Descent II follows in the wake of the original with more pulse pounding, underground, laser-blasting action. The sequel has 30 new weapons, new enemy robots and 30 additional levels, but the overall effect is diminished by repetitive gameplay.
Action becomes intense quickly, and even at the rookie skill level you're faced with several enemies at once, though the easier levels initially challenge you with a single enemy and builds as you make your way to different rooms. At the end of the first level, you're bombarded with several robots, including the final 'bot that fires large spheres of ammunition." Defeating the enemy results in an animation of the area being destroyed as you head for the level's exit.
Despite the initial difficulty in mastering the controls, enemies are not hard to destroy. Even though you can map the buttons on standard game pads such as the Gravis Game Pad Pro, the afterburners don't seem to work. This results in some very slow action, unless you use the keyboard in conjunction with the game pad. By default, then, the best and easiest way to play is with the keyboard, with two keys to move forward and backward (e.g., A and Z) and the arrow keys to set your direction.
Keyboard keys can be mapped to user preference, and though they're easy to learn, controlling your ship is difficult since you can too easily turn your ship upside down. While disorienting, once you understand how to use the arrow keys with the afterburners, staying upright isn't difficult. Aiming at enemies and firing weapons accurately is initially tough since you have to move quickly in every direction.
The scenery is limited due to the entire game's environment being underground. The terrain changes with the addition of lava, caverns, and water, but the colors are very similar from place to place. After playing for a few hours, you'll wish the next turn would lead you to daylight. Descent II isn't much different from the first game in this aspect, except for the new enemies and unfamiliar 'bots.
At many points during the game, power-ups give you additional functions and enhance gameplay. Without upgraded weapons, action would become boring and stale, but fortunately the huge arsenal prevents that particular malady. Even in the first level, you find shield, missile and laser power-ups in virtually every room, which constantly change weapon capability and shield power. Rewards of guided missiles, double and triple shot lasers, and more keep the action fresh.
Special power-ups include afterburners and a floodlight you can turn on and off at will. If your ship is destroyed, all power-ups are lost and you begin again with your initial weaponry. However, if you can get back to the exact point at which you were destroyed, you get the power-ups back, though you probably needed them to get that far in the first place. Enemies vary in size, shape and movement, with some incredibly quick and others sluggish. 'Bots can be used to scout out rooms before you enter, allowing a degree of logic in planning moves.
As a space shooter, Descent II has full 3D movement and underground terrain, but isn't appreciably different in this respect from the original. Typically, space shooters involve side-scrolling or 3D space simulations with many enemy fighters attacking you at once. Descent II allows you to stop on a dime, hover in mid-air, or hide behind rocks and other structures to ambush the enemy.
Descent II definitely improves on its predecessor with enhanced enemies that can track your every move, 30 new levels and weapons, and fact action. Fans of Descent will find new life underground and can even team up with seven other players over the Internet for cooperative matches. Conversely, there are no drastic gameplay changes and the levels look very much the same as those in the original.
Graphics: The 360-degree motion is still the best feature. The levels can get repetitive since the environments are limited to underground terrain.
Sound: The weapon and enemy sounds are typical of most shooters, and combined with the music make a pleasant enough background for killing robots underground.
Enjoyment: The fun is in short term play, as levels tend to lose their spark after you've been through a few. The introduction of new weapons as you progress enhances gameplay, and action gets intense when three or four enemy 'bots are attacking at the same time. Mastery of the controls can take time, and the problem with using afterburners on a game pad is unfortunate.
Replay Value: Thirty levels offer quite a bit of initial gameplay and getting through them once will take a considerable time investment. If you do complete them, multiplayer games offer additional game life.
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