Interplay Productions (Mac OS)
Mac Play (Mac OS)
R-Comp Interactive (RISC OS)
|Platform(s)||PC (MS-DOS), Mac OS, RISC OS, AmigaOS4, PlayStation|
|Genre(s)||First-person shooter, shoot 'em up|
Descent II is a 1996 first-person shooter video game developed by Parallax Software and published by Interplay Productions. It is the second game in the Descent video game series and a sequel to Descent. Unlike standard first-person shooters, the player must control a flying ship that has a six degrees of freedom movement scheme, allowing the player to move in any 3D direction. The original soundtrack features industrial metal contributed by notable musicians such as Type O Negative, Ogre and Mark Walk of Skinny Puppy, and Brian Luzietti. The game received very positive reviews from video game critics. A sequel, Descent 3, was released in 1999.
Like its predecessor Descent, Descent II is a six degrees of freedom shooter wherein the player controls a flying ship from a first-person perspective in zero-gravity. It is differentiated from the standard first-person shooters in that it allows the player to move and rotate in any 3D direction. Specifically, the player is free to move forward/backward, up/down, left/right, and rotate in three perpendicular axes, often termed pitch, yaw, and roll. Aboard the ship, the player can shoot enemies and fire flares to explore darkened areas.
In the game's single-player mode, the player must complete 24 levels where different types of AI-controlled robots will try to hinder the player's progress. In each level, the player must find and destroy a reactor, then escape the mine through an exit door before the mine self-destructs - failing to escape costs the player a life and all of the points earned on that level. Every fourth level has a boss robot that takes the place of the reactor. Each level is composed of a set of rooms separated by white, blue, yellow, or red doors. White doors can be opened by simply firing weapons at them or bumping into them. However, the other colored doors require a key of the corresponding color to be opened. Along the way, the player may also find and free a Guide-Bot, an assistant that shows the player the way to a specific target.
Within each level, the player may collect power-ups that enhance the ship's weaponry. Weapons are categorized into two different types: primary weapons and secondary weapons. Primary weapons range from a variety of laser weapons to the Plasma Cannon and the Vulcan Cannon, while secondary weapons include different types of missiles and mines. Most primary weapons consume energy at different rates, but some, such as the Vulcan Cannon, use physical ammunition instead. In contrast, each secondary weapon has its own quantity. The player can also collect equipment items which grant special abilities. For example, the Quad Laser modifies the laser weapons to fire four shots at once instead of the standard two, while the Afterburner allows the player to temporarily fly forward much faster than normal. Additionally, many stages have human hostages that give an additional point bonus if they are rescued before completing the level.
The player's ship is protected by a shield which decreases when incurring damage from enemies, weapons (including explosions from the player's weapons), and collisions. If the shield is fully depleted and the ship takes any additional damage, the player loses one life and all rescued hostages, and the ship explodes, leaving most of its power-ups nearby. The player continues back at the start of the level with only basic armaments - to resume where he/she left off, the player must return to the site where the previous ship was destroyed to reclaim his/her power-ups. If a player loses all lives, the game will end. Shield, energy, and ammunition suppliers are dispersed among the levels to help players increase their resources, while life points are awarded at certain point levels and by picking up special hidden power-ups in the level.
Descent II also features a multiplayer mode wherein two to eight players can compete against each other in several game types. Notable game types include Anarchy, where the objective is to kill as many opponents as possible, and Capture the flag, in which two teams compete against each other to capture opposing flags. Aspects such as time limit, number of opponents killed to end a game, and map to play on, among others, can be customized to match player preference. The game also features a co-operative mode that allows players to work together to complete single-player levels. The official release version of Descent II was originally designed to support the IPX and UDP/IP protocols on local area networks, while third-party services such as Kali provided the ability to play multiplayer games over the Internet. Third-party update projects such as D2X Rebirth have over time made it easier to play Descent II on the Internet without additional programs.
After the "Material Defender" has destroyed all of the mines in the solar system in the original Descent, he stops in the Asteroid belt for refueling. PTMC executive S. Dravis then contacts him and blackmails him to accept a new mission: "If you've studied your standard mercenary agreement, you would notice that PTMC reserves the right to keep you on retainer for up to 72 hours, post-mission. If you choose to decline further service, we may consider you in default of your contract, and your fee may be suspended, pending litigation. Good luck Material Defender. Dravis out."
