Parallax Software. A company who only exists in name alone and was, essentially, a one-hit wonder. Was it a bad one-hit?
Short answer is definitely not.
Descent and Descent 2 (as well as some expansions, I will talk about those later) ended up reorganizing Parallax into two companies. Why? Well, after Descent 2, half of the team wanted to go work on other things, such as Freespace, and later on Red Faction and Saints Row, so they renamed Parallax to Volition, and Outrage left to work on Descent 3. Outrage Entertainment ended up working on Descent3 and its expansion, D3: Mercenary. They also did a game called Alter Echo which nobody's ever played but it got reviews harbored at around 68/100, then by disappearing.
That is, until they banded together with Volition (perhaps it was Volition's own doing) as the Parallax Software name still existed legally and Interplay took the money they were making from Descent, and ran with it instead of paying their royalties.
Now, with that all out of the way, why don't I talk about the game?
Good job to Parallax on designing the font for Japanese for the PS1 release. It looks nice. Descent Maximum nor the PC version of D2 ever had a JP release but the PC version of 3 did...
Descent is a FPS with flight simulator controls. Move in any direction you want at any time you want. All three games developed by Parallax/Outrage play similarly, fortunately. With that being said, Descent is not an easy game. Partly for some reasons that are just dumb and partly for the levels being very contrived and maze-like. Get the blue, yellow and red keys, get the hostages, destroy the reactor and reach the exit before the mine blows up.
I'll talk about the level design first. In Descent, Descent 2, Descent 2 The Vertigo Series and D3, the levels are very complicated. Very, VERY complicated at times. They went all out with the "mine" theming and, well, it kind of shows with lots of tunnels everywhere. Sometimes you get levels with design that is, if nothing else, questionable as to why that would be designed that way in a mine. Don't forget about firing your flares, as a lot of mines are dark. And don't use that headlight in Descent 2 much, as it will hog your energy.
Descent Maximum however, doesn't have that, or at least, not as extreme of a case. The levels do like being labyrinthic and have confusing puzzles at times (and with playing it on the PS1, the HW limitations just not making it look all too pretty, but hey, one thing at a time here), but Maximum has smaller levels with less open areas as compared to Descent 2. That is however, because of the PS1's limited draw distance, and with the game already doing 10-15 FPS, they weren't going to push their luck. Maximum, in all fairness, is the version I've played the most of. As well as the PS1 port of the first game, which only came in a plastic longbox that is very susceptible to damage.
There is honestly a couple problems with the PS1 ports other than the HOG incompatiblity with the PC version (like when you go to play source ports), but that is the overall graphical fidelity. It doesn't look pretty, and I really want to give the PS1 a fair shake, seeing as it was not built for Descent and all of its polygons. Descent chugs along, and it plays decently well for that matter. It also supports the Analog Joystick if you have one of those. I don't know how well it plays, but I figure it would play nicely as the PS1 analog sticks seem to work like flightsticks. They also always use the CD OSTs in an XA form, soundtracks of which I will talk about later.
The automap is also quite confusing for me, so I often tend not to use it.
Yes, one res is 1280x1024 (The actual max resolution for Descent II on PC when being run vanilla) and the other is 1280x800.
The weapons in the game work well. You have your base lasers, a minigun called the Vulcan Cannon (no affiliation to the alien race or graphics engine), a Spreadfire Cannon, a Plasma Cannon and a Fusion Cannon. Now, say what you want about the Fusion Cannon, but that thing is uncontrollable. You jitter around and you can't aim, but when you shoot, damn does your shot do damage. That just depends on if it actually hit its target. Plasma and Spreadfire are both good, but the Vulcan is if you want to do a lot of shots without wasting energy. (Vulcan rounds are a separate thing, while the rest of the weapons use energy from your ship. Fusion shots take a lot of energy which makes them missing even more frustrating.)
As secondary weapons go, you have Concussion Missiles, Homing Missiles, Proximity Mines, Smart Missiles and Mega Missiles. Concussion are baseline, no strings attached missiles. Homing are like the Concussion Missiles but with more kick and chase for a while. Proximity Mines are a thing you leave out behind you and drop in case you have robots chasing your tail. Not too useful in my experience. Smart Missiles are missiles that contain plasma shots that hone in on you if an enemy shoots them or an enemy if you shoot them. Mega Missiles are just WMDs and are if you need to nuke a boss quick.
Enemies. Here we go. You have the basic enemies that will just be a nuisance, complete pains in the ass and bosses. The level 7 (Mercury Core) boss is a huge pain in the ass with its Smart Missiles and all the Super Hulks in the arena with you (red robots that shoot Homing missiles endlessly and have strong defense). Be forewarned. These enemies are also a massive difficulty spike. The Super Hulks are the worst with the Drillers (robots that shoot Vulcan rounds at you) being a close second. Others are just enemies I don't care about, but there are a few other pains in my side, one in particular that make annoying noises (INCLUDING the Drillers) and just are frustrating to deal with. In Descent 2, the Homing missiles were definitely toned way down in how much damage they did. Thank goodness.
