You'd be hard-pressed to find a game that's more derivative than Terracide, an unabashed Descent clone coupled with a tired "save the earth from destruction by alien invaders" story. But that's not nearly as damning as it sounds. After all, plot is usually the last thing any self-respecting action hound cares about anyway. And you only have to look at games like Dark Forces, Duke Nukem 3D, and Total Annihilation to realize that just because a game borrows liberally from a renowned predecessor doesn't mean it can't shine in its own right.
And in many ways, Terracide does indeed shine. Gameplay will come as second nature to anyone who's played Descent or even Hellbender: Flying a funky skull-shaped assault ship, your task is to exterminate every enemy you encounter in the winding corridors and dark rooms of several invading enemy vessels. You're given specific goals for each level, such as knocking out computers and other equipment, and you'll also square off against your erstwhile Earthlings in some outer-space dogfights. But at its core Terracide revolves around blasting enemies to smithereens - and I've got no problem with that at all.
Thanks to native support for several popular 3D cards, the scenery graphics here are the best yet seen in a spelunkin'-and-shootin' game. The lighting effects are especially tasty, with close-in firefights lighting up passageways with the glow of destruction; when you toast an enemy, you can see transparent concussion rings traveling from the center of the explosion. Sometimes it feels as if Terracide developer Simis went overboard trying to flex its 3D muscle - you'll run into all sorts of mirrored objects such as cubes and spheres that serve no purpose other than to prove the reflections are accurate, and the main menu is fully three-dimensional too - but the overall effect is pretty impressive.
Enemy graphics aren't quite as impressive, due mainly to an absence of detail - the bad guys look like ornery polygons more than anything else - but with a 3D accelerator the smoothness of the animation makes up for any visual shortcomings.
Another strong point is the arsenal. Five of the weapons - phasers, bombs, chain gun, rockets, and bouncing bombs - boast three levels of firepower: grab two extra phasers, for instance, and you can cycle between standard, rapid-fire, and scatter-fire. And that's not all - if you pick up a couple of extra weapon mounts you can fire three weapons simultaneously. There's even a guided missile that you steer to the target, perfect for landing hits on an especially strong opponent who's lurking around a corner or just over a rise in a corridor. Toss in a few oddball weapons like a gravity bomb (draws enemies toward you) and a teleport bomb (sends the target through a teleport), and you've pretty much got everything you need to kick some rogue Terran ass.
Multiplayer options are just as strong as the weaponry, with support for up to 16 players over a network and free Internet play on Mplayer. In addition to deathmatch play, there are also options for capture-the-flag and team play.
So far, so good. But there are a few flies in the ointment here, the biggest being the issue of control. Regardless of what input device was used - and I tested a SideWinder 3D Pro, an F-16 CombatStick, and the keyboard - it was almost impossible to line up shots on a consistent basis because the ship wouldn't stop turning when I wanted it to. Releasing the left-arrow key should cause the ship to stop turning left immediately - not a half-second later. An argument could be made that such drifting is meant to recreate the sensation of moving in a zero-gravity environment, but if that's the case, an "unrealistic" mode would be much appreciated. There are some other weak spots - the enemies don't have a lot of personality, the levels have a "samey" feel despite differences in layout and appearance, and the space-combat sequences are little more than toss-offs - but they're minor compared to the control question.
But the bright spot is that Terracide is enjoyable enough to try to deal with the sluggish controls. If you enjoyed Descent or any of its ilk, Terracide definitely has enough going for it to invest some time, at least on the demo. If you can cope with the controls - and if you've got one of the cards that Terracide provides native support for - then this one's a keeper.