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FreeSpace Review: Gamecenter.com - 01/23/98

 

Descent blew people away because it provided the novelty of a first-person Doom-style environment with complete range of motion, including upside-down flying. But in its newest incarnation, the Descent label is trading in the first-person closed-quarters environment that made it famous for the wide open confines of space.

Don't groan--too much, at least. Sure, you won't be descending into anything in Descent FreeSpace: The Great War, but as far as we can tell from the early alpha version, this is one mighty fine space combat sim.

Scheduled for a March release, this version of Descent is taking a big risk by shucking off the innovation of the original Descent and its sequel in favor of Wing Commander/X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter-style gameplay. But the action works. Once you hit space, you'll find a beautifully rendered cosmos, home to blue stellar ribbons, big stars, and all sorts of other cosmic debris, which not only looks pretty, but also will help you figure out your position more easily. One other nice touch is the shifting of the stellar field as you maneuver. Bank hard right, and the stars turn into lines until your turn rate slows. Truly a feature that the space travelers among us will appreciate.

The most important effect of all the care Volition (developer of FreeSpace and a subsidiary of Parallax, maker of the original Descent) has put into crafting space--or FreeSpace as the case may be--is that the environment seems less sterile and much more alive than in previous space combat games. It just seems that there's more going on.

In addition to the space details, you'll also notice some gorgeously textured spacecraft that will be able to compete with the looks of the finest space-jockey games on the market. And some of these ships are huge! Yes, 3D acceleration will be supported--both 3Dfx and Rendition chipsets directly, as well as Direct3D software modes.

Attack!
The gameplay is fairly standard fare: Over the course of the campaign, you're assigned a variety of missions, from simple Navpoint patrols to escort missions to major offensives. In addition to the typical "peaceful patrols interrupted by surprise attacks," you'll be challenged by more complex missions, such as guarding gigantic Juggernath vessels until they jump into hyperspace.
During the course of combat, you can communicate with your wingmen and other ships by tapping the W key. The usual commands are here--Attack my target, Form on my wing, Flee the battle, and others.

Multiplayer junkies will be happy to know that FreeSpace supports both Internet and IPX-based play. In addition to the standard melee modes, Interplay also expects to have several different types of games, including full-out missions. Eight players will be able to participate at a time.

Your Mission...
FreeSpace's story line isn't going to break the mold, but it will supply plenty of high-flying action. The premise is that the human race is in the midst of a huge interstellar war with the antagonistic Vasudians, when suddenly a third, incredibly powerful race makes its presence known through a series of lethal attacks against both races' planets and forces. Reluctantly, you and your former enemies join forces to reclaim free space.

A branching story line exists, so if your combat results are abysmal or less than adequate, you'll switch story tracks, and you could end up with an entirely different result. Of course, you'll also be able to replay missions if you're unhappy with your performance and want to stay on the winning track.

Afraid of Space
Undoubtedly, Descent FreeSpace looks great, with graphics and gameplay that will challenge the finest sci-fi sims on the market. Better yet, FreeSpace does not mark the end of the unique indoor combat that made Descent and Descent II a favorite among action players. Parallax has broken into two development groups, Volition and Outrage. Outrage is currently developing Descent III for a late '98 release, which will return players to the those topsy-turvy caverns that sent you scurrying for your Dramamine.

Why call it Descent if you're not descending into anything? With Descent FreeSpace, however, I guess the answer is a big, "Who cares?" Because this sci-fi sim has some real promise.

 

Don't miss CNET Radio's Gamecenter interview with Adam Pletcher, lead artist for Descent: FreeSpace, and Mike Kulas, president of Volition.

George Jones
Executive editor of Gamecenter

taken from www.gamecenter.com

 

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