Sometimes I miss the clarity of being on a mountain bike hurtling down a hill, swerving around trees, carving up berms and nailing jumps. I miss that beautiful clarity where your entire mind shrinks down to a single, overwhelming thought: this is going to really fucking hurt. And it does. It really, really does. I loved downhill mountain biking, but I hated going back up the hills and I was never all that good at it, so I gave up the sport before it forced me to give up on having all my bones intact. Happily I can live vicariously through videogames, so here I am reviewing Shred 2! Ft. Sam Pilgrim.
The game only features Sam Pilgrim in the sense that it has a vaguely humanoid creature on the bike. If you squinted hard enough it could possibly resemble Sam Pilgrim, I suppose, but unless someone told me it was him I would never have realised. Other than that there’s about four lines of poorly recorded lines from Sam Pilgrim himself that get played over and over. None of this is a knock on Sam Pilgrim himself who is an utter legend in the mountain biking scene and a man I’d love to meet. But if you come into Shred 2! hoping for a real look at the man himself, I’d recommend checking out his Youtube channel instead.
At first, you might think Shred 2! is the like Ubisoft’s Trials series, since it takes place in 2.5 dimensions. You can left to right or right to left, and you balance your bike using the analogue stick. However, once you get going Shred 2! is nothing like the Trials series, least of all because you don’t have an engine to drag yourself out of trouble with.
Like actual mountain biking the key skill to speed is keeping your momentum up, and Shred 2! does a fun job of replicating that idea. Fail to keep the flow going and you’ll most likely fall short on a critical jump. It’s for this reason there’s no mid-track save points. Don’t worry, though; each track tends to be 30-seconds to a minute-long, so restarting the whole thing isn’t a daunting prospect. And you will have to restart because getting a feel for a track’s layout and flow is often key to making it to the finish line. On some of the early courses you can fumble your way to the end on the first run, but on most of them it’s rare to make it on the first go.
To keep your momentum going you have to master the ancient and noble art of pumping, which I swear isn’t as sexual as it sounds, unless you want it to be. Basically pumping means pushing the bike into the ground on downhill slopes before letting the weight off on the uphill. Get it right and you can build up piles of speed without having to peddle. Shred 2! replicates this by getting you to hold down A to pump. You can use it in the air, too, to shove the bike down toward the ground, thereby lessening the time spent hurtling through the sky. This is where Shred 2! shines, the moments where you and the track just click and you barrel through the whole thing, nailing every landing, take-off and pumping opportunity.
Annoyingly though, the button to bunnyhop is also the same one to pump. In a few situations this can lead to an awkward moment where you try to switch from pumping to a quick hop and the game doesn’t register your input.
In fact, controls in general are a problem for Shred 2, which is unfortunate in a game all about going fast and needing everything to be nice and tight. By shoving the right stick in a direction you can perform tricks, vital for building up points. Unfortunately there’s a notable delay between the input and the trick actually starting. It’s worse when you attempt to go from one trick to another during a jump as there’s quite a gap between one trick animation finishing and the next one beginning. It makes judging whether you can wedge another trick in annoyingly difficult.
The way you progress through the game is by completing various challenges to get stars. It starts off nice and easy, maybe a star here for doing a tailwhip off a drop and another for beating a certain time. Before long though, things become a lot more challenging, like that tailwhip becoming a 720 double backflip tailwhip off of a tiny drop. You’ll need to run each track multiple times to nail them because a single mistake will screw everything up. Plus, a challenge is only deemed completed if you actually make it to the end of a stage without ploughing your face into the dirt. You’ll need to restart, try again and realize that instead of focusing on performing the challenge itself you need to actually focus on nailing the tricky section before it so that you can carry enough speed. I like this focus on replaying a track until you figure out the rhythm, but the fact that further events are locked away until you can get enough stars might piss some folk off, especially as the game rarely ever gives you a star just for getting to the finish line.
The stages are spread out across four locations such as the UK and the USA. You kick off in a training area before heading out to the Alpine area, then the UK before finishing up in the USA. Each one has a distinct visual style and play style, like how the USA is much more urban and has more technical, trials style riding. You’ll be linking tricks with lengthy manuals, making it play more like Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX.
You even get a few different bikes as you rack up the stars. My personal favourite is the chunky downhill beast named the Juggernaut. The newest unlocked bike isn’t always the best one to do the job though. After all, some bikes can’t do specific tricks, something which you might not even realize until a challenge asks you to perform a tailwhip even though it doesn’t show up on the trick list.
Given the style of game Shred 2 is the lack of any form of online leaderboards for times and scores is completely baffling to me. I’d love to see how friends and strangers are doing on tracks compared to myself. And I’d especially love to be able to race against their ghosts like you can in the Trials series.
Shred 2! is actually a sneaky mobile game in disguise having been ported over to consoles. It’s not a good port, either; this is a crap game to look at. In fact, at a glance I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought Shred 2! came from the Playstation 2 era. The textures are muddy and lack any sort of detail, the riding animations are practically non-existent and trick animations are stiff, and the transitions where the game switches the line you’re riding on feel and look horrible. Plus, you ride merrily ride straight through giant boulders and planks of wood like they don’t exist. Even the menus look poor. In short, this as basic a port as you can get.
It feels unfair to rag on the game so much though. Shred 2! is made by one guy and a friend who leant some coding help. If you can accept the limitations that come with that, then there is fun to be had. It’s the kind of game I could see attracting a small but hardcore group of fans who are willing to put in the time and have the patience to work with its flaws. Hell, I’d probably myself in that camp because while at first I honestly disliked Shred 2! it grew on me like some sort of hideous growth. Once the clumsy controls click with you and you begin to learn the game’s many quirks it becomes genuinely fun, challenging and satisfying to play.