Reviews From The Backroom: Descent 3
Never, ever, EVER judge a book by it's cover.
The reason I want to start off by saying that is because flight-based games have been done to death. From the Microsoft simulators to games like HAWX, this particular genre of game-play has been used for every type of story-line imaginable. Unfortunately, many have been of little note, whether it's because they are bland or outright crap.
The Descent series isn't even close to being bland or crap.
Back in 1995, most of the "3D" games available belonged to what has, in recent years, been termed "2.5D". The environment was usually in all 3 dimensions with choppy rendering and blocky textures; while the items, enemies, animations, etc. were usually a 2D sprite placed inside the environment. Along with that, the controls usually limited where or how much the player could move, to prevent a game-breaking experience. For the time, it worked; mostly because home computers were just learning to walk, and couldn't handle a fully-3D rendered environment.
However, transition proved difficult when the time came that home computers had the power to pump out 3D models at playable speeds. One of the first games to attempt full 3D was the EarthSiege series. Unfortunately, the EarthSiege games suffered from poor programming, with textures popping in and out or blurring, parts of 3D models disappearing, and an overall slow, choppy game engine. Ultimately, they (and many games like them) were ignored.
The first games of significant note to ever come out that featured full 3D-rendered models and environments were in the Descent series. The textures were complete and remained rendered at a distance, enemies were rendered as 3D models with complex A.I., and the player had access to the full six degrees of freedom to move around in. In 1995, this was a significant accomplishment for an interactive, real-time rendered medium, and it made way for many 3D games to come.
For the first two installments of the Descent series, the games remained largely unchanged; mostly due to Descent II being planned out as an expansion rather than a sequel, and being released only one year later. In 1999, Interplay gave Descent a MASSIVE overhaul, and released the third installment.
After three years of silence from Interplay, fans were once again given an awesome experience, with even more technical advances to boot! Descent 3 was exactly what Interplay needed, helping them hold onto fans of the older games, and helping newer players into the series without leaving them to wonder what it was all about. Plus, one of the best opening sequences ever:
The reason for Descent 3's long development time is due to the game engine receiving a complete overhaul from the first two. Using what was dubbed the "Fusion Engine", Descent 3 had levels that seamlessly incorporated both the claustrophobic indoor areas the series was known for, with massive outdoor areas (more on that later). As for the 3D architecture, this game introduced more rendering tech than you could shake a stick at. Bump mapping, dynamic colored lighting, weather effects, high-detail texture and video mapping, real-time level-of-detail mixing, support for the DirectX, OpenGL, and GLide API's, and 3D models created from collections of 2D planes instead of individual 3D artifacts. Without a doubt, this was a beautiful and complex game that didn't suck your computer's hardware to the floor.
As for the game itself, it stands up on its own very well. The story behind the Descent series is contiguous throughout all the games, with the ending and opening cut-scenes of every game leading directly into the next. Unfortunately, the story often takes twists IN-game that either make little sense or can be viewed as padding to increase length. This often leads to the game leaving the player in the dark, with entire levels that seem out of place, or vague mission objectives that leave them wandering aimlessly for long stretches at a time.
On a similar note, the game design leaves a bit to be desired. While the levels featured leave an awe-inspiring impression on the player, with expansive outdoor areas and indoor/underground sections that make Minecraft look sparse; this often leads to issues with game-play. With the six dimensions of freedom, it is easy for players to get lost inside of large, relatively unmarked locations; particularly in the numerous underground sections. Descent 3 attempts to overcome this problem with the "Guidebot", a small helper that the player has constant access to, that can guide them to any given destination. For the most part, it works; but this feature represents an increased number of controls (which can be confusing), and the Guidebot A.I. often turns stupid at the drop of a hat.
As for the game-play itself, this is where Descent shines through the brightest. The levels vary to an incredible degree, and always have new experiences and challenges for the player to overcome. You can go from breaking into a maximum security prison, to flying through the streets of Seoul under martial law, to breaking into an army base ON THE MOON. Throughout the game, there are a few different bosses as well, all of which are very difficult (without being frustrating) and require different strategies to defeat. No two mission objectives play out the same, and the missions are too complex and interesting to allow the player any boredom. Gripping doesn't even begin to describe it.
As for the enemies, there is enough variety here to fill a buffet. There are basic security bots, riot-control bots, defense-forces, mining bots, bots that steal your weapons and items, massive walking mechs, the list goes on and on. Besides that, there are often different variations on the same enemy type, none of which fight the same. Besides variety, there's the A.I., which will kill you over and over again in so many different ways and settings, that it becomes obvious that a developer somewhere went to great pains to see it come through as well as possible.
Items also vary in both use and spectacle. Different weapons drain energy at different rates, destroy certain enemies quicker, and require different levels of skill to use. As for variety, there are enough to choose from that you can set up many different strategies to enter any given situation. Missiles that explode into fragments or flames, missiles that create black-holes, Gatling cannons, microwave cannons, even sniper-rifles.
The cons for this game are so few, I'll only include them in one paragraph:
The cutscenes for this game are rather poor, and the voice acting isn't exactly going for any awards. Though game-play is quite good, it often becomes frustrating and hectic, particularly in small environments, and sometimes things have a tendency to lapse into being cartoony.
Descent 3 is not only large, engaging, and one HELL of a time; it has also aged very well, and is still available for as low as $6.00 U.S. Unless this type of game makes you nauseous, I highly recommend you give this one a look.
If you enjoyed this review, please tell me! And if you have any suggestions for future games to get for my back-room, let me know!