Lonely Mountains: Downhill is no stranger to this site as I’ve gushed about it before in my review, and we’ve showcased a speed run of the game, as well as given it a game of the year award in 2019. Now with the addition of the Eldfjall Island DLC, it’s once again great to be playing this game again for this Lonely Mountains: Downhill – Eldfjall Island review.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill is simply an incredibly satisfying indie experience that ties together white-knuckle mountain biking with a relaxing back-mountains feel. It’s one of the more addictive indie experiences I’ve played in the last couple years, and it’s kept pulling my friends and I in for the better part of 18 months now. There’s something about the thrill and competition of time trials melted into the serene aesthetic of nature that is too good to walk away from for long.
Now that the Lonely Mountains: Downhill – Eldfjall Island DLC has made its way to the console space, especially just as a new console generation launches, it’s a must-download on any Sony or Microsoft platform, as well as the Switch or Steam.
What I Like
For this review, I’ll be peddling my thoughts from the PS4 version, which came out a little after the Steam version.
Even with the kickstand down, the art and feel for this game remains simply unmatched. A year ago, I compared the experience to playing a time trials game whilst listening to the soundtrack of Flower in the background and that remains true to this day. It’s beautiful blend of polygonal claymation and depth that’s appealing to the eye. It’s simple. The color palette is pastel in nature, but muted to the point where gameplay always takes center stage. In the Eldfjall Island DLC, birds are bigger, the ocean is louder and the landscapes have never looked better. Hell, this time you’ll find yourself careening over lava flows. The stakes feel bigger.
The cathartic experience remains a minimalist soundscape that doesn’t seem forced by any means. You’re not greeted by heavy metal music or pressure-filled announcers stressing you to move faster and faster. Instead, you’re enveloped by an environment that puts you at ease. Much like Flower, Lonely Mountains: Downhill creates an audio experience that is simple, refined and perfect for its needs. The sampling used for bike tires tearing down a mountain side is spot-on and immersive. It pulls you in and keeps making me want to shred down another tight muddy embankment. The ambient sounds of wildlife and nature behind the rubber while passing down a hillside are wonderful. The introduction of heavy, heavy rains, as well as thunder and lightning really make for some next-level immersion without sacrificing what made this game great from the get-go.
This iteration of the game features four tracks in total being built out in four different difficulty modes each. The point remains the same: make your way down the track in a given amount of time. As you improve, the game will continue to challenge you to beat your previous best or simply crash less.
The game continues to do a fantastic job of balancing risk and reward. Returning is the ability to save your time trial at any checkpoint along the course, allowing you to restart your trial from numerous different points on the track. You’re going to fall and fall a lot, so a reasonable blend of challenge without total obliteration is really important for those wanting to go back and attempt at improving their times. Some of these courses can take several minutes to complete, so the expectation of going an entire session without falling or boiling your character in a vat of lava is pretty inconceivable, at least for those just starting out.
Challenges completed continue to provide costumes and visual changes to your character, as well as new bikes/bike parts that are able to be deployed as you collect full accessory sets.
I can’t stress enough though, the heart and soul of this game is comparing your time trials to those your friends can put up. This game really earns its stripes when you and some of your closest friends have it, competing for the gold medal of fastest time in the group. Time trial games have been a staple of competitive play in gaming for as long as games have existed. Lonely Mountains: Downhill, the DLC included, really leans into that in a flawless way.
What I Don’t Like
As is almost always the case, a game will have its shortcomings and Lonely Mountains: Downhill is no different. The game has its little warts here and there, but most are minor and fail to put the game over its handlebars.
Unlike the base game, camera angles in Eldfjall Island have some shortcomings in certain spots that make it hard to determine which direction you should be headed. They’re not crippling camera shots, but they do make the game more difficult than it probably has to be at times.
There are examples of texture pops and landscapes not correctly loading, but most of those failures are on the color side. Assets still load into the map, they’re just clearly not the correct color.
One thing the Steam version of the game did really well was the water and the glassy appearance it brought, even from long draw distances. That sometimes fails to meet the mark in the console version of the game, including the Eldfjall Island DLC. Lakes and rivers don’t really sell me on their authenticity in a lot of cases. It’s not a critical failure, just something that stood out from what I came to know of the game on Steam from a year ago.
At the end of the day, where the game continues to fall just short is the amount of content in the overall package. While the game can be had for just $19.99 on PlayStation and Xbox platforms, and the DLC is only an additional $6, you really fly through the entire catalog of courses rather quickly, and it leaves you wanting more. Eldfjall Island is such an enjoyable experience, it’s just a shame there isn’t more modes, more courses and more ways to experience the product as a whole. The four new tracks are awesome, but with the base game having been out for a year and a half now on PlayStation 4, it would be really nice to see a more steady stream of new content.
As far as indie games go, Lonely Mountains: Downhill remains one of my absolute staples in my library and Eldfjall Island just adds to the experience. The physics-based experience almost always fills a void most other games can’t for me. The need for patience and touch and care around every corner make for a white-knuckle experience, crossed with the unimpeded joy that comes from an absolutely flawless art design. Lonely Mountains: Downhill remains one of the best games on the market, and for $19.99, it should be a holiday buy this season.