There are, they say, fifteen requirements for a sequel. A sequel must be many things, but primarily it must be noticeably different from the original, and, furthermore, it must enhance and draw out the qualities of the first game whilst improving and correcting the shortfalls, mistakes, and pain-in-the-arse featurettes of its predecessor. In a computer game, this is doubly true. Some games have trod the fine dividing line between 'sequel' and 'mission disk', between 'well thought out successor' and 'quite obvious cash-raking, the-public-are-clueless exercise'. And so, with this in mind, we turn to Descent 2, quite blatantly the sequel to Doom's main rival of 1994. It was met with scattered applause over here, and tumultuous multiple orgasms over there (in the States). A great game with great graphics with some great features and great weapons, and a great engine so 3D and so swirly-rotatey that it caused one to blow one's doughnuts at regular intervals. It also had a groundbreaking eight-player network game mode with players leaving and entering at their own will.
So while the murderous robots are breaking rule number one of Asimov's Laws, let's see if Descent 2 fulfils all the requirements of a true sequel.
1) It must look better.
Well, the jury's still out on this one. As you can see from the screenshots. Descent 2 bears an uncanny resemblance to... Descent. The same grotesquely swirling texture-maps fight for competition with garishly-coloured robots and over-bright 'scenic details' such as lava, water, and force fields. The graphics are a mixture of polygons (monsters, missiles, lasers, walls) and bitmaps (explosions, objects, power-ups). There are a bunch of new emetic wall-textures and a lot of the 'techy-industrial' look of the first game has been replaced by a weird kind of amorphous organic rock look (Very descriptive Ed). The hi-res mode -640x480 or 800x600 - adds a love-it-or-hate-it crispness to the visuals and clears up far away clumps of robots into clearly distinguishable things to run away from, screaming bloody murder.
The CD is, of course, packed with spooge-worthy rendered cut scenes and movies, but since they don't add anything to the game, we're not going to mention them.
2) The ennine must be enhanced.
It doesn't seem that much faster, but Parallax's engine is still a great one. You have full 3D movement - pitch, yaw, and roll, height, depth, and breadth, X, Y, and Z axis. With a good joystick (or even a clever mouse/keyboard setup), you can pinwheel freely around the levels, barrel-rolling, looping the loop, sliding, cruising, and banging fruitlessly into walls.
Also, the scenery has new interactive stuff which was lacking in the first game. You now have switches. Well, they're called 'control points' and you blow them up, but basically they unlock or open doors or force fields. These pave the way for some interesting 'puzzle-solving' conundrums. Often, in fenced-off areas for example, you have to try and locate and shoot panels through the gaps to gain access. Descent 2 also boasts 'interactive lighting' (ie you can shoot the lights Duke Nukem 3D style). This isn't always a good idea -plunging arenas into darkness can make enemies rather hard to carbonise.
3) It must be more challenging.
Descent was a good excuse to invest in one of those posh phallic joysticks -ThrustMaster, Gravis Phoenix, CH Flightstick et al. Many people, in these post Descent months, have learnt to use their multi-buttoned pitch-and-yaw joysticks as dextrously - quite frankly -as they use their own penises (ie in a blundering, hamfisted, panic-stricken, cock-eyed fashion). Descent 2 offers adequate new perils to test the Don Juan Descent player, and is easy and well-paced enough not to scare off the nervy virgin. The thoughtful programmers countered the sheer disorientation their panoramic 3D engine causes by introducing a 'Guidebot'. It can be found at the start of each level, trapped inside a cage. Seasoned Descent lovers can opt to leave it there, while Virgo's, badminton players, and people who think Marmite is better than peanut butter (and other such dregs of humanity) can blast it free and follow its cute little trail around the level. It automatically seeks out keys for you, but can be assigned other tasks with the 10 in-built commands (activated by SHIFT and a number key). They run along the lines of "Find some energy", "Locate the exit" and the highly useful "Stay Away!" command. A few other orders might have been appreciated though. Stuff like "Find me a girlfriend - it's Friday night and I'm still playing this game" and "Go to the garage and buy me some Anadin - this engine is making me vomit" would have been kinda cool. In fact the Guidebot is much like the on-line help Bullfrog stuck into Magic Carpet II, so that those Americans with six fingers and low foreheads could understand the game. Descent 2, however, doesn't fall into the MCII trap -making the game too easy. The Guidebot moves fast and is a bitch to follow through winding passages. It also gets in the way in hyper-kinetic battles and has the talented ability to disappear just when you need it most. But it doesn't destroy the exploration and discovery element of the game and, if any thing it keeps you on track when all is a swirling, rotatey mass oflow-res texture maps.
