On Descent II

Descent II was another game I played an awful lot of when I was very young. Your role is that of a flying ship that can utilize a six degrees of freedom movement scheme as you defeat AI-controlled robot ships. After the destruction of a reactor, or defeat of a boss, the player must exit the level under a time limit, or else lose a life and all points earned on that level, before proceeding to the next level. According to this Descent II review:

As the game opens with a well-produced cinematic sequence, you take on the role of a bounty hunter who assumed his job was finished, until he learns it’s time for active duty again, or he can kiss his paycheck goodbye. Warped into the Zeta Aquilae System, it’s time for even more intense mine action across 5 different planets and over 24 levels of metal-sheering action.

The five worlds include themes such as fire and ice, along with the alien mothership, where the game reaches its climax. All of the levels are housed below the surface in mineshafts, one aspect I was hoping the design team would expand upon for the sequel. If there was the ability to fly outside on the planet’s surface, similar toTerminal Velocity, it would have added even more variety to the game.

As it stands, the control still takes some getting used to, but fans of the original should be happy to hear that they can simply install the game and play, as the interface is unchanged from the original. With cramped corridors and shallow pathways, there’s no question that players will sometimes get lost among a sea of vibrant textured walls, but thankfully Parallax has a solution…

The guide-bot is probably the biggest feature in terms of usability. This sleek little ship can be found on all the levels, and acts as your brains in the mine, finding everything from the next colored access card to the reactor core. By pulling up a menu to command the bot, if he becomes too much of nuisance, simply command him to “Go Away” and he’s history.

On the same tier, a new thief-bot has been added, who is, in essence, the evil cousin of the guide-bot. This little devil often approaches your ship at lightning fast speeds and can steal your weapons and power in an instant. This feature adds another layer to the gameplay, elevating it above other games where you simply “point and shoot.” The strategy element of avoiding the thief-bot can become extremely important in the later levels, where the enemies become even more menacing.

Speaking of enemies, there are over 30 new bots to combat in the game, significantly more than the one or two new enemies you usually see in sequels to games these days. They are gradually introduced over the course of the game, and some enemies have unique abilities, such as splitting up into multiple parts before destruction to avoid an impending death.

In terms of gameplay enhancements on the ship, there is a new afterburner which will double your speed at the click of a button, particularly appropriate for long stretches of seemingly desolate corridors. If those corridors happen to not be illuminated, call upon the new headlight on the ship to aid in level navigation (be aware the headlight uses up power, however).

It appears that the developers were well aware that many players of the original often became confused and dis-oriented in the mines. Hence, they have added the ability to launch marker beacons and flares from your ship to aid in mapping out the level.

Perhaps the prime jewel of the Descent franchise is the ability to hook up with friends and foes over the network or modem for fierce multiplayer action. The network game supports up to eight players, and a new feature is a capture the flag game with teams that is intensely enjoyable. For the modem mavens in the crowd, a really impressive feature is the ability to launch security surveillance cameras from the ship to map out the level and keep track of the enemy’s ship.

Parallax seems to have realized that many of the single-player levels are much too large for fast multiplayer action, and hence, they have created a series of anarchy levels which are smaller and more intense missions for multiplayer games. Furthermore, on their web space at http://www.pxsoftware.com, each week they will release a new “Panic” level to keep the game fresh even to those who finished the single-player game.

The game is visually intense, more so than the original, thanks to incredible cut scenes. It’s stunning to see well done animated cut scenes which don’t need to employ expensive live action video actors to effectively convey a certain ambiance. Although they are significantly better than most efforts along such lines, the SVGA modes are a bit slower than the plain VGA mode even on a Pentium machine; for the fast reactions required in Descent II, regular VGA is still the way to go.

The final result is a game that maintains the atmosphere of the original, yet improves on it in many ways to enhance gameplay for new players as well as experiencedDescent dogfighters. Although it would have been more impressive if outdoor levels were added, one can hardly fault the developers, since they have added over 10 new weapons and 30 new enemies. Some sequels such as Doom II get away with adding one new weapon and a few new enemies. Descent II is no doubt more of the same, but there’s no question it is much more fun to play than the original, thanks to added navigation tools. In the end, for 360-degree flight action games, Descent II reigns supreme yet again.

Descent II expands upon the original’s x-y-z axis combat with 30 new levels (culminating in a battle inside the enemy mother ship), a scout recon robot which comes back for you if you fall behind, a suitably loud and grinding soundtrack (by Ogre of Skinny Puppy, with Redbook Audio, no less), a particularly irritating “thief-bot” enemy that hunts you down and drains your energy, and a new AI scheme which Interplay assures me will adapt to my style of playing (although I still seem to be able to fool it with decidedly Germanic dogfight tactics—he who hath ears, let him hear). If you don’t like Descent at least a little bit, make no mistake, there is something wrong with you. Descent II’s huge replay value and absolutely insane network play should ensure its popularity for a long time.

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