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Six Degrees of Confusion

Posted Thursday, February 11th, 2016 6:10:00 am
Note: I come down pretty harshly on a few titles here that probably don't deserve it. Every title listed here is a good title in their own right, and deserves to at least be played through. The point is, nothing, yet, compares to Descent.

As you may know, I'm a pretty big Descent fan. I would even go as far as to say I'm a pretty big fan of the whole Six Degrees of Freedom genre. Really, if you want me to buy your game, make it a first person, Six Degrees of Freedom shooter. I'll buy it.

With that said, I have been a bit confused by the rash of 6DoF titles that have come out claiming they want to be as close to Descent as possible, and yet are doing things that... well, aren't very Descenty.

The Pretenders

There's Descent: Underground. This title seems to be doomed with poor net code that micro-repositions your ship just enough to throw your aim off, and a confusing scoring system that they are stubbornly sticking to. They have the name, but in my opinion they seem to be making their own 6DoF game.

There's Geocore, which I can best describe as a project lacking direction. Its single player mode has changed up literally half a dozen times since I've seen I started paying attention to it, and lacks the polish of other titles. It has a slogan of "competition grade", which is shown in its well-done net code, but honestly the original Descent has much better-looking weapons, and the game taxes my GPU like no other.

There's Sol Contingency, the game that originally was going to be Descent but got yanked from under them. While it has a very polished look, there are definitely some contrast issues that make it difficult to see what kind of action is happening in the game. I am also not a fan of the slow startup on its vulcan-like weapon.

There's Overload, the game made by the original Descent developers, who want to give us a modern version of Descent. Except, they have no initial plans for multiplayer, which is very much a core part of the Descent experience to me.

There's Retrovirus, a Descent-like game with a beautiful single player story, but horribly bad multiplayer play. The MOBA game mode was poorly done, and the spaces feel so large that it feels like it's impossible to properly aim. Not to mention the tech trees that let the king of the hill continue to be the king by granting well-performing players extra powers. Descent was a game that already had a wide skill gap, why make it wider?

While each of these titles are very good in their own right, as a fan of the Descent series, all of these titles miss the mark in one way or another. I am beginning to wonder if the experience of Descent can actually be recreated at all. Did Parallax happen upon some kind of magic formula for success that made the original game still the best game of the genre, even 21 years later? Is this 6DoF revival period just a bunch of pretenders trying to recreate the perfect Descent experience?

Or maybe am I overshooting my expectations?

The New Originals

Take Sublevel Zero. I had no expectations that this would be Descent, or anything like it. However, it is probably my favorite of the modern 6DoF games because of its rogue-like replayability, its crafting system that allows you to play the game the way you want to, and some AI that, while it could be smarter, does just enough to be dangerous if you're not paying attention. It has no multiplayer, but it never claimed to be Descent, so I don't expect it.

Take NeonXSZ. One of the few 6DoF games without inertial dampening (in English: your ship continues to move in the direction you moved it even after you stop moving in that direction), this game takes elements from puzzle games, action RPGs, and of course the 6DoF genre and brings it into an engaging environment where, again, you can play the game the way you want to. I didn't expect this to be Descent-like, and therefore was pleased with the polish of the game, as well as the action that came out of it.

And how about little-talked about Kromaia, the 6DoF bullet hell? This is about as far from the original Descent gameplay as you can get, because you want to kill as LITTLE as possible, or else the difficulty ramps up FAST. It's a different way to play a 6DoF, but it was still a fun game.

It seems the games that I have the LEAST expectation of being Descent are the ones I have the MOST fun playing.

Maybe I should cut my expectations short with these new games and take them for what they are, rather than having them try to be the old experience in new clothes, but I tell you what, that can be really hard to do.
Descent: Underground
Sol Contingency
Sublevel Zero


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