Descent seemed interesting at first; it was a 1st person shooter in which you took control of an aircraft that was capable of turning any direction in a 360 degree radius. My friend mentioned that it was a fun game from his childhood, and so I was excited I could have a fun early 3D experience. I was wrong. My friend had played the PC version. I was playing the Playstation port.
Look at this opening and playthrough of the 1st level: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWeQBAc166Y. Looks cool, doesn’t it?
Imagine Doom with a jetpack, and you have an understanding of the controls, and even the graphics. Because you are in a 360 movement environment, you can get very disoriented by flipping your ship around. Also, since locations can be anywhere, what you think is a hidden path is simply a regular hallway you are not used to looking for in a 3D space.
Descent has a Save feature, but it is horribly implemented. You can save anytime, anywhere; and loading brings you to that exact location. What is does wrong is save exactly how many lives you have. I was on level 7 and saved with only one life left. Once I died, that was it: Game Over. Reloading the level starts you with the 1 life I had saved. Basically, you have to keep replaying the level over and over again to get better, then only save when you know you have a decent amount of lives. I have only seen Turok: Dinosaur Hunter use this before.
All of your weapons use energy. Once you are down to 0, you cannot attack at all. This doesn’t happen often; it only happened to me once. Luckily, there is always an energy chamber on each level that will refill your energy back to 100.
You start the game with a dual laser which can increase up to 4 levels; this will be your main weapon. Next is the Plasma gun. It uses 2 energy units every shot, but is powerful enough to kill most creatures in one blow (if you can hit them). Fusion has to be held down for more powerful shots, but in just a few seconds will explode in your face and cause you damage. The Vulcan (you will soon realize) is the best weapon, and runs on ammo instead of energy. Most of the time enemies can be slightly stunned by the Vulcan and not fire at you. It doesn’t happen all the time, but works 100% of the time if you can shoot first before the enemy has time to face you (which is rare).
You also have auxiliary weapons; which are missiles, homing missiles, proximity mines (I found these useless because most enemies never chase you), and a smart and mega bomb (both good for taking out multiple enemies or one big enemy).
You start also with 100 Shield, which is basically your life. Like Doom, both your Shield and Energy can be extended to 200 by collecting extra upgrades. Also, every level has a red, yellow, and red door that requires a key. The red door will always be the last door (as it holds the core and the exit).
Now, as you progress, you keep your weapons from level to level. When you die, your ship explodes and leaves every weapon you had where you died. You have to travel to where you died and collect your weapons again. This can be problematic if it was in a nest of enemies. Later in the game, starting any level with anything other than the ultimate weapons would make the levels impossible.
The controls are very hard to explain. You can turn right and left pretty quickly, but it always seems turning up and down feel really, really slow; a huge problem when you need to attack enemies above and below you. In addition, you will often be attacked and not know where to look, as you are not fast enough to check every spot. Also, most battles will happen in corridors, where it is impossible to avoid enemy fire.
aircraft status screen, or no HUD screen at all.
I don’t see how anyone can have fun with this game the way the enemies are designed. All enemies (except for one) have guns. Some have minor damage shots (making the first 3-4 levels somewhat entertaining), but then you have these big red robots that can shoot unlimited homing missiles at you. You cannot move to shot them often, as they will often shot you before you’ve taken your first shot. In addition, there is one enemy that has no bullets at all; anytime his gantling gun makes a movement animation, it automatically hurts you.
The enemies love to stay exactly where they are and never follow you. You can rarely lure them into a side view, or your proximity mine. You can only lure the first 2 enemies types from the first level, which become more and more rare Most of the time, you fly into a room, only to be attacked by 4 robots hiding in the corners. Sometimes, they are above you, other times, invisible. You can’t possibly kill them all before your ship explodes. You can’t back away and have them follow you because they won’t. What can you do? You guessed it, run right into it, kill as many as you can, explode, return to collect your good weapons while being shot at, kill as many as you can; repeat. You could try to strafe, but that rarely works. If you can see the enemy, they can shoot you better and with near perfect accuracy.
