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Acorn Arcade forums: News and features: Review - Descent

Review - Descent

Posted by Richard Goodwin on 00:00, 30/10/2000 | , ,
Descent logo


Mine clearance with a difference from RCI's conversion of the 360° spaceship blaster. Reviewed by Richard Goodwin.


Fight screenshotOkay, I promise to write a shorter review this time, honest. Descent: take Doom; mix it with a flight sim, make sure there's plenty of explosions; that's it, in a nutshell.

It's not like I'm getting paid by the word here, but for those of you still reading, a one line review doesn't really do Descent justice. Skipping over the fact that Descent uses textured mapped polygons for almost everything and is in true 3D so that it's closer to Quake than Doom, Descent puts you in control over a kick-ass weapons platform that can move in all six axes of movement.

That's where you find the first difficulty in playing Descent; the ship is so controllable that you're bombarded with a mass of controls - where you might be able to go forward, backwards, turn sideways and slide to the sides in a game like Doom, in this game you can also slide up and down and roll, which almost double just the main control keys, then you have keys for flares, bombs, maps and so on. To be honest when the game first came out on the PC I had one go trying to figure out the keys and a digital joystick and gave up; I didn't fare much better on the Playstation with its multi-button joypad; and when I learnt that an Acorn release was imminent I didn't play the PC shareware version until I could find my multi-button coolly hat joystick.

Bang screenshotTrying a SNES-style joypad on the Acorn didn't work, as it was only picked up as a four button joystick and because you have to have to use both hands to hold it you can't easily use the keyboard as well; as Quake players will readily identify, after a little trial and error the best way to play the game is with the mouse in one hand and using the keyboard with the other. Even then I remapped some of the keys so all the slide keys were easily reachable from the keypad, with the flare and bomb underneath, and the cursor keys controlling forward and backward motion. Obviously the programmers foresaw this and the key customisation is very easy - you can actually assign two keys to each action - and because each player has their own “pilot” your little brother can play without messing up your customisations or saved game files.

Some briefing screenshots
Once you've persevered actually got control of the ship and read the mission briefings - complete with technical data on enemy ships - you'll find it's pretty powerful weapons platform, capable of carrying up to five types of guns and five missiles (well, one's actually a rearward-firing proximity mine). Unluckily your enemies have similar firepower - at least they're restricted to one type of weapon - and know how to use them, making for a more challenging but ultimately more satisfying game; enemy ships will ambush, dodge, hide, gang up on you, fire from long range and basically punish mistakes. However, the levels are well designed and with a good learning curve, and all seem do-able in time.
ScreenshotThe level design is another thing that you might have difficulty with at first; you might be flying down a tunnel, wondering why there's no enemy to meet you, only to realise you're flying back down a tunnel you've already cleared - you're flying along the ceiling when you started off following the floor! Apart from the ceiling lights, to help you have a superb automapping facility - as the game is in true 3D with tunnels going over and under other tunnels - the map is a wireframe model, also in 3D. You can zoom in and out, twist it around, slide it about, and it's depth shaded so that the jumble of lines doesn't become too confusing. As soon as you become confident you'll soon be whizzing around the tunnels and caverns, and Descents level design is such that it gives you a real feeling of speed as you do a run down tight, twisty-turny passages, which seems lacking on some games.
ScreenshotDescent is a well designed game, skilfully executed; your weapons can affect your ship and the environment, lighting things up as they pass, pushing your ship around as you fire, even breaking bits of scenery. The light shading and texture mapping add to the atmosphere created by the level layouts; when you're not blasting away you're exploring, gingerly edging into rooms and launching flares to try and see if there's anything nasty in those dark corners or trying to find hidden passageways. Plus scenery can be used to your advantage; I defy anyone not to enjoy hovering behind a ledge and sliding up, Apache gunship-like, to catch the enemy on the hop.
Comparisin of screens on ARM 710 and StrongARM machines
There's always a payoff though, and it's that the minimum spec is a StrongARM machine; the options in and out of the game allow you to change screen resolution and colour depth (320x200 in 8bpp the lowest, 1024x768 in 32 bpp with a StrongARM and 2MB VRAM), switch to a quicker but less accurate texturing model, drop the level of detail so distant objects aren't rendered in high quality, and even take the cockpit display away, but all of this makes it only just playable on an ARM 710. It's harsh, but this is the way things are going - the difference in speed between a StrongARM and the next best processor, the 710, is so great that it look like you'll need an SA for anything more graphically intense than SunBurst from now on. At least an effort has been made to try and get it running on the older machines, and you can play music either using the usual MIDI stuff or a Descent II CD is supplied in case you want to use the new CD play facility which shows that RCI are willing to listen to the public, but I couldn't get it to even load on my aging mk. 1 Risc PC at home.

In conclusion, if your computer is up to it, and you don't mind a little perseverance getting used to the controls and flying upside down, Descent is a lot of fun.


To sum up

The good...
  • Well designed
  • Intelligent
  • Lots of weapons
  • Good to look at
  • Excellent automap
  • Don't need MIDI to play music
...the bad
  • Need a high power machine
  • Lots of controls
  • No networking option


Rating: GOODRating: GOODRating: COOL





RCI (R-Comp Interactive):http://www.arsvcs.demon.co.uk/rci/
Descent information at Interplay:http://www.interplay.com/descent/descent.html
Descent FAQ:http://www.warpcore.org/descent-faq/
Descent Webring:http://www.webring.com/cgi-bin/webring?ring=dwring;list
Weenies Guide to Descent:http://www.weenie.com/descent/
Descent resources at Interplay FTP:ftp://ftp1.interplay.com/pub/descent/
Advertising movie (4MB Quicktime):ftp://ftp1.interplay.com/pub/descent/descent.qt

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Acorn Arcade forums: News and features: Review - Descent