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SummaryThe game that inspired laziness in the game industry.
The GoodThe idea of welding a role-playing game set in the Forgotten Realms universe with the true-3D graphics of the award-winning Descent engine sounds all well and good. I mean, even after games like Descent and Quake set true-3D as a new standard for graphical engines, about 70% of the first-person shooters out there at the time (even Interplay's own Redneck Rampage) were still using 2.5-D engines like the Build engine from Duke Nukem 3D. That said, it was a luxury at the time to be playing a true-3D game: rather than the cartoonish environments and flat animations of 2.5-D engines, you get realistic, 3-D environments and characters.
The BadThat is, if it's not executed as poorly as in a horribly unfinished mess of a game like Descent to Undermountain. Like I said on my trivia piece for the game, Interplay threw this mess out the door in Christmas 1997 only so that they could meet the original deadlines for the game, regardless of whether it was finished or not. Wait a minute! Considering how Interplay took their sweet time with the Descent series, Fallout, and Redneck Rampage, among the other classics that they've developed and/or published, that is absolutely no excuse for the very poor quality of Descent to Undermountain. Additionally, do they know how serious an offense that is when the game they're throwing out the door in an unfinished state is being developed as a triple-A title? Do they know how serious it is when the developer has had an excellent reputation for releasing triple-A quality games (before this, of course)? It's more serious than you'd think: as a result of Descent to Undermountain shipping in a horrible state, many other developers have seemed to start following the "throw-this-game-out-the-door-without-any-beta-testing" model...only because Interplay pioneered it!
Let's face it: Descent to Undermountain is far from the worst game ever, even for the time. However, it was the most buggy, unfinished piece of crap that I've played as of 1997, and still one of the most buggy, unfinished pieces of crap today. Even when you apply the patch that was released in early 1998, far too many of the game's problems still remain. Here's what Descent to Undermountain has to offer you:
Like I said, I do like true-3D graphics, since they look less cartoonish and flat than in 2.5-D games like Duke Nukem 3D. However, Descent to Undermountain is probably the only game at the time to screw up a true-3D graphics engine (in this case, the Descent engine). (But believe me, it's certainly not the only game to screw up true-3D graphics today.) Descent to Undermountain's graphics doesn't even look close to those in the Descent games. While the Descent games offered detailed, high-polygon, atmosphere-rich graphics, Descent to Undermountain offers the exact opposite. Add butt-ugly, pixelicious textures, and you have the electronic equivalent of seeing a crap-filled toilet. Oh, and by the way, why in the world does the back of the game's jewelcase claim the graphics to be so wonderful? The screenshots on the back of the box sure don't look good at all...
With such horrible graphics, you'd bet that the graphics were watered down to maintain a silky-smooth framerate. But anyone who makes that assumption is horribly, horribly wrong. In fact, even at 320x200 resolution, minimum screen size, minimum detail, and a PC with a Pentium-200 and 64 MB of RAM, the framerate was so horrible that I literally became nauseated after playing. Don't even get me started on how bad it is if you play at higher graphical settings.
Given the abysmal framerate, it's already hard to enjoy the game regardless of how good the underlying gameplay is. But even without all of its programming and graphical woes, Descent to Undermountain is a mediocre game at its best. The level design is terrible, with overly maze-like environments and the same dull, brownish look on each level. The combat isn't any fun, either, given the laughably bad AI that seems to not even notice the fact that they're being slashed to pieces.
And last but not least...
Bugs, bugs, and more bugs!
Even mentioning how bug-infested this product is would be giving it far too much credit! Non-flying monsters that float through the air anyways (did the programmers even remove the zero-grav physics from the original Descent engine?), ongoing collision detection problems, constant crashes to DOS, and a primitive sound engine that won't play sound effects and music unless you have a pure Sound Blaster 1.0 card. Not a Sound Blaster 2.0, Pro, 16, AWE32, or Sound Blaster clone, but a pure Sound Blaster 1.0. This is just as inexcusable as every other aspect of the game, as Interplay didn't make their own sound engine for their other games, rather using Human Machine Interfaces' superb DOS-based sound system. So why didn't they use the HMI sound system for Descent to Undermountain? Like every other aspect of the game, it's probably just due to sheer laziness. Heck, almost everyone had already thrown out their Sound Blaster 1.0 by 1997, making this even more inexcusable. If you can get the sound effects working, however, you'll be treated to some decent, albeit unspectacular, sound effects and music.
The Bottom LineA word to Interplay: thank you very much for undermining our trust in the game industry. You guys did a great job. (sarcasm, of course)
A word to consumers: Avoid Descent to Undermountain by any means necessary, and don't say I didn't warn you!