4) It must introduce new weaponry and power-ups.
Par for the course in making a sequel is, naturally, the appearance of many new clever bits of hardware the programmers have dreamt up. Descent 2 features ten new 'things', plus the thirty odd collectibles from the original. You start with a bog standard laser as your primary weapon, and a bundle of concussion missiles as your secondary. The laser can be swiftly powered-up into a six-times strength, quad firing ninja weapon, or quickly swapped for the deadly Vulcan Cannon (machine gun) or Gauss Gun (machine gun with explosive shells). Alongside those are the Spreadfire cannon (crap triple fireball firing), the Helix (bit more special), the Plasma cannon (white-hot plasma balls), the awesome Phoenix cannon (like Plasma, but with ricocheting projectiles), and the gruesome twosome - the Fusion cannon and Omega gun, the latter of which is very, very, very cool indeed.
Among the secondary weapons are homing missiles, proximity bombs, the smart missile, and the EarthShaker (effect: obvious). Newbies among this lot are the Smart Mines, which explode and then cleverly pile flameballs in all directions, the Flash bomb - which stuns your opponents - and the Guided Missile. This is a bit of a weird one. You fire it and a 'missile cam' takes over your view screen, allowing you to steer the torpedo to its target and then let go when it's firmly en route. The missile-cam can be full-screen or relegated to a little box on your dashboard. All missiles now have this cam view, which can be very handy to fire inquisitively into darkened scary bits.
On the power-up side, most of the stuff has been inherited from Descent, plus a few new goodies. You still get a time-limited cloaking device, an Invulnerability sphere, extra life, energy and shield power-ups. In addition there's a new and much needed FullMap collectable which gives you the full schematics of a level (k la Doom). You can also blag yourself an afterburner for quick strategic withdrawals (ie running away) and a headlight, which can be very handy if you've carelessly destroyed all the light bulbs on the level.
5) It must unveil new, hideously clever monsties.
Oh and it does. Descent 2's droids make the robots in the original look like slinkies (or Simple Simon electronic games, or Sinclair QLs - or any other piece of kitsch machinery you could pluck from the 80s). They're tough and clever. They dodge your rockets. They hear you coming and fire before you get there. They try to be sneaky and get behind you. They hide in corners and snipe. They go all invisible and then appear right on top of you (that might've been a bug).
There 30 odd new robots to deal with here. You roughly get a new monster per level (but those nasty programmers occasionally stick two or three in just to freak you out) and each one has a new weapon or a new technique to unsettle you. Some like the Diamond Claw try to ram you and cut through your hull. Others like the Smelter and SideArm are armed with high level laser weaponry. They pop round corners, fire a volley, and then whip off out of it. The Bandit is by far the most annoying. It moves at about a zillion miles an hour, collides with you, and then steals a bit of random weaponry. You then have to chase it. Benny Hill style, around the level to destroy it and get your stuff back.
On their own, most 'bots are easy to handle. But they have an uncanny ability to work well together. You can enter a seemingly empty cavern, only to find six Tactical Droids hovering near the ceiling, three Smelters sniping from the corners, two Diamond Claws buried in the shadows, and then a slow-moving but deadly Fox AttackBot hidden in a secret passage in the floor. Not nice. Horrible, in fact.
6) It absolutely must have new scary bosses at the end of each section.
It does and they are. Can't even begin to talk about them. Too scared. Too traumatised. They're bad. Believe me. And more frequent (one every four levels or so).
7) It must sound to vour neighbours like you nave Wembley Stadium's sound system playing Star Wars and the Best of Bosnia BBC sound effects tape in your living room.
