Sixteen Bits Online

JUNE 1996

Descent II

A Review by Alan Tebb

After last month's experience (if you missed it naughty naughty CM) I was loath to pick up any game beginning with the letter "D".

But, fortified with the knowledge that the first Descent had been enormously popular last year, I decided to give Descent II, a test run for this month's review.

The box blurb promised 360o 3D gaming experience of "power blasting sensory insanity"

Over the years I've read a lot of box blurb, so the sensory insanity part failed to impress. What did intrigue me were the 360o 3D claims, and since I had not played Descent, I had no idea what I was in for.

At this point, I have to confess, 3D games such as DOOM, Wolfenstein and Duke Nukem 3D always make me feel giddy, especially if I play at a fast rate.

Keep it a secret, I once got seasick standing on the deck of a paddle steamer moored in the Murray river, simply because it was listing badly to one side! In a nutshell, me and motion don't get along.

After half an hour playing Descent II, I was so giddy I almost fell out of the chair. I had a headache that stayed with me until I went to bed, and the only way I could complete this review was to keep a plastic bucket handy beside the computer. Sensory insanity? You better believe it. 3D is one thing, but combined with the up, down, turning, twisting, sliding, which-way-is-right-side-up action in Descent II, all other 3D games are child's play.

It takes a lot of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, steering your space ship through the 30 Descent II tunnels and mines on six different planets is a gaming challenge you won't forget in a hurry.

Descent II really doesn't have much of a story line. You play the role of a mercenary pilot tasked with entering a series of off-world mining complexes run and controlled by hostile industrial robots.

At the centre of each mine there is a nuclear reactor. The task is to get in, blow up the reactor and pulverise as many robots as you can in the process. For some unfathomable reason, the mines also contain human hostages that need to be rescued along the way.

Inside the mines you must locate caches of all sorts of paraphernalia, from weapons to power sources and access keys, to help you succeed.

The creators of Descent II have gone slightly overboard in the weapons department. There are more than 20 to choose from including three types of laser, eight types of cannon, seven types of missile and two types of mine.

Add in shields, cloaking devices, afterburners and a headlamp and you quickly come to realise that, quite apart from flying the thing, there are that many buttons to push you literally need three hands to cope.

Not to mention the bad guys30 different kinds of robot determined to make scrap metal out of your ship.

Each robot has a different character, different weapons and different tactics. Some charge head long with guns blazing, others shoot and scoot, and some hide and attack from behind. Most robots are intent on tearing you apart, but some of the more cunning try to latch on and suck power out of your ship systems, or steal weapons right off the wing pylons.

In the end I concluded that an ageing could-a-been game player like me, barely had the reflexes and the presence of mind to tackle all this and even then I had the game set at Rookie level.

Anticipating that people like me might need some help. The designers included a friendly Guide-bot to locate important targets and lead you through the labyrinth of mining tunnels. The Guide-bot is always imprisoned somewhere near the entrance to each mine. Set the Guide-bot free and you can task it to find access keys, hostages, weapons, power sources, the central reactor and most importantly, a way out. Over time I learned to love the sight of my Guide-bot faithfully coming back to get me each time I made a wrong turn.

In the options area of the game, you can also activate autoleveling to help you get the ship back on an even keel after you've completely lost track of which way is up, down or about face.

The game is really quite difficult to play and without these two essential features, it would be almost impossible to complete most levels.

The game also features a three dimensional map, but frankly the thing is so complicated I simply couldn't figure out where I was and, in the end, gave it away as next to useless.

Descent II features a range of enhancements that make it truly innovative. For example, it comes with special drivers and loading options to cater for the new breed of highly sophisticated joysticks such as the Thrustmaster or Wingman Extreme.

To test the game using one of these devices I borrowed a Wingman Extreme. With the extra buttons and "witches hat" on the joystick I was able to fly with much greater skill than I could with an ordinary joystick and keyboard combination.

The game is also optimised for play with a virtual reality helmet. Given that I get motion sick playing Descent II on the PC, I hate to think what it would be like wearing a VR helmet!

Descent II also allows players to tape combat sequences and play them back. Take screen shots of the action by simply pressing Print Screen (a boon to reviewers like me).

Descent II excels in the multiplayer and netplay departments. Co-operative play is enriched by the ability to drop weapons needed by your partner. You also have the ability to switch to a camera view of your partner's location.

Last, but not least, Descent II soundtracks can be played on the computer's CD-ROM or through a normal audio CD player.

After a couple of weeks playing Descent II it's easy to see why it would be popular with many PC game players. In essence it is a highly sophisticated adaptation of Space Invaders.

The whole time is spent dodging and weaving, blowing up nasty robot enemies and moving from level to level, the game play getting more difficult as you go.

Instead of the flat, single dimension of the old arcade games, Descent II provides a surreal 3D world of 360o movement. Gone are the blips and bloops of the pioneering days, replaced by full digitised rock and roll music. Add booming explosions, fire balls, non stop gut wrenching action and you are almost at the point of sensory overload. If you liked Descent, my view is you won't be disappointed with Descent II.

Title: Descent II
Format: 1 x CD-ROM
Manufacturer: Interplay
Genre: Shoot 'em Up
Price: RRP $99.95

For the month of July, BitStorm in the Canberra Centre will sell Descent II to PCUG members on presentation of a current membership card for $89.95.

Classification: Suitable for 8 years and over. In my opinion the game play demands of this game would restrict it to players at least 13 years and over.

System Requirements: As a minimum Descent II requires a 486DX-50 Mhz, 8 Mb of RAM, a quality joystick and lots of spare time. Ideally the game needs a Pentium processor and 16 Mb of RAM.


(Out of a possible maximum)


My major gripe about Descent II is in the area of graphics. The complexity and detail of the enemy robots are disappointing and, close up, they suffer from polygonitis in a major way. Inside the mining tunnels (where you spend the whole game), the graphic rendering of the walls is highly stylistic and largely unconvincing. A redeeming

graphic quality can be found in the cinematic cut scenes which are all of top quality.



Sound Effects

The music on the CD features original soundtracks from bands such as Type O Negative and Ogre (of Skinny Puppy). I loved the sound tracks, because they really had the blood pumping and added enormous atmosphere to the game play. The Sound Effects were adequate but, at times, hardly noticeable over the thundering rock and roll.

Game Play:

After 30 levels of the same game play, it can get a little boring. Only the addition of new robots and new mining environments keeps the interest up. After a while, the game play challenge is solely about finishing the level. Strategy is not a major feature, but the game does require a good memory, fast fingers and keen flying skills. If 3D games make you feel slightly "off", be warnedthis game can turn you green.

Addictiveness: IMG SRC="dot.gif">

The simple desire to remain undefeated is the driving force. After plenty of practice, whizzing through twisting, turning tunnels is exhilarating, and doing battle with some of the more sophisticated robot nasties can be tough. If you were addicted to the first Descent, I predict this version will keep the interest levels at the same high peak.


Really nothing to be concerned about. The low level animated violence is only in terms of robot combat.


Descent II comes with a 72 page manual that covers the game and its components in detail.

Ease of Installation:

The game is designed for play with Windows 95 or DOS. I didn't even bother with the Windows installation, preferring the DOS installation instead. This ran without a hitch and correctly sensed my hardware configuration. The game allows an unprecedented array of customisation covering sound, graphics, control and play options.

Value for Money:

Even though the game play is very repetitive, there is plenty of hours in the 30 levels to keep you occupied. For the price, value is good.

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