Sometimes a crow is the perfect companion. All the way through the demo for Lonely Mountains: Downhill, you can hear this crow, solitary as ever, that ragged call mournful one minute and sarcastic the next. And while you can’t see the bird itself you can imagine it, rickety on its poky legs or arcing smoothly through the sky to find its perch in one of the game’s sparse, sharp-edged trees. Everyone needs an audience, I guess, and the crow is the ideal one here, for a game about clambering on a flimsy bike and chucking yourself down an endless hill, cresting rises, sprinting towards gaps and eventually colliding with a boulder that you saw but only after it was far too late.
Lonely Mountain is a downhill racer, a jangly frozen-hands affair in which it’s you against the mountain, racing the clock, fighting against gravity, and generally proving that the worst things in life are the things we bring on ourselves. Having squeaked over the Kickstarter finish line with only a few days left, it’s already a glorious thing, evocative and chilly and echoing with that kind of solitude that the natural world conjures, even when it’s the natural world as delivered by low-poly 3D graphics and a certain Jackass sensibility, what with all those prangs and wipeouts.
Luckily, the world is not quite as natural as it looks. This mountain is riddled with secret paths tucked away and waiting to be found, shortcuts that sheer off precious seconds, risk/reward gauntlets that connect seemingly distant slopes. The free demo that’s just been released – you’ll need to subscribe to a mailing list, but for this game, why wouldn’t you want to? – limits your adventures to a single minute of downhill mayhem, but that only adds another kind of pressure to the proceedings. The wind biting your cheeks, tears blurring your vision, hands jangled to a fuzzy-nerved blur on the handlebars, this is the perfect game to play on a clear morning in November when the world has become absolutely freezing all of a sudden.
And it’s not the only one. In between mountain disasters on a bike I’ve also been having mountain disasters in a wingsuit courtesy of Superflight, a new Steam game that chucks you through a series of rugged procedural landscapes while encouraging you to take as many risks as possible to boost your score.
Man, the views are lovely here, simple geometric shapes coming together to form surprisingly convincing mesas and bluffs and slot canyons. You can race around happy and unharmed while the wind whips at your arms, but if you really want to be part of the action you have to tuck in close to the wheeling rocks, stuffing yourself through tiny gaps and slicing underneath perilous overhangs. The oil-slick colour schemes combine with the teetering piles of stone to create something that looks a bit like cobalt, and the desolate wind is matched beautifully with the spinning ratchet and cash register chime of your score racing upwards at a dangerous rate.
Phew! Two games about speed and open spaces and the desire to teeter on the edge of something deeply painful. And somehow it’s only Monday.