The sound is great. Each level is alive with industrial groans and clanks. Lava steams. Water gurgles. You clank hollowly if you bang into a wall. The weapons make suitably sine-wavy type noises. The explosions roar. The sexy voiced computer announces the self-destruct countdown (just like Aliens). Not quite as heartfelt or gritty as Doom's but satisfying and loud enough. There's also a load of Redbook audio on the CD (ie you can play it on a music CD player as well) featuring Ogre from Skinny Puppy who, we believe, are a 'popular beat combo' (Er, hard rocking grunge act actually - Ed)
8) It must push level design to the limit.
There's more difficult geometry in Descent 2 to get your stomach around (just a glimpse at the automap brings a retching sensation to the back of my throat). The levels aren't incredibly different to Descent's, but the first game's emphasis on claustrophobia -winding tunnels, tiny chambers, huge caverns which lead to micro alleyways, long cramped corridors - has given way to a more complex and overlapping style of design. The secret levels are very cool. Basically, they're just shopping expeditions. Packed with power-ups and weapons upgrades they follow the same pattern as the main levels - start, find keys, find reactor, blow it up, exit - but there are multiple routes to the reactor. Once you've committed yourself to one, you're stuck to that pathway, even though it may not be as bountiful as another. Ho-hum.
Incidentally, the secret areas on all maps are as tricky to find as ever.
8) It must expand on Its network/modem gameplay.
Interplay have really gone to town on this feature. Descent's version of Deathmatch (called Anarchy) was warmly received, but not as pathologically taken up as Doom's. Generally, the sheer 360 degree-ness of the engine denied Descent some of the immediacy and 'intimacy' (if that's the right word) of Doom Deathmatch. Also, it was much too easy for an experienced player to dominate the level, grabbing all the weapons and monopolising homing missiles and plasma cannons. To set this straight, Parallax have added a few new network play features.
Firstly, you're no longer limited to simple Anarchy or Co-op modes. You can now opt to play 'Capture The Flag' team games, where you can choose to take sides and co-ordinate tactics to overcome your rivals. Certain weapons can now be disallowed, and the game length can be limited by time or number of kills if you desire. Really good players (with really good joysticks) can be handicapped (you can set their shield strength right down to 10% which saves you going round and breaking their tibias) and, on the hardware side, improved packet handling means network, modem, games connection, and Internet play is all a lot smoother. There are also a bunch of new Anarchy levels to get you going. All in all, a big thumbs up for that one.
9) It must be compatible with those ultra-tossy VR headsets that only the Americans seem particularly interested in.
Yep. To wit, support for: VFX-1, CyberMaxx, Virtual i/o, I-glasses, and 30-Max. Use at your own risk. Playing on a monitor is stomach-gurgling enough.
10) It must correct the faults of the original.
As you may of gathered there's not a profound difference between Descent 2 and its predecessor. As we all know, a wealth of new features a good game does not make, but Descent 2's modifications and enhancements are well-thought out and not as token as you would expect. All in all, Descent 2 is less, sort of, boring than the first one. The new robots give a Tales Of The Unexpected feel to each level - you know you're not just going to get the same droids, only more of them. The switches and forcefields add a much required puzzling element.
11) If it has faults they must be reasonably acceptable ones.
The Thief Droid: Nice idea but badly implemented. It's much too tough. It moves too fast and takes too many hits. You can end up wasting valuable time setting proximity mine traps and chasing it madly down corridors, trying to retrieve your stolen hardware. Monsters Too Clever. The robots are now a bit too brainy. They seem to be annoyingly aware of you through walls. And often pop out when its quite obvious they haven't seen or heard you. Some of end of level bosses are ridiculously hard to kill. Lives Why?: Descent still seems to insist on having old fashioned lives, even though you can save throughout each level. It's a waste of time. Everybody who's anybody saves compulsively. In multiple slots.
