A few years ago the PC world went crazy over this game. There were competitions, websites full of home-made levels, it got onto the TV and radio and it was nearly as big as Quake. So how does it translate?
Well, the first thing that really needs to be said is that if your Amiga can't handle Quake, it won't be able to handle Descent too well. Although it will theoretically run on an '030, you might as well save yourself the effort.
On an '030 with no graphics card you'll be talking seconds per frame rather than the other way around - you might as well be watching a slideshow. However, we'll come back to speed later...
You'll also need the full PC version of Descent 1.1 as, like Doom and Quake, the conversion needs the original game files in order to work.
Down a tunnel
The basic plot behind Descent is that you have been contracted by a mining corporation to clear out their mines of robots who have gone wrong. You are to rescue any workers and eliminate the threat these metallic monsters pose by blowing up the main reactor at each mine. You basically fly down tunnels and blow things up.
In this respect it's rather similar to a game like Doom, only in a 3D spatial environment. In the ultra-low gravity of the mines there's effectively no up or down, no floors or ceilings and, consequently, a disorienting sense of not knowing where you are or where you're going.
The enemies you'll encounter vary from small, nippy little spacecraft to huge, slow-moving but devastatingly powerful behemoths. The reactors themselves will also fire streams of unpleasant-looking orange plasma orbs at you. even after they have gone critical.
Once you've located the reactor and given it a taste of your lasers, a countdown will begin. Once the clock starts ticking you've got to head directly for the emergency mine exit (which hopefully you made a mental note of when you discovered it earlier in the level) and get out of there before the whole thing blows up.
You are to rescue any workers and eliminate the threat these metallic monsters pose by blowing up the main reactor...
In a tube
In the traditional way of these games, weapons and power ups are left lying around, carelessly distributed through the mines. More powerful lasers, different missiles and shield and energy boosts will be gained by flying over the appropriate objects. There are also, rather predictably, keys to be found in order to open certain doors.
An automapping feature is available, which will open a new screen on the Amiga. You can rotate the view of the map using the flight controls, but given that the mines are normally complex, sprawling structures which have no up or down it isn't that helpful. They mostly look like wireframe plans of Embankment tube station without any hidden line removal.
It's hard enough to find your way around, but a lot of the tunnels are cunningly concealed so you whizz by without noticing them. And, of course, you have to watch out for all the stuff that's concealed in the ceiling and on the floor too.
On the floor
As usual, a great deal of time has been spent on creating textures and rendering subroutines to make the mines look realistic and atmospheric, as well as to help conceal entrances. It's just unfortunate that the Amiga versions have problems with the texture mapping.
The Virge version allows various different routines to be used, but you mostly have a choice of the textures swimming and giving you a headache when you get too close to them, or having varying amounts of corruption.
All versions suffer from the close-up problem to varying degrees, which only makes things even more confusing when you're stuck in a corner with several enemies shooting at you. This isn't to undermine the efforts of the programmers, it's simply, for the most part, a fairly severe hardware limitation.
What is a programming flaw is the PPC version's inability to use third party levels. Like Doom and Quake, a level creation system exists (on the PC) and many people have designed their own devilishly complicated levels, most of which are freely available.
The box shows the version of the Amiga loaders we based this review on. There are some differences between them in terms of options and features. Most unfortunately, the current version of ADescent for PPC won't work with any of the third party levels we tried.
However, these versions are still very much early incarnations. it was several months before the fastest and best Doom ports became available, and the likelihood is that Descent will take just as long to mature. In the beginning, the fact that it works at all is more important than how well it works.
Without a PPC, or at the very least a CyberVision 3D card, I reckon the game is pretty much unplayable, at least in the way it was intended to be played. Even with an '060 it becomes rather difficult to aim accurately because the frames chug slowly past.
Leaving aside the pros and cons of the various different loaders, how does the game itself measure up? The confusing 3D environment isn't as much of a new experience as you might think, it's still very much like Doom, but in one more dimension, which I suppose makes it trickier.
In practice it becomes very frustrating, and the map is very hard to follow, no matter how long you spend spinning it around. A head to head game might be more interesting, but this is because of the extra competition that's derived from playing another human being, not through any intrinsic merits of the game itself.
Even if you have an extremely fast machine, this is little more than a mixture of Wing Commander and Doom, a mixture which has no great depth of its own. It might be technically proficient, but it lacks the spark which would make it a really great game.