Self indulgent anecdote time: upon embarking upon this illustrious career, Descent was the first proper game I ever reviewed. I was mesmerised, spending the best part of my first week glued to the monitor, which was certainly better than working for a living. A year or so down the line and all I have to show for my time in this tawdry industry is a distended stomach, a chafed thumb, and numbers in the bank. I have clearly been here too long as things have now come full circle with the release of Descent II. Will it live up to the high standards set by the first game? Was Descent actually that good or was it a case of wide-eyed over-enthusiasm on my part? Has bitter cynicism permanently tarnished my opinion? I''ve no idea, so I suppose I''d best go and play the game.
Some days later: I have a dull ache in my right wrist. The reasons for this are two-fold. Last year, my arm was hideously shattered in a Paragon football match whilst chasing a hospital ball from Dave ''Filthy Animal'' Perry. Secondly, I have been gripping a Microsoft joystick like a dervish while tenaciously playing through the wonderful and frightening experience that is Descent II.
So, having transcended the pain barrier, what''s the score? The popular consensus is "well, it''s like Descent, innit?" Of course it''s like Descent, it''s the sequel to Descent, what do you expect? What you really want to know is whether it''s different enough to warrant shelling out 45 nicker if you already own the first game. Here we go then. The first major difference is the inclusion of a guide-bot. Que? A remote droid that sniffs out the various keys, exits, power-ups, reactors and bosses for you. This is an excellent idea as one of the criticisms levelled at the first game was the amount of time spent wandering aimlessly around with only the aid of a wire frame map. The guide-bot does away with this (providing you can find it), which is useful as the map is still rubbish. This certainly makes for a different type of game, but still causes some sticky moments as your boy is quick enough to ensure that you constantly get separated from him, which can be quite disturbing when the mine is about to self destruct. Purists can still play the way nature intended though, as the guide-bot can be left in its cage, or even ordered away if inadvertently set free.
Another addition is the inclusion of markers, which can be left around to denote areas already visited. This is a reasonable feature, but probably more useful to players opting to do without the guide-bot. The scenery is more interactive than in the first game, and lights can be shot out, plunging areas into darkness. This can be remedied though as the player''s ship comes with headlights and even flares which can be hurled into the darkest recesses to shed some light on the proceedings.
As far as enemies are concerned, the robots in Descent II are bigger and better and rougher and tougher, with hordes of particularly evil slags appearing thick and fast. Many require a huge amount of weaponry to destroy and it is in situations like this that your boy goes missing, leaving you to fight your way out.
The action is as fast and frantic as ever and it is virtually impossible to play Descent II without bucking and rearing in your seat. For the music, Interplay have enlisted the services of Ogre out of Skinny Puppy, who provides a suitably rocking soundtrack, which unfortunately momentarily pauses the action as the CD kicks in. On a decent stereo system though, the sounds in Descent II are practically unrivalled and it is a veritable sonic maelstrom.
The levels are extremely intricate, with some secret ones thrown in, and the gameplay is as exhilarating as ever. It supports all the network and modem gubbins any normal person could realistically ask for, and if you want to look a complete berk you can even slip on a headset. 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. Descent with knobs on it may be, but what a game, and what knobs.