What really makes Downhill Domination stand out from other extreme sports games is its impressive sense of speed.
The developers at Incog can be credited with conceiving the seminal Twisted Metal car combat series, creating its superb sequel, and then later reviving the franchise with Twisted Metal: Black. Considering the sort of skewed Americana fantasy aesthetic featured in these games, as well as in War of the Monsters, Incog's giant monster battler from earlier this year, the company's latest effort seems uncharacteristic. No killer clowns or Godzilla knock-offs here: Downhill Domination is a high-speed racing game that has players riding mountain bikes down a wide variety of near-vertical courses. So aside from being produced by a company best known for its distinct, peculiar taste, the game feels like pretty standard fare for the extreme sports genre, although it moves at an unusually high speed.
Given a minimum amount of space, one could best describe Downhill Domination as SSX in the off-season. This comparison is easy to make for a number of reasons. For one thing, the roster of riders in Downhill Domination mostly consists of colorful fantasy characters, such as Cosmo, the rebellious young British aristocrat, T-bag, the hacky-sacking counterculture type, and Kalolo, the beefy Pacific Islander. You can also unlock a handful of real-life downhill pros as you progress through the game.
Also like SSX, Downhill Domination lets you take a swing at your opponents in hopes of knocking them clean off their rides, and you can upgrade your attacks by successfully landing tricks, going from a basic punch all the way up to a ranged attack with a water bottle. The trick system closely mirrors the system found in the SSX games, requiring you to use different combinations of the shoulder buttons and the triangle button to pull off a variety of flashy aerial maneuvers. Pulling off tricks nets you points, which are eventually converted into cash that can be used to purchase basic bike upgrades, like frames, shocks, and wheels, or one of the game's dozen or so unlockable goodies. The trick system is pretty basic, and it wouldn't be difficult to succeed in the game without using any tricks at all, but such a system has become so standard for the genre, the game would feel kind of naked without it.
The courses in Downhill Domination are as eclectic as the riders, covering an impressive variety of locales, from the misty mountains of Hawaii to the asphalt streets of urban America. Most of the environments host several different tracks that are divided up by type. The freeride courses are generally broad, wide-open tracks that give riders plenty of options on how they want to get down the mountain, with a heavy focus on sneaky shortcuts. These courses are also rather long, and it can take you a good three to four minutes to get from top to bottom.
The freeride courses are impressive from a technical standpoint because of their sheer size, and they're also pretty interesting from a design perspective. Instead of just being pure wilderness from top to bottom, most freeride courses go through several different strata, starting off in untamed wilderness and ending up in some semblance of civilization. The mountain cross tracks are much smaller in scope and tighter in design, with less open wilderness and more groomed jumps and moguls, mimicking the kind of track design you might find on a motocross course. The technical ride tracks split the difference, keeping you in the wilderness but restricting where you can ride by means of well-placed obstacles like trees and rocks and the like. These courses tend to be chock-full of tight, zigzagging turns, and they generally don't leave much room for mistakes. Each of these main modes of play supports from two to four players in a split-screen mode, and the gameplay and frame rate hold up well with more than one player competing at the same time.