The Material Defender's ship is fitted with a prototype warp core. He is then sent to clear out PTMC's deep space mines in planets beyond the Solar System. The planets are Zeta Aquilae, Quartzon, Brimspark, Limefrost Spiral, Baloris Prime, and Omega. The Omega system is subdivided into the Puuma Sphere and Tycho Brahe, with the latter being the final level of the game. The last mine on Tycho Brahe seems to run all through a planetoid, which is revealed in the final cutscene to be a large spaceship. After the planetoid/spaceship breaks apart, the Material Defender radios in to alert Dravis to his return home, but his warp drive malfunctions and he ends up in an unknown location. The camera then fades to that location and the ship appears, drifting towards the camera, heavily damaged and crackling with excess radiation.
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Descent II was developed by Parallax Software. The game was originally planned as an expansion pack to the original Descent. Both Descent and Descent II use a software renderer, but Descent II is also able to take advantage of the widening selection of 3D graphics accelerator video cards. Graphics were still 8-bit, but due to the additional CD storage space available, instead of using a single palette set during gameplay, each of the six four-level sets had its own 256-color set, and there were effectively six texture sets, each of which had basically the same textures but optimized them specifically for those colors and textures most used in the four-level set. Furthermore, multiple resolutions were supported. The original Descent uses indexed 8-bit color in DOS's display mode 13h, using 320 × 200 resolution. The Macintosh and later PC versions allow higher resolutions, such as 640 × 480. Descent II allows the resolution maximum to be stretched to 800 × 600, or 1280 × 1024 with the -superhires option.
Like Descent, Descent II operates on the premise of interconnected cubes. Sides of cubes can be attached to other cubes, or display up to two texture maps. Cubes can be deformed so long as they remain convex. To create effects like doors and see-through grating, walls could be placed at the connected sides of two cubes. Descent introduced an elaborate static lighting scheme as well as simple dynamic lighting, another advancement compared to Doom. The environment could be lit with flares, lights could flicker. Newly added for Descent II is that the environment can be darkened by shooting out the lights. The environment is also highly destructible and very interactive. Shooting out certain props, such as control panels and gate switches, would cause for secret doors to be opened.
The base Descent II game was released for MS-DOS, Mac OS, and RISC OS in 1996. Windows support was also made available. Later in 1996 came Descent Mission Builder 2, a Descent and Descent II level editor from third-party developer Brainware. It is also capable of converting Descent levels into Descent II levels.
On November 15, 1996  came Descent II: Vertigo Series, an add-on for Descent II. It contains 23 new levels, two new multiplayer game types, new music, enemies, boss AI and Descent Mission Builder 2. Vertigo series was also released on the same day as a bundle including a Windows 95 upgrade of the base game, The Vertigo Series, and Descent Mission Builder 2, titled Descent II: The Infinite Abyss.
On April 30 in the U.S. and May 1, 1997 in the UK, the PlayStation version of Descent II, known as Descent Maximum was released. Instead of a straight port, it included new levels (for a total of 30), textures and FMV over the PC version of Descent II. On October 29, 1997 Descent I and II: The Definitive Collection was released. A compilation, it contains the full version of Descent, Descent II and Descent II: Vertigo Series. In 1998, Descent II was released in a standalone jewel case (as opposed to a box) by SoftKey, with an AOL trial offered on-disc.
After the game's initial DOS release, a patch was issued to add support for early 3D accelerators running the S3 ViRGE chipset. Patches (also from Parallax) added Rendition Vérité and 3Dfx Voodoo support further down the line, and the Macintosh version could use RAVE-compatible 3D acceleration as well. Additionally, an unofficial 3Dfx version, known as "D2_3DFX", was released with Parallax's permission by a member of the 3Dfx developer team, which provided full support for the Voodoo 1 and Voodoo 2 expansion cards and the Voodoo 3 all-in-one graphics card. This version produced higher frame rates and higher-quality graphics compared to the official Parallax version, and was supported by members of the online community.
