Written by: Stoo

Date posted: October 1, 2001

Here’s the obligatory wimpy first enemy type.

There is a plot here somewhere but frankly it’s irrelevant. Suffice to say your mission is to frag robots in a series of mine tunnels, before blowing up the main reactor on each level. Preferably without getting motion sickness on the way.

Descent appeared not long after Doom, and was immediately thrown by many gamers into the category of clones of that landmark title. That’s fair enough really – you have a first person view, lots of guns, blast baddies, same basic formula. However Descent had a few significant differences to help it stand out from the pack. Doom you see existed in a slightly odd pseudo-3D world, with each map based on a 2D floor plan with some bits raised and others lowered. Well, that’s maybe not the technical description but it’s how my untrained eye sees it anyway. Descent on the other hand revels in three true glorious dimensions. The levels are a complex distribution of tunnels and caverns with full use made of the x, y and z axes. In order to tackle this environment you’re not cast as a shotgun-toting marine, but rather piloting a small and agile fighter craft.

Thankfully there’s no gravity in this game, so if you leave the controls your craft will just hover there patiently instead of crashing down to the ground. Then again, once you’ve gotten caught up in a dogfight or two, you might have forgotten exactly which direction is down. Generally the first problem many have with this game is getting to grips with the controls – don’t despair if you spend the first few minutes shunting into a wall whilst robots fall about laughing and blasting you with lasers. I found the best set up on the keyboard has you sliding with the left hand and changing your orientation with the right.

The choppy green bots are more menacing.

Once you’ve got the hang of the controls, you’ll note that Descent has aged quite well; better than most other shooters of the time. It still flows beautifully as you dogfight with robots or hurtle down corridors. The action is fast and frantic and there’s plenty of it, taking place in claustrophobic corridors which suddenly open onto huge underground chambers. This isn’t a complex game; it’s in terms of simple dodging and blasting that Descent really shines. Also, don’t expect the engine to go recreating any kind of “real-world” locations for you to fight in. It’s mine shafts and caverns all the way, but that does at least make for a suitable setting for all the mayhem.

You have the usual range of weaponry to fight it out with – from pathetic-o-laser to cannon of death, backed up with an array of missiles. Your foes meanwhile are made from textured polygons, much more convincing-looking than the flat sprites of Doom or Dark Forces. This is of course fairly vital when you remember that you could be viewing them from any angle. Although to be fair, boxy mining robots were a lot easier to render with the 3D technology of the time than humanoid enemies you would see in other games.

Anyway the bots range from the wimpy buzzy kind to the large and ominously rumbling. The prize for most dangerous is shared between the little bastards with Vulcan miniguns or the red hulks firing homing missiles. Oh, and watch out for the big f*cker on level 7. Interestingly, enemies will often attempt to dodge your fire; even a such simple sense of self-preservation like this was quite advanced by the standards of the day.

The game isn’t just about narrow twisty tunnels – there are, erm, big tunnels too!

Each level ends with fragging the aforementioned reactor. You then have about thirty seconds to find the exit to that particular mine. The is normally a time for much frantic hilarity as you desperately try to cut a path through the robots suddenly pouring from hidden chambers. Worse, the whole level starts shaking about, throwing you off course and contributing to the verbal barrage you’re probably hurling at the screen by now.

In truth Descent does suffer from a lack of variety, as it’s the same procedure every level. By about the tenth you are starting to wish they’d come up with a few more ideas. Also, it’s pretty much inescapable that tunnels and mines will all start to look the same after a while. Still, for pure combat Descent remains hard to beat, so it’s always good for an hour’s escapism. Since there’s over twenty levels, that’s a lot of quality retro-gaming hours for you.