The Nightmare Automap: The map is still crap - over complex, badly laid out, and really hard to work out. You spend hours spinning it and zooming all over the place just to work out where you are in relation to somewhere else. They should shade each level, like contours, so you can get some idea of your position. Too Hard Too Early: The skill levels don't seem particularly well staged. I started the game on Hotshot level ('cos that's what I'm like) and just couldn't beat the boss on level four. And I'm no spring chicken. Hostages - Why?: These useless policemen-coloured guys are a waste of time and a distraction. You can't even shoot them. They were a pain in the first game too.
12) It must capitalise on the coolness of its predecessor's gameplay.
It does. It's fun and involving and addictive. And there's at least an hour's work per level. If you loved the first one, then you're going to get totally besotted with this one. If you liked the first one, then it may be the right time to progress from being 'friends'.
13) It must be given a score.
Here you go.
Download Descent 2
Descent was going to take over the world when it was released a year ago. I have a surprisingly vivid memory of one of those ever-so-sad, drunken conversations in a pub (that we very rarely have - okay, you might not be all that inclined to believe it, but with the price of beer being what it is, PC is actually a very puritanical institution) with a bloke from another magazine that basically went along the lines of: "Ya shee that Descent (hie) thingy from Interwotnots (hie), well (long pause)... it's bloody well better than Doom it is. Honest. It's gonna (hie) take over the world it is. Besht game ever, really is."
This lengthy, slurred and increasingly intellectual conversation then went on to a heated discussion about the relative merits of virtual reality sex and eight-player multi-something-or-others before moving on to the more admirable subject of how incredibly gorgeous the girl behind the bar was. "She fancies you, she does... go on, ask her (hie) for her phone number or sumfink. I'll give y'tenner if you ask her out."
Anyway... While it didn't exactly take over the world. Descent was certainly one of the most popular games of 1995. It obviously didn't quite have the oomph possessed in abundance by Doom and its many minions, but it was one of the few products that managed to stay 'current' for longer than a month or so. People continued to play it mainly due to the fact that a) you could produce brand new levels for it with the aid of the most complicated designer ever devised and b) it had a killer multi-player mode. In fact, so popular was the multi-player element that for six months it managed to be one of the most played games on the Internet.
With all of this in mind, it's hardly surprising that a sequel has been on the cards for some time. The rumours originally began to circulate soon after the first game was released, but Parallax (the developers) have been beavering away in relative silence until now. After seeing a few screenshots just a couple of months ago we are now in a position where the whole thing is virtually finished and it's on its way at last.
So what's all the fuss about?
Put simply, the idea behind Descent 2 is to do basically the same thing all over again, only this time to make it better. The marketing campaign for the game appears to be centred around the fact that Descent 2 is (and I quote): "Deeper, Smarter, Faster!" (The exclamation mark is important.) Fair enough. If you're going to do a sequel, that's pretty much as good an excuse as you could want. So similar is the idea that the team haven't really bothered to dream up a new storyline either. When you start the game you are greeted with a message that effectively says, "Okay, now you've got to do what you did last time all over again, only this time we've spruced your ship up a bit and given you some new guns." Oh well. It worked with Doom, didn't it?
What has been significantly tweaked though is the overall presentation of the thing. The in-game graphics are very similar in style to those of the first, but you now have a choice of graphics modes that range from 320x200 up to 800x600 (for which you need a TurboNutterNinjaBastard pc), all of which are supposed to run much more efficiently due to the implementation of a vastly enhanced 3D engine. Though superficially the game looks extremely similar to Descent (as you'd expect) it does run markedly faster on lower spec machines. On top of this, Descent 2 now features reams and reams of cut-scenes that all look really fab and groovesome. Obviously these don't do anything for the gameplay, but they do fill the cd up rather nicely.
Speaking of filling up the cd nicely, the soundtrack has been given a serious kick in the goolies as well. Gone are the drab, dreary, boring SoundBlaster tunes, and in their place there's now proper music which is spooled in from the cd. But not only is it 'proper', it's been produced by a couple of metal bands that, ooh, maybe two or three of you might have heard of. First up we have Skinny Puppy... no? Never heard of 'em? And then there's Type 0 Negative, who are infamous for both their rather raucous music and their frontman, Pete Steele, who recently appeared in an issue of PlayGirl only to complain that he wasn't allowed to be photographed with an erection. Quite what relevance this last bit has to you I don't know, but hey... it gives you an idea of the sort of person we're dealing with. A man who wants his knob photographed. Bet you can't wait now, can you?
