Review by ClessAlvein05
Very good, but a step back from the original
Both of the first two Descent games were very good technological achievements in their time, with their full 360 degree motion and polygonal models, and had very fun gameplay (more than can be said of the third.) However, Descent II takes steps back from the first in gameplay and execution.
One of the biggest drawbacks in Descent II is the same which afflicts Doom 2, and the game doesn't handle it too much better: It often comes across as more of an expansion pack than an actual sequel. You've got so many things that aren't changed, although in many cases it's a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it;" the Pyro-GX and the original set of weapons and sound effects were fine, and the way the game handles energy centers, hostages, and weapons is mostly good. In terms of sounds, it is nice to see them remastered at double the quality, although I liked most of the robot noises (and most of the robots themselves) more in the original. The robots have some creative twists; there are a lot more fast-moving bots, the lifters also release plasma when "electrocuted" by lasers, and they have improved AI. Some of the graphics are preserved, others completely redone; again, this is an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" thing in many cases, and the textures are largely redone, but most of the old ones are still available in level edits.
Instead of using one 256-color VGA set, the graphics use six palettes for the six worlds; however, the way the colors are "optimized" for each set actually makes some objects look worse (for instance, Plasma shots have an ugly gray interior in most sets, because the bright green color set was compromised to make room for other colors.) The excellent, large MIDI set in the original was replaced by a smaller, mediocre MIDI set, along with some pretty good redbook. The briefing screens are upgraded in quality, and some solid full-motion videos are included (Dravis, you son of a..!!!)
You have two new basic laser levels, a Gauss cannon which adds explosiveness to your Vulcan ammo, Helix (an expanded Spreadfire,) Phoenix (a "reflective," orange Plasma,) and Omega Cannons; and the Flash, Guided, and Earthshaker missiles and Smart Mines, all of which are self-explanatory upgrades to their equivalents; and fast but non-homing Mercury Missiles. You also have new items like the self-explanatory Converter, Headlight, and Afterburner.
Difficulty-wise, Descent was easily among the hardest of the early first-person shooters, and Descent II is no different. Whereas a lot of people of reasonable gaming competence can sit down and play through Doom I/II at Ultra-Violence or Quake at even Nightmare mode if they save at the right spots, develop good instincts for sensing, attacking, and avoiding enemies, and use powerups resourcefully, Descent II's mere Rookie and Hotshot modes seem comparable to these difficulty levels, and Ace and Insane are much harder (although Doom's Nightmare mode may take the cake with its infinite respawnings.) Trainee mode, which is even easier than the original Descent in that energy and shield powerups are worth 27 instead of 18 units, is the only level which almost anyone can breeze through, with there also being fewer and more passive robots, more powerups, and more escape time. Compared to the technically "2.5D" environment of Doom, and even Quake which doesn't involve as much 360 degree rotation, it is fundamentally much more difficult to fly into swarms of enemies from above and below as well as from every side, to face respawns from purple enemy generators on top of visible foes, and to face whiteouts from Flash Missiles and disorientation from robot collisions and from Earthshaker or Mega Missile impacts (if you don't die from them right away) on top of regular gunfire. The bosses are of very high attack power and require a lot of skill and opportunistic attack patterns. Then, when you nuke the boss or reactor, you must face more enemies from unlocked doors and get to the exit in time; the level becomes shakier over time. You must keep track of switches to open walls, doors, and force fields, and you can reach many secrets, both in normal and secret levels, through single-open doors which you must often Afterburn your way to on the first try. You only have so many lives, and you go back to level 1 lasers and lose any hostages on board when you die; you can recover your powerups if you get to them in time and it's not an escape sequence. You can save and load. anywhere except a secret level (to prevent "retrying" to perfect your efforts at getting those single-open doors,) although again you must be careful not to save in a bad situation. If you think you're good enough at that, you can also play against your friends with whatever networking you can adapt to the game.
It is definitely worth at least finding for cheap somewhere if you like FPSs, flying, and spaceships.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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