"Well that looks cute and fun" I thought about Lonely Mountains Downhill the first time I saw it–little did I know that this wolverine in sheep's clothing could become one of the most addictive, frustrating-yet-rewarding time trial racers I've ever played!
We're a bit "late to the races" with this one because this review was brought about by the new Eldfjall DLC. Lonely Mountains Downhill was originally a Kickstarter project and is now available free on Steam for PC. Eldfjall adds exciting new trails on a beautiful but rocky and dangerous volcanic island that complement the original 4 mountains perfectly.
The controls couldn't be simpler; right trigger is pedal, left trigger is brake, 'A' gives you a limited sprint, and 'B' resets you to the last checkpoint when you fu...mess up–and you will, a lot. You steer with the left stick, and can change between left/right affecting the biker's direction from their perspective or yours. I chose the default biker's Left/Right setup because I fly/drive radio controlled models, but you may prefer the "screen-based"setup.
One thing that struck me on my very first run is the question 'why you can't reverse your bike to get out of a tight spot?' This is a mystery to me, and a seriously strange thing to be missing from the game. But you'll soon appreciate that the demands of the game are such that if you need to reverse then your time is probably no good anyway–but it's still a strange omission.
The LMD online community seems vibrant enough, with leaderboards out the wazzoo. The Daily Rides feature keeps the game fresh and successful runs can earn you points depending on your rank at the end of the day, with points unlocking unique season rewards. Daily Rides are MUCH more difficult than normal runs though, so beware.
Now for some of the things that I didn't like. Because of the stubbornly fixed perspective your biker will often be angling his way across the screen or even towards you, and you'll undoubtedly crash into things you think you're missing, or passing behind or in front of, and occasionally you'll come to a section of a trail where you're heading into the screen, everything feels wonderful and you'll wonder why they didn't give you the option of playing the game from a fixed, "over the shoulder" third person camera all of the time–like 99% of other racing games. I know this camera gives the game some individuality and a retro feel, but I'd much rather be behind my bike and biker than looking at it sideways or watching it come towards me, Crash Bandicoot-style.
An annoying frame rate jitter spoils what is mostly smooth action, and this often happens as you reach a checkpoint, which is bad. Worse happened on one occasion when the game actually froze for 5 seconds when passing a checkpoint!
As much fun as I had with Lonely Mountains Downhill I wonder if it might be a bit too difficult and unforgiving for many. The seemingly random placement of checkpoints doesn't help either, on one trail the last 2 checkpoints are practically within sight of each other, while the others have miles of treacherous mountainside between them. I was going to quip something like "only buy this if you're a mountain bike enthusiast with a penchant for masochism and retro gaming" but maybe that would be overly tough—but then, so is Lonely Mountains Downhill.
To give you some idea of how hard the game is and that the developer knows the fact, you'll get an award for completing many trails with less than 20 crashes! So where most racing games are about perfecting lines and shaving tenths of a second off your best lap, Lonely Mountains is more about just getting down the mountain without crashing horribly less and less each time you play. I don't think it's a coincidence that two of my first three achievements were crash-related and many of the others require you to crash in a certain way hundreds of times!
If you explore enough you'll come across remote locations where you can "take a break", and I advise you to do so.
Some light customisation is available with different bikes, paint-jobs, outfits and the like for your rider becoming unlocked through improving your times.
So what do we have here? Well, LMD is without a doubt a 'flawed masterpiece.' The option to play from behind the rider would have transformed the game for me, but also removed its individuality. The frame rate issues should be fixable and really shouldn't happen, and may only happen on the Xbox One anyway. The game is realistically priced (FREE on Steam, and you can't get better than that!) and will supply a virtually never-ending challenge–as long as it doesn't drive you nuts first of course.