Descent – The classic MS-DOS Game
Descent is an excellent PC game from the good old MS-DOS era, developed by Parallax Software and Interplay Productions during the 1990s.
The main developers were Mike Kulas and Matt Toschlog (founders of Parallax Software), and the game was released back in 1995 for MS-DOS PC, Macintosh, Playstation and Acorn Archimedes.
It’s a First Person Shooter and 6DOF videogame, and it mixes some mechanics from classic Arcade shooters and Flight Simulation games.
The player navigates a ship through rooms and corridors on futuristic space mining stations while defeating hostile robots infected by a computer virus.
The game also supported online Multi-Player, being the Cooperative and Anarchy modes the most popular and played ones.
There’s still an active community that plays the game online, be it either in a casual manner or in competitive ladders (like the ‘Descent Rangers‘)
There were a couple of sequels titled Descent II and Descent 3, as well as expansion sets known as Vertigo and Mercenary (for Descent II and 3 respectively).
Descent, Descent II and Descent 3
The first Descent game contained 30 levels (27 + 3 secret), and the objective throughout all of them were to kill as many robots as possible, rescue hostages, gather keys (Doom style), destroy the main reactor to start a self-destruct sequence and find the exit to escape the mine.
Although Descent II (1996, MS-DOS) repeated the formula, it included control panel switches, force fields and new puzzles that added some new gameplay mechanics. It also added many new enemy robots and weapons, and featured 30 levels as well (24 + 6 secret).
Descent 3 (1999, Windows 95) was a bit more innovative, adding full 3D accelerated graphics (Direct3D, OpenGL and 3Dfx), more than one ship to pilot, new enemies with new A.I., scripting capabilities and many new gameplay elements and puzzles, making the main campaign more story-driven and fully scripted, replacing the key-gathering-selfdestruct-escape formula. The campaign featured 17 levels (15 + 2 Secret).
The games can still be played and are available through GOG.com and Steam.
There’s another title with the Descent name on it (Descent: Freespace), although it’s not actually related to the original franchise, even if due to legal issues it got the name and it was developed by Volition (a company founded by Mike Kulas).
Playing Descent on modern systems
Although the games can be played closely to the original experience using DosBox or PCem, there are some bugs and problems encountered when playing on modern computers.
Much like Doom, there are a couple of Source Ports for both Descent and Descent II that allows us to play them on modern computers running Windows 7 – 10, MacOS or Linux and using high resolutions (HD, 1080p, 4K, etc).
These ports are DXX-Rebirth and D2X-XL.
The first one is a straight-forward port that corrects many bugs and adds many features while still retaining a ‘vanilla’ feel to it, while the second one is a more flexible and powerful port (specially for modders and designers) that adds lots of new graphical, gameplay and scripting features, as well as new multiplayer modes, although it has been reported that sometimes it has problems to run on certain computers.
Custom fanmade levels
All of the Descent games features very good level editors like DLE, SDLDevil and D3Edit, allowing fans to create completely new levels and campaigns.
There are lots of levels and level packs available on the net designed for both Solo and Online play, including a 100+ level expansion set released in the 90s known as Levels of The World.
You can find many of these fan-created levels on dedicated repositories like the Descent Mission Archive, Descent2.de Level Spotlight, Sector Game D3 Sector and Pooterman’s.
Since the 90s and up to this day there are still some active communities with players and level designers from all around the world, but perhaps the biggest one is the Descent BB.
Overload by Revival Studios
In recent years and due to a re-emergence of the 6DOF genre, a couple of Descent-related projects appeared, known as Descent: Underground and Overload.
Although Descent: Underground (renamed simply as Descent) has not been yet released due to development and legal issues, Overload (developed by Revival Studios) got released in 2018 on both GOG and Steam.
Overload can be considered a spiritual successor of the original Descent games of the 90s, as it was developed by the original Parallax Software founders Mike Kulas and Matt Toschlog, Luke Schneider (Level designer and programmer for Descent 3 and developer of the Entropy campaigns) and other members of development teams from previous Descent games. It also brought back the original core gameplay mechanics and aesthetics of Descent to this era.
From past to present day (video)
“Pumo Mines” – Pumo Software own modding project
As a big fan of the franchise I’ve been developing a single-player mod and campaign for the D2X-XL source port since some years ago, although it has not been completed at its full scope (yet).
This project is known as Pumo Mines, and it features completely new and original story and characters, music, robot enemies, weapons and high-resolution graphics.
Header image credits goes to M. Hayes.
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