Posted by Simon Challands on 00:00, 28/9/2001
| Games, RISC OS, Reviews
More robots, more mines, more mayhem and destruction from RCI. Reviewed by Simon Challands
Descent II is, quite obviously, the followup to the very successful Descent; and anyone who's played the original won't need any further introduction. I would urge you to keep on reading, though, because whilst the idea of the game is the same (blow up a series of mines) a whole host of new features have been added.
You could, at least at first, play Descent II in exactly the same way as you played Descent, without ever realising that you are missing out on a lot, and you would be making life a hell of a lot harder for yourself. Before long it would be apparent that you've started picking up weapons you've never seen before, encountering enemies trying to kill you in a way they've never tried to kill you before, and even found some robots making a nuisance of themselves in a totally new way, or even helping you out.
The number of weapons has doubled at least, with each weapon selection key swapping between two possibilities (providing you have the relevant powerup), and this time round there is actually some point in swapping weapons. Whereas in Descent I found myself wandering around blasting everything with the plasma cannon, I seem to make regular use of three or four different primary guns, and whatever missiles and mines I can lay my hands on. Of special mention are the smart mines, which spew out gobs of energy towards robots when destroyed, making them of some use other than for dumping in robot generation centres. Other favourites are a more powerful version of the Vulcan cannon (the Gauss cannon), and guided missiles. For the latter control is switched from your ship to the missile, which you can steer in to your target. They are also quite useful for scouting out areas hidden around corners.
|Guided missile view|
There are also a few non-weapon powerups (apart from the usual shield and energy boost), such as headlights, an afterburner that temporarily increases your speed, and a couple of other very useful ones I'll leave you to find for yourself.
One warning, though - be careful of random blasting! Some walls contain control panels that can unlock or open certain doors. These can only be shot once, and some only work for a limited time. It can be very frustrating to be barred from access to some powerful weapon because you blew up the panel gaining access to it some time ago without even realising.
|Use the Automap facility|
to find your way around
If you were daunted by the number of controls in the first Descent, you will be dismayed to learn that there are even more keys to press this time around. Luckily those governing your ship's movement and firing capabilities have not increased (and can be redefined as before), the additions allowing you to switch views, drop markers, and send orders to another new addition, the Guidebot.
The Guidebot is, believe it or not, a robot that's actually on your side. It is normally stuck in a cage near the start of a level, and when freed will wander off searching for the next key (or powerup, or hostage, or whatever you want it to), which is all very well, since the levels seem bigger and more confusing than ever.
Set against this is yet another completely new type of robot behaviour, owned by the Thief. This nuisance sneaks up behind you, and runs off with your favourite powerup just when you need it most (if you are unlucky, which seems to be most of the time). The Thief is also fast and hard to kill, making its destruction a priority. But beware of chasing it into an area crammed full of heavily armed robots!
The rest of the opposition displays more intelligence than before, with them making greater efforts to sneak around behind you or gang up against you. Some carry more than one type of weapon.
What appears to be lacking in Descent II is any obvious form of plot (although in such a game one isn't really necessary). The introductory film hasn't made it through to the RISC OS conversion (due to reasons beyond RCI's control), which is why you may be left in the dark. Since the main game CD is the PC version I ran it on one to see what it was about, and found out that the alien robot influence is running riot in PTMC mines elsewhere in the galaxy, so you've got to go and blow them up too. So, no profound storyline to get in the way of the mayhem. There are one or two inter-level clips, too, but nothing that has any effect on the gameplay. Other than that it would appear to be a completely faithful conversion. Graphically the game is an improvement over the original, with some lights flickering on and off, some that can be blasted, and an even greater range of display options, although I would imagine that with everything on maximum (highest resolution, colour depth, and bilinear filtering) even the fastest Kinetic RiscPC would slow to a crawl. My less than Kinetic StrongARM certainly does. Chuck everything down a few notches and the speed is certainly playable. There's not a lot, if anything, on our platform that rivals the graphics at the moment. Sound-wise Descent II runs in the same vein as Descent. The robots make different noises and so do some of the weapons, but there are no major advances. There are limited MIDI tracks, but most of the music is provided on CD. CD music means no slowdown, but the tracks provided will not be to everyone's taste. No problem, though - just slip your favourite CD in instead. Screaming through narrow, twisting tunnels with Star Wars blaring out of the speakers does quite well for me.
Unfortunately there are some bugs - the game will crash completely and suddenly at times [which is why I didn't add my own mini-review as planned, I couldn't play the game for long enough - ed.], and the first pilot I created would only restore from the Autosave backup (a handy new feature which allows you to get back your last save if you over-wrote it by mistake). RCI appear to be keen to keep working, though. Not long after Wakefield an update was emailed out to registered customers that fixed a great many of the crashes. Speed increases may be forthcoming, but the game will probably never play on anything less than a StrongARM. It requires a fair amount of RAM, and with only 18 MB + 1MB VRAM I had to start the machine without booting anything up to be able to play it at all. A little extra was cheap enough, and now I'm happy to say I've no trouble.
To sum up? It's a more entertaining blast than Descent, and I would buy it even if you've got the original. Since it's sold as a pack with Descent (and a whole load of extra levels, including the excellent (but hard) Descent II: Vertigo series) you can't go wrong if you don't own either game. If you've already got Descent then you can make use of a cheaper upgrade.
To sum up
- Loads more weapons
- Several useful weapons
- Good enemy AI
- Graphically impressive
- Plus all the good points of the original
- Some severe crashes
- Needs a very high power machine
- Has wasted a lot of my time :-)