Descent is a six-axis mine crawler developed by Parallax Software and was one of the first major titles to feature complete 3D motion control, or 6 Degrees of Freedom. It has support for several popular flight sticks available at the time, as well as native head tracking and stereoscopic 3D support with the VFX1, I-O VR and Cybermaxx virtual reality headsets.
The story follows the Material Defender who's hired by the Post Terran Minerals Corporation (PTMC) under a mercenary contract to investigate and reconnaissance information regarding a virus spreading through mining robots on planets spanning across the solar system. Along the way, he blows up corrupted fusion reactors and rescues hostages who have been captured by the diabolical robots.
Each level takes place entirely underground in an intricate network of tunnels. Within every level typically features three locked doors that require color coded keycards, a reactor and an exit that is locked until the main objective is completed. The goal is to uncover the reactor and promptly destroy it, after which the player has a short amount of time to reach the exit. The primary obstacle keeping the player from their goal are rogue mining robots that attack on sight. An arsenal will assist them by finding weapons hidden in the mines or taking those dropped from destroyed robots. For extra points, each level contains hostages hidden somewhere in the mines, which will earn a rescue bonus if found.
Descent featured 30 levels, 3 of which were secret levels.
The levels took place on a series of mining stations starting on the moon and then moving progressively further away from earth. The final level was set on Pluto with the final boss battle set on Pluto's moon Charon.
These are the main firearms available to the Material Defender. They all use the ship's energy as ammo, except the Vulcan Cannon.
- Laser - The starting primary weapon fires a pair of lasers. It's fairly weak compared to what can be found later on, but it can be upgraded three times to become a greater threat.
- Spreadfire Cannon - An energy weapon that discharges three orbs simultaneously in an alternating vertical/horizontal pattern. Its wide impact range is good for taking down packs of robots.
- Vulcan Cannon - A ballistics weapon that doesn't rely on energy to fire and moves at extremely high speeds. When the batteries run dry, this weapon will automatically take over.
- Plasma Cannon - The plasma cannon is a rapid firing energy weapon that deals a lot of damage, but it also quickly drains energy.
- Fusion Cannon - This is a cannon that needs charging up. It consumes a lot of energy, but it is as good as it gets for non-missile damage. The projectiles also over-penetrate targets for potential multikill action. Overcharging will result in damage to the player's own ship.
These are ammo-dependent missile weapons the Material Defender must pick up along the way to keep stocked. They generally do more damage than their laser-based counterparts.
- Concussion Missile - This is the standard short range missile. While it doesn't have the ability to lock onto targets, it's good for breaking up groups of enemies. There will be no shortage of these.
- Homing Missile - Unlike the concussion missile, the homing missile will lock onto the nearest enemy.
- Proximity Mine - Lay these down to destroy or impair unsuspecting foes. These are especially useful for multiplayer matches.
- Smart Missile - Upon detonation, the smart missile disperses shots that resemble those of the plasma cannon, except they lock onto nearby enemies. These are harder to find, but are extremely potent.
- Mega Missile - A large (one could say "mega"-sized) missile that does crazy damage. It also sports a decent blast radius on impact, flinging hapless evil robots to and fro around any room in which it's fired.
Due to the weapons being primarily lasers the ship uses energy to power its weapons, with the exception of the vulcan cannon. Energy power ups can be found around the levels and are also dropped by enemies once they have been destroyed. Energy maxes out at 200.
Shields are used as health and can be replenished by picking up power orbs around the level. The maximum power of the shields is 200. If a player finishes a level with below 100 shields they are restored to 100 at the start of the next level.
If the players ship is destroyed all the power'ups he/she has picked up over the corse of time will be dropped around the place where they died as power ups.
The PC and Mac versions of Descent offered multiplayer deathmatch and co-op for up to 8 players over LAN connection. Unlike other multiplayer shoots of the time, for instance Doom, games didn't have to be set up with the players queued up before the match is initiated. In descent players could join games on the fly, and games could be easily set up from an in game menu.
The PlayStation version allowed to players to compete against each other across two systems using the PlayStation Link Cable.
In 2010 Interplay announced they would port Descent to Nintendo Wii, though as of 2013 it still hasn't been released, and no additional information on the state of the port has been announced.
The PC version had a MIDI soundtrack, consisting of 27 tracks composed by Ken Allen, Brian Luzietti, Larry Peacock, Leslie Spitzer, Jim Torres and Tim Wiles, heavily influnced by Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails and other contemporary electronic bands.
The PlayStation and Mac versions used CD audio, 17 tracks in total, mostly consisting of remixes of the PC version's soundtrack, but also featuring 4 licensed songs by Nivek Ogre (from Skinny Puppy) and Type-O Negative, which later also appeared in Descent 2 across all platforms. Parts of the Mac soundtrack was available as a downloadable extra in the GOG.com release of Descent 1 and 2, but the licensed music was not included.