In 1998, the Descent II source code, like that of Descent before it, was released to the general public, leading to several community patch projects that are fully compatible with modern versions of Windows.
In January 2007, Descent II was re-released in downloadable form on GameTap. On September 9, 2008, it was bundled with Descent on GOG.com (then known as Good Old Games) as Descent + Descent 2. On February 19, 2014, Descent II was re-released on Valve's Steam digital distribution service.
In December 2015, Descent, Descent II and Descent 3 were withdrawn from Good Old Games. A representative of Parallax Software responded to speculation on the Good Old Games forums, regarding the withdrawal of the titles. It was claimed that Parallax- still in existence- owned the copyrights to the first two games, but had not been paid royalties on their sale since 2007 by publisher Interplay. As a result, Parallax had terminated the 21 year sales agreement, meaning Interplay no longer had permission to distribute Descent or Descent II. (This post did not touch on the reasons for Descent 3's removal). Descent and Descent II remained available through Steam as of 30 December 2015[update], despite Parallax's assertion that this should not be the case. The game was finally removed from Steam in July 2016. However, in November 2017, GOG.com announced that the Descent series would be available for sale again on their platform. The game has now also resurfaced on Steam.
Upon release, Descent II received very positive reviews from video game critics. Chris Hudak, writing for GameSpot, commented: "If you don't like Descent at least a little bit, make no mistake, there is something wrong with you." Todd Vaughn of PC Gamer praised the game's graphics and improved multiplayer features. In a very positive review, Michael E. Ryan of PC Magazine considered the Guide-Bot to be a valuable addition to the game "because the automap is just as confusing as it was in the original game". Geoff Keighley of Computer Games Magazine highlighted positively the enemy AI, but expressed concerns about the lack of outdoor levels (a feature later added in its sequel). Stephen Hill of TotalGames.net concluded: "If you don't own Descent, you'd be a fool to pass this sequel over. If you've played the first game to death and are looking for another challenge, then it is still worth a long, hard look." A reviewer for Maximum assessed that while Descent 2 is not a major advance over the original game, it has a much less frustrating difficulty and a Guide-Bot to make up for the confusion of the wireframe map, while retaining the 3D sensations and "ingenious structural design". A Next Generation critic opined that "When it comes to sequels, few can boast the improvements like those made on Descent II." He gave as examples the increase in resolution up to 800x600, the story sequences in full motion video, and the new items. While he remarked that it still follows the same mission formula as the original (find the key, open the door, blow up the reactor, then escape), he found the improvements to be more than sufficient. Next Generation made similar comments of the Macintosh version, and noted it as a then-unusual case of a Macintosh port arriving very shortly after the DOS version.
Descent Maximum received more mixed reviews. The most negative reviews came from Glenn Rubenstein of GameSpot and Shawn Smith of Electronic Gaming Monthly, both of whom said they disliked the entire Descent series and its basic concept of 3D navigation in levels which have no clear "up" or "down". Smith and his three co-reviewers all criticized that the PlayStation conversion suffers from an extremely choppy frame rate, though Crispin Boyer noted that the problem is largely eliminated when playing with the cockpit displays on (as opposed to full-screen mode). Both Boyer and Dan Hsu praised the additions over the original Descent, such as the Guide-Bot and the new lighting effects. Rubenstein disputed the criticisms of the frame rate, which he called "smooth", and GamePro's Major Mike said the frame rate only drops when the action is at its most intense. He praised the additions to the original Descent such as the FMV cutscenes, the Guide-Bot, and the Thief-Bot. A Next Generation critic was also pleased with these elements, summarizing that the game "features just enough improvements to the aging series to make it a welcome addition to the fold." However, he judged that the Descent series lacked the intensity and mood of the better first-person shooters.
Descent II was a finalist for CNET Gamecenter's 1996 "Best Action Game" award, which ultimately went to Quake. The editors wrote, "Descent II offered even more insane vertigo action than the original, plus an added bonus that set the tone for computer gaming in 1996--a multiplayer mode."
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Parallax Software, the software developer that created the popular three-dimensional action games Descent and Descent II, has released Descent's source code (version 1.5) to the public domain for non-commercial purposes.
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