The Descent franchise made its play back in 1995, and since has been benefit to a significant cult following. Last year developer Descent Studios took to Kickstarter and successfully funded a prequel to the original release, Descent: Underground, which is now available via Steam Early Access. ‘Early’ is the defining term here, as Descent: Underground in its current form is far from ready for virtual reality (VR) primetime.
Played on the HTC Vive, though also in development for the Oculus Rift, Descent: Underground is a modernisation of the much loved Descent formula. Players are mounted into a drone and given full six degrees of freedom (6DOF) movement; essentially the drones fly through an enclosed environment and can move not only forward, backwards and side-to-side, but up and down also. The level design accommodates this movement freedom very well, with tight corridors leading to vast open spaces. Tight one-on-one shootouts can evolve into battles between many craft in the space of seconds, and in this moment Descent: Underground is most certainly fun.
Sadly, in the space between battles the player may find the lack of forced orientation distressing in VR. While EVE: Valkyrie managed to ground the player with a horizon, Descent: Underground‘s subterranean mazes don’t afford the same opportunity. Moving at high speeds through these labyrinths without consciousness of orientation is daunting at times, and this – coupled with some absolute no-no’s in VR – can allow for the dreaded simulator sickness to rear its ugly head.
Despite the player been grounded in a vessel, the distance between solid edges of the environment and their craft is often hard to determine, resulting in unexpected collisions on areas of the drone that cannot be seen. This, coupled with frequent drops in framerate, result in a very uncomfortable experience.
On a desktop monitor, the variety of drones, weaponry and gameplay options coupled with the intense gunplay can lead to Descent: Underground being championed as the modernisation the franchise deserves. However, in VR the design has significant issues. While VRFocus wouldn’t suggest that these problems are unsolvable – they certainly have been resolved in other, similar videogame experiences – it would be advisable to steer clear of Descent: Underground‘s VR mode until such hurdles have been overcome. That final release build is likely only months away, and VRFocus will be sure to keep you updated with the progression of Descent: Underground‘s VR implementation.