It also doesn’t help that when you get, your ship shakes and moves away from the enemy, meaning you have to focus your shooting reticule over the enemy again. Also, trying to find the other robots in a room where each shoot takes 10 Shield away is very frustrating.
To end each level, you have to find the red Core and destroy it. The Core attacks you and is usually surrounded by other robots. Once destroyed, you have 45 seconds to find the Exit (hopefully you scouted for it earlier) or be destroyed along with the base. However, the base becomes dimly lit (making it hard to see), and the entire base is shaking (making it hard to move). This is good for building tension, and probably the most equally frustration/rewarding aspect of the game. The shaking can disorient you, causing you to fly into walls, so you had better take your time, yet still hurry. However, it’s almost pointless; if you don’t get out in time and your ship explodes, you still beat the level, you just won’t get a score for that level (Score: 0). It’s as if the game knew these parts of the level were too hard.
There is a 2 player game, but you need 2 Playstation consoles and 2 copies of the game. This was an early Playstation 1 game. I have heard it is fun. I would assume it would be more fun to shoot another Player (someone who actually moves). Also, I have seen videos now of the PC version, and it actually looks very good.
Story: 7 out of 10
The main character is very satirical of his job and the people that hire him. You are hired by a mining company to destroy the mining robots that are going crazy and killing everyone. It’s not known if they are controlled by terrorists or are sentient beings rising against their masters. However, your bounty hunter ignores most of the mission briefing, as he is telling you his cynical throughts of the world. Great start to a horrible game.
Challenge: 3 out f 10
The challenge seems appropriate in the first 3 levels, but the difficulty ramps up to crazy levels. And since you can’t replay a level with a set number of lives, going through the entire game is a chore. The challenge is not well adjusted.
Music: 10 out of 10
Ironically, thought the gameplay is awful, at least you are stuck with a great tune while trying the same level over and over again. Not only does each level seem to have a different techno theme, but I would actually get the soundtrack to this game.
Fun Factor: 2 out of 20
Sorry, you were fun the first hour only. After that, I didn’t enjoy it at all.
Controls: 4 out of 10
Looking up and down should have the same speed as looking left and right. Seriously. At least any button can be mapped to do anything. Most of the spacial issues have more to do with…
Graphics: 3 out of 10
…the graphics. This game is in those large Playstation boxes, indicating it’s an early game, but still, the graphics are very bland and flat. There is never any indication that something is the floor , ceiling, or wall. Once I thought I had visited a mirror room down the hallway, only to realize I was now looking up at the floor in the same room. There is no straightforward level or rooms, as if the design of each level was, “Lets make it as long as possible until we run out of memory for each level.”
Replay Value: 0 out of 10
Sorry, I won’t be playing this again.
Extras: 5 out of 10
There are a few cheat codes, which is a good extra, and you will need them if you actually want to finish the game.
– 10 Abandoned
Total Points: 24 out of 90
Once I start a game, I finish it until the end, no matter how good, bad, mediocre, or boring a game is. There are a few rare games that occasionally make me break this habit. This game was one of them.
If you couldn’t tell, this game is hard. Lives are rare. You have no leeway for error, as the slightest wander into two enemies can kill you instantly. Enemies wait for you to enter the room giving you no strategy; all the game becomes is move in, shoot, leave the room, repeat. On rare occasions you might have an enemy move toward the door once you are out of the room so you can strafe and shoot it, but all this became mind-numbingly boring and repetitive to do 40 times a level. Enemies can always shoot better than you when you try to hide and many later ones have homing missles, so hiding won’t always work. You lose an average of 6 lives on each level. I know this because I used a cheat after Level 7 to get more lives. However, this just made the game even more boring and repetitive that I gave up around level 15. I hadn’t used cheat codes in a decade, and this game made me use them. That should tell you a lot about the game.