Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Descent and Heretic

Today we’re going to take a trip in the wayback machine to 1994 for a pair of shooters that popped up on a number of gamers’ PCs — myself included. The Doom craze really lit a fire under the development of a lot of copycats, but the most interesting were the ones that genuinely tried something different.

Descent definitely accomplished this. Instead of running and gunning as a person, the player was put inside a small spaceship that would careen down the corridors and rooms of asteroid bases. The innovation here was, essentially, making the shooter a flying character. Attacks and action happened in three dimensions, not two.

It definitely made for wild level designs, although it was also really easy to get lost and turned around in some of these places. The 3-D map helped, but honestly, I didn’t want to stop the action to try to figure out a GPS.

The action here was fairly decent, with different weapons and shields and whatnot. The goal of each level was to find the base’s self-destruct button, hit it, and then turn around and race for the exit. That was a nail-biting moment, especially if you didn’t completely clear a level or memorize the path to the door.

I really appreciated that Descent had silky smooth gameplay, but the generic bases and robot enemies took away from the personality that so many of these shooters had.

Of course, if you wanted personality, you could just boot up Heretic. This was very much a Doom clone, only with more of a fantasy splatterfest theme. It had a few interesting innovations, such as being able to look up and down and fiddle with an inventory, but the basic Doom gameplay loop was in full effect.

I think that Heretic’s big appeal was simply its heavy metal fantasy tone. We really dug that sort of thing in the mid-1990s. I guess it felt rebellious? It certainly was too cartoonish and pixelated to feel real.

I never played Heretic as much as Doom and some others, but that’s probably because I only had the initial shareware episode. Looking back, I wonder if this had any impact on the development of Blizzard’s Diablo, because both seem to revel in this grimdark atmosphere.

One thought on “Nostalgia Lane: Descent and Heretic

  1. Ah, Heretic, Hexen, Hexen II. Played the heck out of those games at the time. The fantasy genre was a lot more popular with my friend group and myself in those days, over generic modern or sci-fi. It was the time of fantasy novel in those days too – David Eddings, Dragonlance, etc. so there must have been some popularity bleedover.

    I recall great efforts setting up virtual LAN games or direct modem to modem connections in an effort to get some multiplayer going. I was a terrible person in deathmatches, always going for the crossbow spawn to get a leg up weapon-wise. So many bullying kills on friends who didn’t even know what the map layout was.

    There was one super surprising day when a complete stranger somehow found our hosted game and jumped in. It was like, whoa, who is this person, mind blown. He actually put up the best fight I ever had, because both of us knew where the item goodies were, so it turned into this mind game race of running loops trying to catch the item respawn first and throw off the other guy’s item respawn resupply loop, while our less skilled friends just got blown up like afterthoughts in the background.

    Ah, the nostalgia of those early pioneer days. Now, by default, everyone’s a stranger in always connected lobbies online.

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