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Descent (1995) – How hitscan ruins everything

Content of the article: "Descent (1995) – How hitscan ruins everything"

I was playing Descent (1995) on the rebirth source port. People have described it as a space sim, and while it is definitely one of the pioneers of that genre, the game itself is more of an evolution of the original Doom. It is a first-person shooter with a 6-degree movement. The levels where you navigate, find secrets, get keycards to open the door to progress, is very conventional FPS level design. And I was loving it…

Until level 6.

So, up to this point, the combat was about the projectile-based shooting. Every single attack, both from the enemy and the player (except for the player's vulcan cannon), was a physics object in a game's scene with different velocity, attack points, and size. And it works perfectly for this type of shooter where the player and enemies are maximizing the six degrees of freedom, dodging projectiles, and calculating the aim.

This changes when level 6 introduces the driller drones, whose weapon is a machinegun that hitscans the player.

All the lessons that the game has been encouraging the player to out in the open and master utilizing the movement to evade the projectiles become useless. Now, the game revolves around the player peeking and out from a cover. For those who have not played it, you might think this is a good thing since it challenges the player and forces them to rethink the strategy. The problem is the game is simply not designed for this hitscan style combat.

Enemy reaction time is insanely fast. Depending on their position, they fire in one second or instant without any delay. There is not enough time or space to get behind a cover since the player movement is basically a floaty spaceship where the controls have input delays, which makes it the player hard to instantly respond. Six-degree level designs also make it difficult for the player to aware of the surroundings, so when the drill drone pops up, you just don't know where they are coming from. And these enemies blend with the environments and other drones so well, almost creating a camouflage effect.

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The level designs also do not help. There are so many times when the driller drone is floating right in front of the door, and you literally have no choice but receive damage as soon as you open the door because they are somehow perfectly able to shoot you through the opening gap instantly. There are mandatory traps where three or four drill drones come out of the hidden doors and you have no way but to get hit because you have no choice but out in the open. All these enemy designs, in their vacuum, can work… without hitscan attack.

Considering how rare the shield orbs are, it means the game becomes trial and error. You just have to learn the layout of the enemies beforehand, memorizing their placements results in constant savescumming. The player saves before rushing out in the open to locating the driller drones, get hit and die, reload the save.

Also, playing carefully in a game like this kills all the enjoyment. In the games like Half-Life 1 or Blood, the game gives the player the best arsenal to deal with hitscanners, such as a large number of traps, explosives, and health items. In Descent, the best tool you get is homing missiles, which is not enough.

It is so unfortunate since this hitscanner enemy type singlehandedly ruins the entire experience. It is like you have a perfectly good cake and put flakes of mozzarella cheese for no reason.

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