Descendent Studios has released the first-person shooter Descent: Underground on Steam Early Access. The game is a prequel to Descent, the first-person shooter game released over 20 years ago in 1994. Needless to say, the graphics have gotten a major upgrade; as miner who remote-pilots drones through twisting underground labyrinths, blasting competing drones and collecting precious resources, you’ll get to experience six degrees of freedom rendered in detail by the Unreal Engine 4. The full version of the game is expected to release in March 2016, but right now you can explore three maps, pilot three ships, fight bots, jump into a quick match and more; in other words, plenty of content for a preview!
Descent: Underground has both a single-player and multiplayer mode, and seems to be targeting fans of the original game. There are five ships to choose from initially, with presumably more becoming available as the game progresses. The preview allows players to go through a Test Flight, which will almost certainly be needed to get used to the gameplay. After that, players have the option of playing against bots as well as taking part in online multiplayer matches.
One of the distinct features of the original Descent was that it included six degrees of freedom (6DoF) gameplay. Descent: Underground includes this same feature, which gives players more freedom of movement. This feature does take some getting used to, particularly for people like yours truly who never played the original. The key to mastering the gameplay quickly is to use a controller rather than a keyboard. Using a controller or joystick will allow you to take full advantage of the 6DoF gameplay and actually play the game the way it was meant to be played.
The game itself is not bad, but definitely needs work to appeal to an audience beyond fans of Descent. The graphics are solid but nothing to get excited about, and the design of the menu is confusing to navigate. There also needs to be a clear objective for each mission, and this is something that is lacking as of now. The Test Flight mode would be better served by introducing players to how the game works, providing hints on how to fire missiles, and identifying shields and such, rather than just letting players get used to flying.
Hopefully developers will provide an easier way for players to maneuver with a mouse and keyboard, otherwise this may turn off PC gamers who do not have a controller or joystick. Another feature that should be considered is some sort of map or arrow for players to see which direction enemies are shooting from. Mainly because there are many times where bots can appear from one of half a dozen hallways or doors and shoot before you have a chance to figure out where they’re coming from.
This can only be a review of the Early Access content, but based on that Descent: Underground seems to offer neither more nor less than what it is: a shooter. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But as someone who is more interested in story-focused games this preview was not especially appealing. We’ll have to wait for the full release, and its single player campaign, to see if the shooting come with a compelling story.
Gameplay - 4/10
Design - 6/10
Descent: Underground looks promising for fans of the original as well as first-person shooter fans. But unless the full version features any type of campaign or story mode, anyone who does not fit into either of those two categories may want to sit this one out.