Descent 2 on the other hand has robots that are a lot more tolerable except for one twat.
The Thief Bot.
This little turdmonkey will steal your weapons and afterburner and headlight if it gets the chance to ram into you. Then you have to chase it down. There's a secret level where it just spawns Thief Bots. Find the reactor and get the hell outta there ASAP. You have to move quick because it will turn on a dime as well.
Oh, and as of note, Descent 2 adds a few more things that were well deserved.
Five primary weapons, five secondary weapons, an afterburner, a headlight and an ammo rack. The weapons added are as follows:
Super Laser levels (two extra to the regular laser, totaling to 6), the Gauss Cannon which is a suped-up Vulcan Cannon, the Helix cannon which is a line of five shots and goes in a spiral, a suped-up Spreadfire Cannon. The Phoenix Cannon, a ricochet Plasma Cannon and the Omega Cannon, which is supposed to be the most powerful weapon in the game but hell if I know how to use it properly.
The Flash Missile, which is a distraction weapon. Basically like a smokescreen. The Guided Missile, which is as it says on the tin, Smart Mines, which are gold Proximity Mines that send homing projectiles, Mercury Missiles, which I don't know what they really do to be considered as powerful, but then again I mainly rely on primary weapons. Last of note is the blue Eathshaker Missiles which are useful against the final boss where its weak spot is behind it. The Earthshaker sends shockwaves outwardly from where it was shot, to mention why it's useful in that occasion.
Also, a full automap in some stages.
These secondary weapons can be selected by hitting the weapon number key on the keyboard again.
The Ammo Rack is like the Ammo Backpack in Doom. It allows you to double your ammo capacity. It's imparative that you get it asap. The Headlight allows you to see in dark places as mentioned before and the Afterburner is a speed boost. Don't forget to get those colored keys, btw. Like in Doom, in all of the Descent games from the first to Maximum, there's colored keys to collect. As is expected.
I will mention multiplayer here as I have actually had decent amounts of experience in this game. The best mode to play on is anarchy, as then you kill each other and try to set off the reactor before everyone else knows where the exit is. Don't forget trying to kill each other for the best weapons. It's complete and total madness, but is also pretty damn great. You can also play co-op and such, but what's the point in that when you can just have a deathmatch where you stab each other in the back, huh?
Graphically, this game looks good for its time. Impressive even, noting how much calculation is going on and how many polys the game has to deal with. Looks like nothing by todays standards, but in the days where Quake was cutting edge, this game is impressive. There are some 2D sprites still used, but most things are still 3D.
Sound-wise, this game kicks ass. The MIDI soundtrack is best when played through an SC-55 especially. But, the most thing of note is the CDDA soundtrack (XA on the PS1). At first, when I got Descent Maximum however long ago, I was not a fan because I wanted the MIDI tracks. Then it slowly grew on me and I eventually ended up loving it, especially for some tracks. Some songs are also pretty notably good at containing their MIDI origins' melody, such as Virtual Tension being based off of Lunar Scilab (Descent tracks), but the MIDI music in Descent 2 just isn't good, not nearly close by a long shot. It just loops the same four tracks.
However, there is one song from Descent II that I'd like to especially make note of, with Virtual Tension from Descent being a close second. The track is called Pain, and while it may sound edgy, it's got a very tense feel and just sounds cool. Long version notably off of the expansion pack's CD, the Vertigo Series. Other long versions of Decent 2 CD tracks are in the Infinite Abyss/Vertigo Series 2 CD bundle.
The game has a plot, even if not really too much of mention. You play as Material Defender, a missionary sent out to clean infected mines of robots. After clearing the first game, MD, instead of being relieved of duty, is sent out to clean out more mines. After doing all of that, Dravis then decides that Material Defender doesn't need to be paid and overloads the warp core installed into MD's ship at the beginning of the game. In Descent 3, we find out that he created the virus (?) and he uses it just for his own evil. MD wants nothing more than his money and sets out to take care of Dravis himself and deactivate the virus, which both he does, but not after the guide-bot (in the final cutscene of Descent 3) kills Dravis, really the most useful thing that bot does for you. MD then deactivated the virus, gets his money and goes and sleeps for the rest of his life like he deserved in the first place.
The last thing to mention is the source ports. Now, personally, I stick to DXX-Rebirth, but some use D2X-XL. I haven't gotten it to work (it requires too many downloads that should really be bundled with D2X-XL itself if they're required for the game to load and actually work), and D2X-XL does the trick I want it to do anyways. If you want to play the game now, don't use DOSBox and I don't recommend playing it on the PS1. The Maximum maps have been ported to PC for the source ports anyways, so they're unnecessary unless you just want to play them on the PS1, to which then, more power to you. Just don't play the PC version with a mouse.
Would I recommend this game?
Yes. Just be aware that it may take some getting used to playing first.
PC Descent Maximum maps available here: