Perhaps the greatest sign of a game's success is neither the volume of its sales nor the glowing praise bestowed on it by game reviewers, but rather the quantity of imitators it spawns. Interplay's Descent is a game that richly illustrates this: although a distant Doom clone itself, Descent has generated a sizable number of subsequent attempts to replicate its incredible freedom of motion combined with exciting gameplay (ironically, the latest in the Descent series--the forthcoming Descent Freespace: The Great War--seems to be moving in a new direction copying from Origin's Wing Commander series). Within the last month two major game releases, Forsaken by Acclaim and Adrenix by Playmates Interactive Entertainment, fall squarely into this Descent-clone category.
The storyline in Adrenix is a pretty standard one. In 2045 a nuclear accident in China triggers a global disease epidemic, but fortunately a government-run medical research firm named Medtech develops a new drug code-named Adrenix that not only promotes healing but also improves strength and pain resistance. Unfortunately, the drug has toxic side-effects on humans, but the American military establishment in its quest for global hegemony demands that Medtech continue research on it using human subjects. In the process of complying with this directive, Medtech destroys the home and kidnaps the fiance (to be an experimental subject) of a former government pilot named Scott Griffin. He then joins forces with the rebels he once hunted to rescue his girlfriend, seek vengeance, and thwart the ominous actions of Medtech.
Playing the role of Griffin, you engage in a series of assault, sabotage, assassination, search-and-rescue, and reconnaissance missions. You roam streets, alleys, and caves in huge futuristic underground cities, piloting a powerful and advanced flying craft armed with diverse weapons like swarm missiles, machine guns, electric zappers, and tactical nuclear weapons. In the process, you confront a wide variety of foes, including land and water tanks, gunboats, airborne drones, stationary gun turrets, and flying ships with capabilities similar to your own.
The nature of the missions and the openness of the environment distinguish this game sharply from typical 3D first-person shooters with their narrow corridors, "shoot everything in sight" objectives, and intrusive keycard transit systems. Having the gameplay be mission-based, rather than simply destroying everything on a level before preceding to the next, is a mark of distinction in itself. The detailed city settings pose quite a contrast to the bland generic cramped tunnels of military installations so common in this type of game. You can even leave bullet hole markings on the walls. Of course, most 3D first person shooters do not support a full six degrees of freedom in movement--up, down, forward, backward, left, and right--the way Adrenix does.
All you need to know about Adrenix is that it's a Descent clone - and that it isn't very good. Like any first-person shoot 'em up, you progress through missions picking up an increasingly lethal arsenal and using it to destroy every grunt/strogg/pigcop that gets in your way. In this case, the bad guys are hideously designed spacecraft that look like they've been made out of Duplo bricks rather than textured polygons.
Because you fly rather than run, you get to see a lot more of the abandoned scenery close up. It's no wonder the levels are deserted - everyone obviously decided to pick up and move somewhere more scenic (probably Runcorn). It's not that the levels aren't varied, it's just that they're hugely uninspired. It's just a case of a few tunnels and shafts connecting a few subterranean cities. Weapons and explosions also look weak - the massive ground-swallowing explosions looking like ever-expanding bogeys rather than flesh-searing fireballs.
The fear inherent in most games of this type and the claustrophobia associated with Descent has been lost. The game doesn't so much unfold as flop open. It seems the developers have done a color-by-numbers job without any real enthusiasm for originality or any knowledge of what makes a game 'play'. There's no sense of involvement and few surprises.
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