Descent: Old School That Needs To Come Into New School

Descent is an old school shooter that needs to make a comeback.

For those old school shooter fans out there, some of you may recognize my name. That's right "vertigo1" was then handle of my character in the insane shooter series Descent. This series is very near and dear to my heart and I think it would benefit greatly from either a re-release (possibly with shinier graphics) or a reboot. Let me try to explain in words why this game needs to have a resurgence.

Originally released for the PC on February 28, 1995, Descent was a first person shooter unlike any other released at the time. Developed by Parallax Software and published by Interplay, Descent was following on the heels of a little game called Doom. However, what Doom did to lure us in and keep playing day after day, Descent did it ten times better. I often referred to Descent as "Doom on acid."

The story was simple enough. You are a mercenary pilot hired by the PTMC (Post Terran Mining Corporation) to help them eradicate a robotic threat in the mines they have established throughout the solar system. It seems that the PTMC's mining robots became infected with a virus and went on a killing and kidnapping rampage.

Your job is to eliminate all threats, rescue hostages, blow up power core, escape, then go on to the next mine. Now remember I said you were a pilot, not some guys on foot like in Doom. And yes, this is where the fun begins.

The one major thing that the Descent series brought to the first-person shooter scene was total six-axis, 360 degree freedom of movement. You piloted a small, one man assault craft flying through the mines in total zero gravity. That's right ladies and gentlemen, you can move, twists, thrust or strafe in any direction. You could even play the entire levels upside down and sideways if you felt so inclined.

Now there was a significant draw back to this, however. When I first started playing, I got pretty dizzy and motion sick. I was so fixated on playing the game though, that I kept playing until, after a few days, the motions didn't bother me at all any more and I was performing sweet evasive moves without batting an eye.

This tiny little gameplay mechanic is what set Descent apart from other shooters. To this day, not many shooters have used this mechanic in quite the same way Descent did. Yes there were many space shooters (Wing Commander, the X-wing series), but they did not give us the corridor shooter gameplay. Those games took place in the vastness of open space and not the tight, claustrophobic interiors of the PTMC mines. 

There were other things that set Descent apart from Doom and other shooters of the era. It supported 8-player network play and was touted as one of the first multiplayer games to let players access a match from a menu from within the game. It also supported "on-the-fly" joining of matches instead of waiting in a queue. Now these numbers and features are nothing compared to what we have today but for almost 20 years ago, it was amazing stuff.

Descent spawned two official sequels. The last of which gave the series a major graphical overhaul and added seamless transitioning from indoor to outdoor environments. That means the game did not have to load when going from the depths of the mines to the outside airspace. Descent 3 was my favorite in the series because of both these features.

For the time, the graphics were amazing and the freedom you got from going out into the open once in a while was very liberating. There were plans for a fourth installment but, unfortunately, it was cancelled in 2000. The original game was recently released on Steam this past February and I urge anyone interested to give it a try. Just remember that it is old school and, if you have a weak stomach, take the proper medication.

Featured Contributor

I have been into videogames my whole life. Started out with an Atari 2600 playing Combat and Berzerk. Now I'm playing games like Titanfall and Plants vs Zombies on Xbox One and 360. I am a fan of cartoons and sci fi. Family Guy, American Dad, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica are some of my favorites. I used to be into comics, more specifically X-Men but I haven't collected in years. My favorite games are the Mass Effect series, Elder Scrolls series, Doom and Descent. When I grow up I wanna be Wolverine ;)

Published Jun. 2nd 2014

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