. The courses have numerous branching routes, some of which are harder than others, with narrow paths, sharp turns and huge gaps to traverse on each level. Additionally, skilled or brave riders can earn extra points by attempting to traverse the brutal "Black Diamond" portions of each courses, which are a lot harder than the standard routes. In addition to standard obstacles, players will also have to watch out for moving objects such as bystanders and mountain life such as Elks, Polar Bears, wild bears and other animals that will impede their progress. However, players will find numerous powerups such as increased speed, turbo boosts and more on the mountain. The control system is quite intuitive and allows you to pedal rapidly in some portions, or slower on the more difficult sections, such as small winding paths, that can be difficult to traverse at high speeds. While it can a little bit much to handle all at once, the intensity and challenge requires a lot of skill and that's what makes DD so invigorating and fun.
The courses are smartly designed and Downhill Domination's tracks offer a lot of variety, with each section of each track presenting its own challenges. For example, the early part of a level may have tight, winding curves, but suddenly things open up and DD throws huge jumps at the players. These jumps are where you can make massive big air for bonus points. Players can perform stunts while airborne using the shift buttons which is a surprisingly intuitive system, with a timing system that's easy to understand. Combat is another big part of the game because players can also attack other riders and throw them off their bikes. One cool aspect of the bike combat is that you can earn upgrades to your attacks and go from punches to kicks and can even earn rocks that you can throw at others players.
Downhill Domination's gameplay and flow is enhanced by a surprisingly realistic physics engine. Not only does this engine provide an excellent sense of speed, allowing the races to flow at a great pace, it gives players a real sense of controlling the bikes, which makes turning and jumping feel incredibly natural. The way the bikes react to different surfaces feels quite realistic. This makes turning on hard surfaces easier than on muddy or wet surfaces. Some bikes are better suited for different types of surfaces and races, making it essential to make the right selection beforehand. The physics also also realistic when it comes to performing tricks, and you'll have to time each stunt perfectly or face a poor landing. Players can adjust their timing on the fly, but there's also a bit of luck involved here as well. The bone-crunching collisions are quite powerful and significantly hurt your time, so its better at points to play it safe. While you can afford a few crashes here and there, the more times you crash, the more devastating it is to your finishing time. Luckily, you rarely feel like you're out of the race because your rivals, quite realistically, can crash as well, keeping the races competitive until the end unless you really mess up.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Downhill Domination looks surprisingly convincing. Natural objects such as trees plants rocks and surface effects such as mud and water have a photo-realistic look. The game's cohesion is quite excellent and effortlessly makes you feel like you're actually plunging down a mountain. The massive courses create a real sense of being high in the air with intense drops and jumps giving the action an intensity and immediacy that makes for a heart-pounding experience. The camera angles allow you to view all the action effectively, and the game suffers little from the awkward angles that plague other titles. This just adds to DD's intensity. The behind the racer viewpoint is effective because the movement keeps tilting your perspective until you feel like you're almost racing sideways, which, quite literally created some vertigo and dizziness at high speeds. Speed is an essential part of any racing game, and DD smokes at an incredibly smooth frame-rate throughout. This is definitely one of the fastest PS2 racers to date giving the player a real sense of plunging down a mountain. Unfortunately, the game's soundtrack and audio fall a bit flat. The alternative rock music is pretty lame and disappears in the background, but the real problem is the voice-overs, which are both annoying and extremely repetitive. This audio is disappointing and detracts somewhat from the experience, though not enough to ruin the game.
Domination is a completely addictive and extremely satisfying racing title that
should keep you hooked for hours. The deep gameplay includes a comprehensive
career mode that will take quite awhile to complete but rewards players with
cool upgrades and additional characters. The game's massive environments, superb
trick system and varied course designs mean you won't get bored. Visually, the
gorgeous locales included feature realistic weather effects, numerous obstacles
and multiple branching that make for an exceptional audio/visual experience.
DD's tight controls are right on the money and the game's intense speed and
convincing physics make it a joy to play. This is definitely one of the most
polished extreme racers to date. While it seems derivative of SSX and other
titles, the unique gameplay mechanics of mountain bikes give DD a unique place
in gaming so far. This is an incredibly good title, and we expect other
publishers to try and clone its success, but they'll have a difficult time
duplicating DD's intense speed and excellent controls. Downhill Domination is
easily one of the most addictive and fun 'extreme' racing titles on the PS2 and
highly recommended for players looking for lasting thrills.