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Descent to Undermountain is a very disappointing and buggy first-person RPG from Interplay. Other than a decent plot set in the popular Forgotten Realms (AD&D) universe and using the same engine that powers the hit Descent series, this game is botched in just about every other aspect. The Adrenaline Vault's critical but revealing review explains how the AD&D license was wasted:
"Originally advertised as a true cooperative multiplayer adventure, DtU had the feature axed from it a few months before release. The RPG community, who had been anxiously awaiting an authentic networkable RPG, basically feels shafted. The game could have almost been fun if there was somebody else in it with you, and given the expanse of Descent's ability to multi-play, the resulting removal of this option is baffling.
The graphics are, of course, completely bereft of any acceleration options. Enemies are crudely crafted polygonal characters with ugly, 8 bit texture art stretched haphazardly over their heads. The result is that nearly all of them look pained, as if they are mutations who once appeared semi-presentable. The monsters leap weirdly up and down, and while some of the animation could be passable if it weren't so choppy, it still comes off as very cheap. The game runs on a pixel-bleeding antique version of the Descent code, and even on my P166 with 80 megs of ram, I had to turn the detail down to minimum to get an acceptable framerate in full-screen mode. By minimum, I don't mean that the textures looked a little blockier and the viewable distance reduced a touch. No. This "feature" essentially turned everything more than three steps from me into flat shaded bounding boxes. Everyone knows that an RPG does not have to flaunt the latest in imaging technology to be a good game. But this simply isn't up to par. 'Tis thoroughly unacceptable by today's standards, in the graphical department. Enough said about my aching eyes.
Furthermore, the program code itself appears old, cranky, and somewhat senile. I installed the patch before giving it the birth run, and it still performed like a decrepit, befuddled wizard who's been sniffing the mandrake powder too heavily. The AI present here is lamentable. Enemies will lurch unsteadily toward you in a slippery manner, which betrays the complete lack of object-to-surface code. They spend their spare time smashing their foreheads against walls, and twitching nervously from one frame to the next. Collision detection was left out of these poor saps' DNA. But they can surf in mid-air.
Eventually, I forced myself to ignore all these aesthetic and architecture-spawned blights, and focused on gameplay. I reduced my time-honored full-screen mode to the windowed version where all my statistical info took up 60 percent of the screen space. It ran decently when so limited, and I started over from the beginning, this time with my mind on how much enjoyment I could distill from the characters and storyline.
To its merit, the title sports a solid, accurate AD&D character generation system. Not only can you create all the typical classes and races, but the added ability to play a dark-elven Drow adventurer will have all the Drizzt Do'Urden fans clapping for joy. With only minor referrals to the game's average manual, you will be able to create a pretty smooth in-game persona. One side note: the 2D character portraits are painted masterfully. For the first time in any RPG, I had a picture of my character that fit his opportunistic personality.
The quests take the form of simple dungeon hacks, referring to the actual AD&D system of battle only with regards to armor class and spell memorization. You cut apart the sinister inhabitants of each area, and haul off their goodies. The few stationary NPCs you find will engage in basic conversations with you. Typically, if you give them aid, they will help you along your way. One of the distinct problems here is that when you speak to someone, the screen freezes into an ugly purplish-bluish gray, and the text appears over the top of it. The verbal interaction is achieved through clicking on responses to statements. Simple, but not impressive in the least. I'd have loved to actually hear those creatures, especially considering the time this title took to reach the markets.
The catacombs are laid out in sprawling sub-corridors, each spawning off a locked door that you can access from the central "hubs". Khelben gives you something to access each of these when you complete the preceding quest for him, so the gameplay is linear, but entertaining in that simple sense. Most of these sub-dungeons have a theme, and the creatures you find within correspond with that flavor perfectly. Of course, the beasties get meaner and meaner (though not any smarter) as you go along. I think the mathematical difficulty was scaled correctly, but I cannot consider the title a challenge because of the myriad disturbing flaws in monstrous attitude.
The magic and allure of the Forgotten Realms cannot be captured by a poor, dated Descent conversion. Role playing elements are minimal, and gameplay is linear and typical, even if mildly amusing. The entire visual engine should have been scrapped and rewritten, and the supporting design elements are not strong enough to hold this collapsing castle. Desperate fans of the AD&D world may be able to derive some minor, fleeting enjoyment from the character system and nifty sub-features. But when taken in context of time and technology, this is simply not what the RPG world wants."
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Descent to Undermountain screenshot
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