And now for something completely different...
Obviously the gameplay isn't exactly the same this time around, and while it all looks very similar, much of the content has been tweaked, fondled and altered. Virtually all of the old robots have been given the heave-ho, and in their place there are now 18 brand spanking new alien marauders. One of the few real complaints that people had of the first game was that the enemies were a bit, well, thick - you could go into a room, let rip with virtually any weapon, bugger off, and hardly any of the bad guys would bother to come and look for you. But this time everything's different.
Parallax and Interplay have assured us that all of the bad guys have an enhanced artificial intelligence system implemented that means they react far more realistically and don't just float around bumping into things. They're also allegedly much faster than their predecessors, and from what we've seen from the early playable versions of the game, they're also much tougher to kill.
But it's not just the enemy robots that have been enhanced. Descent 2 features 13 completely new weapons for you to pick up, ranging from the incredible Super Vulcan Canon (which is far more destructive than it was before) to huge lasers, plasma guns and rockets. Gone are the relatively mundane weapons of yore... these new babies are well 'ard and the cream of the crop has to be the new guided missiles which are so smart they even give you a missile camera view that pops up in a little window so you can be certain that it hits exactly what you want. Cool. To make sure that you get the most out of all the new features, everything is now much bigger than before. The levels (which are still mostly in mine shafts, by the way) are huge sprawling labyrinths that are divided up into 30 different maps that are spread across five different planets. Upon destroying the reactor at the end of each planet you are then warped to the next planet, having been treated to one of the aforementioned rendered cut-scene bits.
The final enhancement is something that so far we've only heard about, and unfortunately we won't be able to look at in any depth until we review the game next month. The developers assure us that the multi-player aspect of Descent 2 is seriously improved. Now, bearing in mind that this is already one of the best multi-player systems around, it really does make us wonder what they've dreamed up this time. One thing that we do know for sure though is that Descent 2 is one of the products most likely to be up and running when BT launches the Wireplay system later this year. No doubt our On-Line pages will soon be filled with snippets of info on Descent as well as our usual deluge of Doomisms.
Descent for the PC was one of Interplay's more popular titles. Now you can get that same adrenaline-pumping action for the PC, Saturn and PlayStation in the new Descent 2. For those of you unfamiliar with the original, Descent is a true 3-D, multiplayer shooter that mixes cool sound, fast-paced action and tasty graphics, resulting in a rollercoaster ride of a game. The best thing about Descent is that you have total control over your highly maneuverable spacecraft.
The story goes something like this:You are a pilot in your little craft of destruction. You are flying into the bowels of the Earth to kill bad guys.The problem is, you'll have to do all of this without James Mason to help guide you. But then again, you've got a whole bunch of high-tech navigation equipment, from ultra-sonic wave emitters to infrared beams. All James had was a compass and a duck.
Descent 2 will feature the same quality gameplay and visual style of its predecessor. The colors are vibrant and the lively elements add a whole new level to the gaming experience, from the flowing lava to running water. What has been added to part two are 30 deeper, more mind-blowing levels of excitement. On top of the new levels, there are 30 new monsters, each smarter, faster and more deadly than the first title's enemies. But don't worry, Descent 2 comes equipped with 13 new weapons of massive, destructive power, to handle these superior baddies.
While the release of Descent 2 will only be for the PC at first, the Saturn and PlayStation versions will follow shortly thereafter.To tide you over till then, Interplay has been kind enough to schedule the release of the original, which is currently available on Mac, on both of these platforms. Windows 95 means the game runs quickly and smoothly on PC with the minimum of installation, but PlayStation owners will have an even easier time with the game.The fact that home consoles can now outperform even high-end PCs means that porting this kind of game is not only easy, but almost a necessity. So, strap on your special space shoes and get ready for the ride of a lifetime.Thousands of feet into the core of an unstable planet.